Reviewing The World Cup’s Round Of 16 Fixtures
While the drama of the World Cup’s group stages is always enthralling, there’s nothing quite like the knockout fixtures of football’s biggest tournament. The sense of jeopardy is unlike anything in world sport, and we saw the jubilation and despair each winner and loser experiences during this year’s round of 16 match-ups in Qatar.
There were penalty shootouts, upsets, blowouts and everything in between. Therefore, without further ado, read on as we dissect each of the round of 16 fixtures that took place earlier this month.
Netherland v USA
While both nations entered their round of 16 clash without a loss, it was the Netherlands who looked more impressive throughout the group stages. With the likes of Cody Gakpo, Memphis Depay and Virgil van Dijk suiting up for the Oranje, it was always going to be a tall order for Christian Pulisic and company to defy the odds and reach the final eight.
That was proven as Louis van Gaal’s men cruised to a 3-1 victory at the Khalifa International Stadium courtesy of goals to Depay, Daley Blind and Denzel Dumfries. The United States made the Dutch sweat a little after Haji Wright’s goal in the 76th minute, however, when the Netherlands found the back of the net again just five minutes later – it guaranteed the Europeans’ spot in the quarter-final.
Argentina v Australia
If you bet on football, you would have been confident putting your money on Argentina progressing to the World Cup quarter-finals for the fifth time since 1998. Awaiting them in their round of 16 match-up was Australia, whose heroics in their group fixtures saw them reach the knockout stages for just the second time in history – and the first since 2006.
The Socceroos came to play, utilising their size advantage and physicality to dominate large chunks of the opening 30 minutes. When you’re playing a team of Argentina’s calibre however, you can’t afford to switch off. They did so in the 35th minute and paid the ultimate price, as superstar Lionel Messi broke the deadlock with a beautiful left-footed finish.
The Lionel Scaloni-managed side added to their lead in the second half thanks to a poor decision at the back from the Australian goalkeeper, providing Julian Alvarez a gift of a goal. With their backs against the wall, the Socceroos got back into the contest in the 77th minute after Craig Goodwin’s shot was ricocheted off Argentina’s Enzo Fernandez and into the net. As a result, momentum shifted for the remaining 20 minutes of the match, and Australia went close to levelling proceedings down the stretch.
Despite the underdogs’ efforts, Argentina showed their grit and managed to hold on to win 2-1. While it wasn’t the most convincing of performances from the La Albiceleste – it could be a matter of time before the star-studded side hit their straps.
France v Poland
A very one-sided affair, Poland were unable to handle Kylian Mbappe’s brilliance upfront. After the 23-year-old laid on an inch-perfect pass to Olivier Giroud to open the scoring, the Paris Saint-Germain superstar got on the scoresheet himself with two incredible finishes in the 74th and 91st minute respectively.
Poland’s Robert Lewandowski scored a consolation goal from the spot in the 99th minute to make it a more respectable 3-1 score line.
England v Senegal
After a nervy start, in which Senegal had multiple chances on goal in the opening 20 minutes, Gareth Southgate’s men settled into proceedings at the half-hour mark and took control of the game. Their uptick in pressure paid off just before half-time, with Jordan Henderson’s and Harry Kane’s goals in the 39th and 47th minute breaking the spirit of the Lions of Teranga.
It was more of the same in the second half, with Bukayo Saka’s effort in the 57th minute resulting in a third for the Three Lions. England would go on to win 3-0 in what was a dominant performance.
Japan vs Croatia
This was a pick em’ type contest. Although 2018 World Cup finalists Croatia would’ve been heavily favoured before the tournament began, their opponents the Blue Samurais had proven to be giant killers at this year’s renewal in the Middle East.
With 2-1 wins over Germany and Spain respectively in the group stage, the Hajime Moriyasu-managed side were full of confidence heading into their round of 16 fixture. That was apparent from the opening whistle, as the Japanese dominated the first half with precision passing and strong runs off the ball.
Their extended pressure resulted in a goal just before half-time, with Daizen Maeda giving his side a 1-0 lead at the main break. The second half started similar to the first, with Japan looking the better of the two teams. However, it was Croatia who got on the board next, after Ivan Perisic scored a fantastic header against the run of play. The scores remained 1-1 after 120 minutes, ensuring that the quarter-finalist would be decided at the penalty spot.
It was a nightmare for Japan, who only scored on one attempt – while Croatia converted on three to extend their stay in the tournament.
Brazil v South Korea
The Selecao’s performance in their round of 16 game against South Korea showed exactly why they entered the tournament as the favourites. Their passing, flair and overall skill level is unparalleled in world football – and the Taegeuk Warriors had no answer as Neymar Jr. and company scored four unanswered goals to take an insurmountable lead into the break.
Brazil took their foot off the gas in the second half, failing to score a fifth once the final whistle blew. Conversely, South Korea managed a consolation goal, with Paik Seung-ho’s strike in the 76th minute the only bright spot for Son Heung-min and company.
Morocco v Spain
Morocco’s World Cup story throughout the group stage was a fantastic one, however, most felt their campaign was going to end in the round of 16 at the hands of Spain. While the Spanish dominated possession and had the better chances of the two teams, the north Africans’ last-ditch efforts on the defensive end kept them in the contest. After neither side could break the deadlock once the 120 minutes were up, the game went to a penalty shootout.
It was Walid Regrargui’s men who defied the odds and reigned supreme 3-0 in the penalties – and in doing so – caused one of the upsets of the tournament.
Portugal v Switzerland
With news of Cristiano Ronaldo’s benching just hours before their round of 16 game against Switzerland – his replacement in the starting line-up Goncalo Ramos entered the knockout clash under enormous pressure. The 21-year-old Benfica striker handled being under a microscope like a true professional, bagging a hattrick en route to a 6-1 thumping of the Nati.