Anyone else find it odd to be catching World Cup games while you’re doing Christmas shopping? I think this may be the last World Cup where the Round of 16 will kick off the knockout round. As many of you know, the next World Cup will be having a field of 48 teams. It’s unclear how they’ll do the second stage. It could be the knockout stage starts with a “Round of 32.” Or it could be a second set of group play. Four World Cups — 1950, 1974, 1978 and 1982 — did have a second set of group play. In the meantime, it hangs in the balance and is up for FIFA to decide.
As for 2022, the sixteen teams for the knockout round have been decided over the past thirteen days of group play. I don’t know about you but this seems like the fastest World Cup I’ve ever seen. With 3/4 of the total games completed, the play was quite something. Qatar became the first host nation to lose all three of their group games. Senegal is the most notable of many nations fined by FIFA for managers not bringing a player with them during a pre-game press conference. Wales goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey became the first player of the Cup to get an instant red card. South Korea coach Paulo Bento had the rare achievement of a coach being given a red card. VAR use has caused excessive additions of stoppage time. It’s also been the subject of some controversial goal calls like one disallowed for France and another all owed for Japan. There were surprise losses like Argentina falling to Saudi Arabia, Germany to Japan and Belgium to Morocco. With six goals, Germany became the highest-scoring team that failed to advance. Speaking of Germany, highly lauded teams like Germany, Belgium and Uruguay didn’t advance, and the three teams that were guaranteed advancement after their second games lost their final match with a -1 goal differential. I guess they figured since they were already guaranteed, why put in the effort?
What can I say? Every World Cup has their shocking moments and controversies. There were a lot of good things that have happened during the World Cup. First of all, only three red cards have been given out. Only two own-goals have been scored. Every team in Qatar scored at least one goal and the goal average is 2.5 per game right now. Attendance for games has been excellent. Their lowest-attended match was just over 39,000 and their highest-attended match so far was Argentina vs. Mexico with just about 89,000. The World Cup attendance record is over 91,000 for the 1994 Final. Television broadcast has been excellent and American television has it highest-ever World Cup ratings. Plus this Cup’s knockout round makes it only the second ever to consist of teams from all six continents! On a Canadian note, Canada had the relief of only finishing second-last! Thanks, Qatar! Actually I don’t feel too bad. Like I illustrated in my previous blog, the team was mostly young and I think the team was had a bigger focus on 2026 when we co-host instead of 2022. Best of luck to the team!
Anyways enough about my blabbing about the previous 48 games. We’re heading to the knockout round where each round separates the contenders from the pretenders. Here’s my look at the first two sets of knockout rounds.
ROUND OF 16 PREDICTIONS
This is where it all starts. The sixteen being reduced to eight, the quarterfinals reducing the eight to four, the semifinals reducing the four to the two to play in the final for the Cup. The knockout format is the same it’s been since 2006 for which team from which group plays who. We have some interesting pairings to start off with. So here I go starting my predictions for the Round of 16. For my predictions, I will be taking into account their play here in Qatar as well as past head-to-head results. Note that my pick to win will be in bold.
NETHERLANDS vs. UNITED STATES
The first Round of 16 match will be contested between two teams that didn’t qualify for 2018 and are obviously eager to be back. For the Netherlands, it all started with a 2-0 win against Senegal, then a 1-1 draw against Ecuador and finalized with a 2-0 win against hosts Qatar. The US opened their World Cup with a 1-1 draw against Wales followed by a scoreless draw against England. The US knew they needed nothing less than a win against Iran to advance. It just took a single goal from Christian Pulisic at the 38th minute to book the US to the knockout phase.
For this opener, I will have to go with the Netherlands. In head-to-head, The Netherlands have won four times while the US won only once. On top of it, the US has a team mostly of young men. The Netherlands has a well-seasoned team of young and experienced players. That’s why I feel it’s Oranje’s for the taking.
ARGENTINA vs AUSTRALIA
The second Round of 16 match is between two teams that couldn’t be more different in reputations. One team hasn’t missed a World Cup since 1970, advanced past the opening stage 14 out of 18 times, and even won the Cup twice. The other has competed in only six World Cups, this being their fifth consecutive, and just advanced to the Round of 16 only for the second time ever. Both teams lost their opening match but won the other two. Argentina opened with a shocking 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia. The Albiceleste knew they needed nothing but wins for qualification and their reputation, and they delivered with 2-0 wins over Mexico and Poland. Australia opened with a big loss to France 4-1. However the Socceroos did what they needed to do with 1-0 wins over Tunisia and Denmark.
As for the match, this will be the eighth time the two will square off. In the past, Argentina won five times and Australia has only won once. Even though this is the World Cup where Australia has had their best-ever group play, I expect the magic to end here. I’m sure this will be a clear victory for Argentina with a big score.
FRANCE vs. POLAND
It’s something how instead of being subject to the alleged curse of the defending champion, France was actually the first team to qualify, thanks to winning 4-1 against Australia and 2-1 against Denmark. Les Bleus had the luxury of losing 1-0 to Tunisia in its last game (Tunisia’s first-ever win over France) and still finish top of the group! Poland didn’t have it as easy. They started with a scoreless draw against Mexico, won against Saudi Arabia 2-0 but ended with a 2-0 loss to Argentina. Nevertheless their game stats and goal differentials held up to take the Eagles to the knockout round for the first time since 1986!
This Round of 16 pairing will become the seventeenth time the two will have dueled each other. France has won eight times before while Poland has won three times before. I will have to go with France because they’ve shown more consistency and have been better at scoring.
ENGLAND vs. SENEGAL
For England, it was another chance to start the chase on football glory. The team headed by coach Gareth Southgate is seen by many as the best England team ever. In its opening game against Iran, they proved they were ready by winning 6-2. Against the US, they came to a scoreless draw. Then against common rivals Wales, they delivered big in the second-half winning 3-0. For Senegal, it was a chance to get the berth that eluded them by such a close call four years ago. It actually started on a bad note as they lost to the Netherlands 2-0. Against Qatar, they were able to prove themselves better, winning 3-1. Then their match against Ecuador. Whoever won qualified, and it was Senegal that stepped up to the challenge winning 2-1.
This will be the first ever match between England and Senegal. They have never dueled before. It’s hard to tell, but I feel it will be England that will take it. Senegal have proven themselves to be more than what most people expected, but England has continued to show their brilliance and team chemistry on the field.
JAPAN vs. CROATIA
When a group has big-name teams like Spain or Germany, you think you’re chances are over, right? Not Japan. They opened with a 2-1 win over Germany and ended with another 2-1 win to Spain. Even a 1-0 loss to Costa Rica didn’t stop Samurai Blue from topping Group E. On to Croatia. Interesting that the group play of this World Cup has amassed six nil-nil draws, and Croatia was part of two of them! Despite that, they had the biggest win of Group F play: 4-1 against Canada. That gave The Blazers what they needed to qualify to the knockout round for the third time!
Now down to the game. Two different teams. One has been to the Top 3 of the World Cup twice, the other is eager to win their first ever World Cup knockout match. The two have squared off only three times ever, with Croatia winning once (in World Cup 1998), Japan winning once, and a draw. I feel this will be a very tight match. Judging by their play these past two weeks. both teams are roughly parallel in scoring and defending. I feel this will be a tight came that would end in a draw, with Croatia winning on penalty kicks.
BRAZIL vs. SOUTH KOREA
When people watch the World Cup, most people want to see what Brazil has to offer. Brazil opened with a 2-0 win over Serbia, with both goals coming from Richarlison. Brazil followed it up with a 1-0 win over Switzerland With qualification secured, Brazil could afford to lose to Cameroon 1-0 and still top Group G. For South Korea, they opened with a 0-0 draw against Uruguay and endured a 3-2 loss to Ghana. They needed a win against Portugal to advance and nothing less, and they got it 2-1! Their big scoring in their Ghana loss gave them the edge against Uruguay in advancing to the knockout stage for the third time ever.
This match will become the eighth time Brazil and South Korea will have faced off. In their seven previous matches, Brazil won six. This is their first time squaring off at the World Cup. Brazil may have been rather tame compared to the Brazil we’re used to seeing while South Korea has delivered consistently. I pick Brazil to win it.
MOROCCO vs. SPAIN
Interesting this is the Round of 16 match has two teams with the least geographical separation! Just the Aiboran Sea separating the two! Before the World Cup play, I had a feeling nations with desert climates might have an advantage in Qatar. Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Iran scored surprise wins, but neither of them qualified. Morocco, on the other hand, delivered their best World Cup group play results ever. The Atlas Lions opened with a scoreless draw against Croatia, but went onto a surprise 2-0 win over Belgium and a 2-1 win over Canada. This is their second time qualifying to the knockout round and first since 1986! Their rivals Spain opened brilliantly with a 7-0 win over Costa Rica. After that, La Furia Roja were lacklustre with a 1-1 draw to Germany and a 2-1 loss to Japan.
Now onto the game. The two have met three times before. Morocco has never won. Spain won twice. Their one draw was a 2-2 draw at the 2018 World Cup. I have a feeling with Morocco pulling a lot of surprises, they will take this game in added extra time.
PORTUGAL vs. SWITZERLAND
Even before Qatar 2022 began, Portugal was one of the headliners. Possibly because this is likely to be Cristiano Ronaldo’s last chance to win the Cup. They secured their qualification with a 3-2 win over Ghana and a 2-0 win over Uruguay. With their qualification already clinched, the Selecao could afford to lose 2-1 over South Korea and still top Group H. Switzerland arrived with low expectations here in Qatar. They proved a lot as they first won 1-0 against Cameroon, then lost 1-0 to Brazil, but ended their run with a 3-2 win over Serbia. Their two wins were just what they needed to advance for the eighth time and third consecutive.
This will be the 26th time Portugal and Switzerland will have challenged each other. In their previous 25 duels, Switzerland has won eleven times while Portugal has won nine. In their ten most recent matches, Portugal has won more often but Switzerland won the last match 1-0 back in June. For this one, I think it will go to Portugal in added extra time.
Very rarely do I make another blog about quarterfinal predictions. Only if my Round Of 16 predictions end up being dreadfully way off would I go out of my way to make a new blog of quarterfinal predictions. So assuming that my Round Of 16 winners do in fact win, here are my predictions for the quarterfinals:
UPDATE – December 7, 2022: I can’t believe it! All eight of my predictions were right! That means the teams I predicted to be in what quarterfinal tuned out to be right. Since the Round of 16 matches ended, I did some minor updates on the predictions below. The play from the Round of 16 shifted my opinion a bit on the teams.
CROATIA vs. BRAZIL
It’s interesting the two matches they had. Croatia’s match against Japan was a case the Japanese scored first, but Croatia led the second-half to equalize. It came down to penalty kicks and Croatia did it. Brazil was a case that they won their first two games, but they looked relaxed in their play. Even that loss to Cameroon can be seen as holding back. Whatever the situation, it was like the sizzle Brazil is famous for exploded in their win over South Korea.
The two have faced off against each other four times before. Brazil winning three times and a draw the other. Two of those Brazil wins were in World Cup group play in 2006 and 2014. After the play I saw on Monday, I’d expect another win from Brazil. I doubt there will be a Croatian surprise this time around.
NETHERLANDS vs. ARGENTINA
This is the pair from the very first day of Round of 16 matches and both won in strong fashion. Netherlands went on a scoring spree against the USA, proving they are ready for this tournament..Argentina were the ones in control against Australia. The Albiceleste were the ones in control of the game while the best Australia could do was stick to defending.
They’ve met nine times before; Netherlands winning four times and Argentina winning once. As for World Cup results, Netherlands won the first duel in 1974. As for the second duel, Argentina’s one win was in the 1978 World Cup final! Netherlands did get some World Cup revenge winning their 1998 quarterfinal.
For this match, I pick Argentina in added extra time. Both teams have shown their strengths and weaknesses in their group play. I think it will be Argentina that most has what it takes to deliver the win.
MOROCCO vs. PORTUGAL
Both teams were decided on the last day of Round Of 16 matches. Morocco has normally lost to Spain, but they defended like never before to a 0-0 draw. When penalty kicks happened, Morocco was 3 for 4 while Spain couldn’t sink a single one! That makes Morocco only the fourth African nation to qualify for a World Cup quarterfinal! For Portugal, they knew they had to play well against Switzerland to win. They’ve won some but lost some to the Swiss. In the last Round of 16 match, they were a scoring force, winning 6-1.
Interesting that Morocco’s Round Of 16 rival Sapin was also their rival in 2018 group play.Here in the quarterfinal, Morocco will again meet up with another group play rival from 2018! They’ve met twice before. Morocco won the first time. Portugal won the second time. Yep, the World Cup game was won by Portugal.
On Saturday, I anticipate Portugal to win in regulation time. I am expecting Morocco to challenge and defend well, but for Portugal to win in the end.
FRANCE vs. ENGLAND
Here’s another case of two teams with brilliant wins in the Round Of 16. France opened up with a strong 3-1 win over Poland. The second-half scoring of Kylian Mbappe has him as the World Cup scoring leader with five goals! England continued to perform well as they won their first-ever match against Senegal 3-0.
They’ve crossed paths 31 times before. England has won seventeen times. France nine. In the two times they’ve faced off at the World Cup, England won both times: 2-0 in 1966 and 3-1 in 1982. Their last meeting was a friendly which France won 3-2. As for this match, I think this will go to a draw that will be decided on penalty kicks. Of course, France will win.
And there you have it. Those are my predictions for the Round Of 16 and Quarterfinal matches. Now time to see how they pan out. Also don’t expect to see another blog from me until the semifinals.