Top talking points from the World Cup round of 16


Photo via Wikipedia Commons under Creative Commons license

Khalifa International Stadium has hosted many of this year’s World Cup matches thus far.

32 teams entered the World Cup, but after a dramatic first round, only 16 remained. And now, only eight teams are left. The round of 16 was filled with excitement, and here are five talking points from the first round of the knockout stage. 

5. Brazil sambas through 

The Brazilians fared well in the first round of the tournament, brushing aside both Switzerland and Serbia, but it suffered a shocking loss to Cameroon. Even with that loss, the Brazilians finished top of their group, and were set to meet South Korea in the round of 16. 

However, the most notable aspect of that match regarded one player’s reappearance: Neymar. After succumbing to an ankle injury in Brazil’s opener vs. Serbia, Neymar was deemed unfit for the rest of the group stage, but he was back and in Brazil’s starting lineup against South Korea.

Brazil is the winningest nation in World Cup history, including the squad that played in the World Cup in Russia. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons license)

 It took just seven minutes for Real Madrid youngster Vinicius Jr. to thump in a cross from Raphinha to put the Brazilians ahead. Minutes later, Korean defender Jung-Woo committed a careless penalty, and Neymar was given a chance to double Brazil’s lead. In his flamboyant fashion, Neymar waited for the Korean goalie to move, and rolled in a slow shot past him. His penalty put him just one goal away from tying Pele’s record for the most goals scored for Brazil. 

Richarlison extended the lead to three shortly before the half-hour mark, after slotting in a perfect through-ball from Thiago Silva. Not long after, the Brazilians hit South Korea with a dangerous counter-attack, which resulted in Lucas Paqueta scoring Brazil’s fourth goal of the first half. 

The match ended 4-1 in favor of the Brazilians, and the match itself was total domination. The Brazilians looked vibrant, dangerous, and incredibly creative on the ball. Brazil also made sure to celebrate their goals in style, and performed elaborate dance sequences each time they hit the net. Brazilian coach Tite even joined in on the fun. This match was Brazil at its best, and after dancing past South Korea, the team will face Croatia in the quarterfinals on Dec. 9. 

4. French leave defenders fried 

Similar to Brazil, France breezed past its first two opponents in the group stage and then suffered a surprising loss. But just like Brazil, France finished top of its group and the stage was set for Les Bleus to face off against Poland. 

The match was scoreless until the minute 44, when Olivier Giroud swiveled a powerful shot past the Poland keeper. This was a historic goal, as it made Giroud France’s all-time leading goalscorer, a record previously held by Thierry Henry. Not being satisfied with a one-goal lead, the French kept pushing, and that chance finally came in the 74th minute, when Kylian Mbappé fired a rocket past Szczesny, doubling France’s lead. Right before the final whistle, Mbappé curled in a perfect shot to give the French a three goal advantage. 

France was victorious in the previous World Cup in Russia, and will aim to be the first nation to win back-to-back World Cups since Brazil in 1958 & 1962. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons license)

Even though Poland converted a penalty with the last kick of the game to make the final score 3-1, things could not have gone better for France. 

Defensively, they were solid, although Poland was able to get a couple of shots on target. The most exciting part of this France team is the offense, even with the setbacks the team faced. Going into the tournament, many were concerned that France would not fare well, after one of its best players, the Real Madrid Ballon d’Or winner, Karim Benezema, was injured shortly before the World Cup began.  However, thus far the French team has showcased its depth in attack and look poised to continue a deep run into the tournament. 

3. U.S. strike out

After making its first appearance in the World Cup in eight years, Team USA provided a statement to the world in the group stage that it had come to play. After finishing second in its group, Team USA squared off against the Netherlands, who had looked impressive. Unfortunately, the U.S. was unable to overcome the Dutch. 

The United States can be proud of what it accomplished in Qatar, but there is room for improvement. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons license)

It took just ten minutes for Barcelona forward Memphis Depay to slot in a well-placed shot past Matt Turner. To their credit, Team USA didn’t drop their heads and pushed for an equalizer. However, in the dying moments of the first half, Daley Blind scored a goal almost reminicist of Depay’s, placing the Americans in a more difficult situation. With just 15 minutes to go in the second half, Nijaki Wright breathed new life into the match after clawing a goal back for the U.S. But the Dutch swiftly dashed the Americans hopes for a comeback after Denzal Dumfries scored to put the Dutch up 3-1, which ended up being the final scoreline.  

What went wrong for the Americans? The match mainly came down to two issues: Bad defensive decisions and the lack of a true goalscorer. Two of the Netherlands’ goals were simply the result of poor marking, and both Depay and Blind didn’t face any true difficulty scoring. Perhaps the most key issue, one that has affected Team USA the entire tournament, was the absence of a key goalscorer. The US missed a series of crucial chances throughout the match, and none of its forwards were very effective.

On the flip side, the team the U.S. was playing was top-quality. The Dutch were superbly organized and talented. The team had previously been criticized for its “conservative” style of play, but the Netherlands performed extremely well, and the system Louis Van Gaal has put into place seems to be working. 

In the end, the Netherlands were able to make the most of its chances, and the Americans were unable to do the same. 

2. Moroccan masterclass

Going into Qatar ranked 22, as well as being thrust into a group with Belgium, Canada and Croatia, most expected Morocco to crash out in the first phase of the tournament. But the exact opposite occurred. Morocco completely dominated, finishing top of the group and only conceded one goal in the process. 

Now the team was faced with a tough opponent in the first round of the knockout stage: Spain. Spain completely dominated its first match of the group stage, but disappointed in its other two matches to end up finishing second in its group.

Morocco has taken this year’s tournament by storm, despite the team’s low ranking. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons license)

But Spain was still considered a serious contender for the World Cup and would not be an easy team to beat. 

Throughout the match, Spain played in its typical style, dominating possession and creating chance after chance, but it simply could not tiki-taka its way through the resolute Moroccan defense, which repelled wave after wave of attack.

After the game finished goalless, there was a tense period of extra time followed by a penalty shootout.  In the shootout the Moroccans were flawless, converting each of their penalties while the Spanish scored none of theirs.

The definite surprise survivor of the round of 16, Morocco now goes forward as a sentimental favorite into the quarterfinals.

On the other hand, Spain’s coach, the flamboyant Luis Enrique, has coached his final game for the national team, and Spain departs with a sense of disappointment of what might have been.

1. Não Ronaldo, sem problemas (No Ronaldo, no problem)

Before the kickoff of Portugal’s round of 16 game against Switzerland, all eyes were on Portugal’s coach, Fernando Santos, and his seeming feud with his captain, the legendary Cristiano Ronaldo.  There was a growing perception that Ronaldo had passed his prime, and, after being substituted in the last group game, Ronaldo had seemed to react angrily, and perhaps disrespectfully, to his coach. The question was whether Ronaldo would start the critical knockout game, and the answer was a resounding “no” to the surprise of many in the stadium wearing his jersey.

Portugal has impressed in Qatar. Players are pictured here in the previous World Cup. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons license)

In Ronaldo’s place was the 21-year-old Gonçalo Santos, making his very first start for the national team, who scored the World Cup’s first hat trick to kickstart a 6-1 demolition of the Swiss.

While the crowd serenaded Ronaldo’s name as the superstar looked on from the sidelines, the Portuguese ran riot and looked capable of scoring with each attack.  Ronaldo did eventually get a curtain call for the closing minutes of a long-decided game, however, in Santos the Portuguese are looking to the future.

Portugal looked exceptionally fluid and dynamic in this match and have emerged as serious contenders to not only go deeper into the tournament, but also to perhaps even emerge with the trophy for the first time.