Five talking points after an outstanding Round of 16 at Qatar 2022

We had it everything: some heart-breaking eliminations for favourites, penalty shoot-outs, clear-cut wins, excellent individual performances and also, with a look forward, some mouth-watering clashes for the quarter-finals. But let’s focus a bit on the Round of 16 at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, one that produced some excellent matches, ones that ended in routs and others that finished on penalties.

But what are the main takeaways after another eight games elapsed at Qatar 2022, a thoroughly exciting tournament, which kept both the fans in the stadiums and the ones at home on the edge of their seats?

Who is going to beat Brazil?

Let’s talk a bit about Brazil, which came into the tournament as big favourites, but delivered some underwhelming, albeit efficient football in the group phase, where they won against Serbia and Switzerland, but lost against Cameroon. With Neymar back into the fold after nursing an ankle injury, Brazil delivered a vintage performance against the Republic of Korea to take a 4-1 clear win, taking a four-goal lead after only 36 minutes.

The quarter of Neymar, Raphinha, Vinicius Junior and Richarlison looks to be unstoppable at times, linking the game perfectly and creating so many chances, totally overwhelming the opponent’s defence. Sure, the challenges will get only tougher for now, but Brazil have not been backed into a corner – leaving the game against Cameroon aside, as they used the second-string team, managing their starters.

Brazil look strong in every aspect on the pitch and off it they surely are a big, big family, as underlined by their dancing when celebrating the goals, as coach Tite also chimed in a bit. Moreover, every of their 26 players got at least one minute on the pitch, as goalkeeper Weverton substituted Alisson late in the game, which definitely improves morale in the squad.

Are England the real deal?

Some might say yes and they would not be mistaken, but their mettle will surely be proven in the quarter-final against France. Until then, England are just a good, efficient team, in the mould of their coach, Gareth Southgate, who learnt a thing a to about tournament football. At Qatar 2022, England conceded two goals in the first game against the Islamic Republic of Iran, when they were up by four and five goals respectively and that was it. While their defence looked shaky, they secured clean sheets in the games against USA, Wales and Senegal, clinching a place in the quarter-finals with a 3-0 win against their African counterparts.

In attack, England look menacing, with pacy wingers that can displace the opposing defence time and time again. It also looks fitting that Harry Kane scored his first goal at Qatar 2022 against Senegal, coming of form exactly when he is needed the most. Sure, the big test will be against France, especially as Southgate will probably to try and scale back their attacking efforts and try and stop Kylian Mbappe. Which brings us to the next point.

Can anybody stop Mbappe?

He is already a FIFA World Cup winner at the age of 19 years old, now Kylian Mbappe is going for the double, in an unprecedented show of strength, talent and speed. He was widely known to be the real deal, but a win for France would likely mean that he will be both the Golden Ball and the Golden Boot of the tournament. The Paris Saint-Germain winger scored five goals in the first four matches at Qatar 2022, including a brace against Poland, in France’s win, 3-1, being virtually unstoppable by defences, especially on counterattacks. He already has a two-goal advantage over any other player at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which can prove decisive.

Mbappe focused on football, despite a lengthy 2022, where he nearly switched clubs and play for Real Madrid, but he has been a force to be reckoned with and the main engine of France, who duly delivered another excellent tournament in Qatar 2022, trying to become the first side who retain the trophy since Brazil did it in 1962.

What about Morocco?

It was an explosion of joy both through Morocco, but also in Belgium, France or Spain, countries with huge Moroccan diaspora, as the “Atlas Lions” secured a quarter-finals berth at the FIFA World Cup for the first time ever. It was a triumph of resilience and grit, as the African powerhouse delivered a historic performance against Spain, taking the former champions to a penalty shoot-out, after a 0-0 stalemate after 120 minutes.

Eventually, Morocco went through, after scoring three penalties, while Spain missed all the three penalties they had, as Pablo Sarabia hit the post, missing his first spot kick of his career, while Sergio Busquets and Carlos Soler had their shots stopped by Bono. Morocco conceded a single goal in the tournament – an own goal scored by defender Aguerd – which means they could spring a surprise or two also in the next phase of the competition, when they face Portugal.

Portugal’s win bears an asterisk

Portugal’s coach, Fernando Santos, made a huge call before the Round of 16 match against Switzerland, dropping star Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench, in an unprecedented move that could have backfired spectacularly. In the end, though, it was Santos who had the last laugh, as Goncalo Ramos, Ronaldo’s substitute, delivered a classic performance, scoring a hat-trick in only his fourth match for the national team, with Portugal clinching a superb 6-1 win against Switzerland.

Both Santos and Ronaldo downplayed the significance of the move, but it is clear that CR7, a superstar in his right, wants to play more for Portugal. Yet with such a big win, it is clear that Santos might stick to his guns and keep Ronaldo on the bench, which would send huge shockwaves in the competition.

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