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The World Cup: and then there were 8 | Free Malaysia Today – Free Malaysia Today


From Eu Weijun
Before anything else, let’s take a look at my predictions heading into the round of 16.
Of the 16 teams, I predicted six of their names and positions in the bracket correctly. Two teams were predicted correctly but in the wrong positions in the bracket, while there were eight predictions that were wrong.
A slew of early upsets did some serious damage to my predictions. Nevertheless, half my picks advanced to the round of 16 – with England, Portugal, the Netherlands, Argentina, Brazil, and South Korea qualifying in the positions I had predicted.
As for the round of 16 itself, here’s how the teams got on.
Netherlands 3-1 United States
The Netherlands were not really tested until late on in a fairly one-sided win. Memphis Depay and Daley Blind gave the Oranje a 2-0 half-time lead. Haji Wright pulled one back for the US, but Denzel Dumfries scored five minutes later to put the Netherlands into the quarterfinals as they continued to make an under-the-radar run through the tournament.
Argentina 2-1 Australia
This was a much tougher match than what Argentina might have expected. After going 2-0 ahead, Argentina took their foot off the gas, allowing Australia to pull one back through an Enzo Fernández own goal. Australia continued to press forward late on, but Argentina held on to the victory thanks to a crucial block from Lisandro Martínez and Emiliano Martínez’s stoppage-time save.
France 3-1 Poland
France dominated this match right from the opening kick-off. Olivier Giroud became France’s all-time leading goalscorer with his first-half goal before two Kylian Mbappé goals after the break made the victory secure. With this convincing win, France might just have positioned themselves as the tournament’s leading title contender.
England 3-0 Senegal
England set up a hype-filled Channel derby in the quarterfinals after taking Senegal apart. Senegal never really stood a chance; the final scoreline of 3-0 could easily have been even more one-sided in England’s favour. Harry Kane got off the mark for the tournament; his goal leaves him one behind Wayne Rooney as he closes in on becoming England’s top goalscorer ever.
Japan 1-1 Croatia (Croatia win 3-1 on penalties)
Croatia maintained their flawless World Cup penalty shootout record by beating Japan to advance to the quarterfinals. Dominik Livaković saved three penalties to equal the tournament record and deny Japan a first-ever quarterfinal berth. It doesn’t get any easier for Croatia – they will be clear underdogs when they face Brazil in the quarterfinals.
Brazil 4-1 South Korea
In a lop-sided victory, Brazil outclassed South Korea in every way imaginable with all four goals coming in the first half. Four different Seleção players made it onto the scoresheet as Brazil showcased just why they are serious title contenders. Brazil also made history when Weverton came in off the bench, making Brazil 2022 the first team in the 26-per-squad era to use their entire roster.
Morocco 0-0 Spain (Morocco win 3-0 on penalties)
The Atlas Lions caused the first major upset of the knockout stage, sending Spain to a second consecutive last-16 exit. Achraf Hakimi sealed the victory with a Panenka. Spain’s woeful World Cup penalty shootout record reached a new low – they lost a record-breaking fourth shootout, breaking a tie with Italy and England.
Portugal 6-1 Switzerland
Gonçalo Ramos scored a hat-trick as Fernando Santos’ decision to bench Cristiano Ronaldo paid major dividends. This was unquestionably the best single-match team performance of the tournament thus far. It appears that Portugal might have inadvertently come across the “secret formula” that makes it work and propels them into title contention.
Now, let’s take a look ahead and consider what the quarterfinals might have in store.
Croatia vs Brazil
For the second consecutive tournament, Croatia have made an unexpectedly deep run. However, in the Vatreni’s run to the 2018 final, their only true upset victory came against England in the semifinals. Brazil 2022, however, are clearly a tier above England 2018 as was displayed in their round of 16 match vs South Korea. This is where Croatia’s tournament comes to an end.
Netherlands vs Argentina
The Netherlands have been understated, yet quietly impressive throughout this tournament. That being said, Argentina will be the first elite team which they face. In this rematch of the 1978 final, Argentina’s higher level of star power as well as their desire to “win it for Lionel Messi” should be enough to see them past the Oranje who seem to lack that extra edge to put them over the top.
Morocco vs Portugal
Having become just the fourth African team to reach the World Cup quarterfinals, Morocco are playing with house money at this point. I can even see Morocco giving a somewhat overrated Portugal side all that they can handle. That being said, Portugal should easily beat Morocco and make it to the semifinals.
England vs France
Though France might enter this Channel derby as slight favourites, it must be kept in mind that arguably the most difficult accomplishment in sports is retaining a World Cup title. With that fact in mind as well as the rivalry aspect of this match, England will never have a better opportunity to get one over their arch-rivals on the biggest stage of all – something I see them doing.
 
Eu Weijun is an FMT reader and a huge Bundesliga fan.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.
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