World Cup recap - Round of 16
Round of 16 Day Four results:
Morocco 0 - 0 Spain
Portugal 6 - 1 Switzerland
There will be scenes of jubilation all around Morocco and the rest of Africa tonight after their team pulled off a stunning upset win in a penalty shootout against Spain. Goalkeeper and hero of the penalty shootout Bono, was hoisted into the air by his teammates as they celebrated the famous win.
Elsewhere in Doha, Portugal announced themselves as contenders for the World Cup with a thumping 6 - 1 victory over Switzerland. Cristiano Ronaldo started on the bench for Portugal and stormed off the field without celebrating with his teammates when the game was over. His teammates won’t be too worried, though, after Ronaldo’s replacement Goncalo Ramos stepped up with the tournament’s first hat trick to lead the Portuguese to victory.
Here are five things we learned from the overnight fixtures, plus a look ahead to Saturday night’s games.
Five Things We Learned
Morocco, the Pride of Africa with Upset Win Over Spain
Morocco secured their place in the World Cup Quarter Finals for the first time in their history after a historic penalty shootout win against Spain.
Before the game against Spain, Morocco manager Walid Regragui said of his team’s performance that “we wanted to show them that Africa was there."
Well, that’s exactly what they’ve done as his side recorded a historic win against their Mediterranean neighbours.
Once Morocco had been able to earn the penalty shootout against Spain, the win became emphatic as Spain didn’t score a single penalty throughout the entire penalty shootout.
When Moroccan striker Achraf Hakimi, who was born and raised in Spain, stepped up and deftly chipped his panenka penalty past the diving keeper, the Moroccans burst into celebration.
Moroccan goalkeeper Bono was lifted into the air by his teammates in celebration after the game as he made three spectacular saves against Spain in the penalty shootout.
Morocco has now become only the fourth nation from Africa to make the quarter-final of a World Cup and will have the support of an entire continent behind them when they take on Portugal on Saturday.
No African nation has ever made the semi-final of a World Cup, and Morocco will have a tough task to get past Portugal, who was incredibly impressive against Switzerland.
One thing’s for sure, though; the Moroccan team will feel the support of the entire African continent when they take on Portugal on Saturday.
If they can get an unlikely win, we will likely see scenes that we have never seen before throughout Africa as the entire continent celebrates the achievement of the first African team reaching a World Cup Semi-Final.
Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect For Luis Enrique’s Men
For the second successive time in major tournaments, Spain has lost on penalties.
After their Euro 2020 semi-final loss to eventual winners Italy, Spain manager Jose Enrique gave his players some homework.
"Over a year ago, in many national camps we told players, 'You have homework ahead of the World Cup. You must take at least 1,000 penalties with the club'. You can't just train them when they're with the national team'," Luis Enrique told reporters at his press conference on Monday.
"I don't think it's a lottery. If you train often, then the way you take penalties improves. Obviously, you can't train the pressure and tension, but you can cope with it.
"It doesn't depend on luck, the goalkeeper is key in the shootout. All three of our keepers are good at them. In our sessions, we have players taking penalty kicks, it's homework we've taken into account."
Luis Enrique might now be looking back on those words with a sense of regret after his side’s shock loss to Morocco on penalties.
Not only did Spain lose to Portugal in a penalty shootout, but not a single one of Spain’s players made one of their penalties. It’ll be fascinating to hear what Enrique says about his side’s shock loss in the future. However, I doubt we will see a manager so confidently declare his side’s likelihood of winning a penalty shootout for the next little while, at least!
Ronaldo-less Portugal Runs Rampant
Cristiano Ronaldo started on the bench for the first time for Portugal in the World Cup since 2006, which may have helped his team play even better against a dejected Swiss side.
It was the first time in 19 World Cup matches that Ronaldo had not started on the field, and the trust he has for his teammates to get the job done without him must surely have grown from the result of the game.
Speculation reigned as to whether Ronaldo was left out of the team due to his relatively quiet performances in the World Cup so far, or whether it was his reaction to being substituted in the last game that had compelled Portuguese manager Fernando Santos to leave Ronaldo out of the side for disciplinary reasons.
Whatever reason he had for leaving Ronaldo out of the starting team, Santos will feel vindicated by the performance of the rest of his squad in Ronaldo’s absence.
Led by 21-year-old striker Goncalo Ramos, who scored a wonderful hat trick, Portugal dominated Switzerland from the start of the match and never let them grow into the game.
By the end of the first half, both Ramos and 39-year-old defender Pepe had scored for Portugal, and by 11 minutes into the second half, two more Portuguese goals had put the game to bed.
The nature of the win will give Santos a lot to think about as Portugal progress to their nation’s second-ever World Cup Quarter Final against Morocco.
It was, without a doubt, Portugal’s best performance so far this World Cup, and so it’s unlikely that Ronaldo will come into the starting XI for the quarter-final based on the form of his teammates.
However, Ronaldo’s temperament is unlike that of any other player, and he has recently had an unceremonious exit from his former club Manchester United after taking issue with being left out of the starting team.
If Santos can manage Ronaldo’s attitude towards his increasing irrelevance to the Portuguese team and if Ronaldo buys into the team attitude and chooses to contribute as much as he can off the bench, then Portugal has a genuine chance of going all the way in this World Cup.
Ronaldo left the field immediately after the game against Switzerland, refusing to celebrate on the pitch with his teammates and travelling fans, so it seems that he’s not ecstatic with how things are playing out for him individually, despite the dominant win.
It will be fascinating to see if Ronaldo, who has seemed to struggle with coming to terms with his decreased influence at club level, can put his personal issues aside and contribute towards a Portugal victory with his influence seemingly diminished.
Surely, the stunning form of Goncalo Ramos, as well as the fact that Portugal’s other senior players stepped up in Ronaldo’s absence, can allow him to shift his focus to how he can contribute best from the bench.
It will almost certainly be Ronaldo’s last World Cup, and if he can commit to the role, he would be a pretty special substitute for any manager to bring on. If he can get through this World Cup without upsetting the apple cart, Ronaldo is a good chance to get his World Cup fairytale after all, even if he might not be as central to it as he’d always dreamed.
Round of 16 Has First Upset In Final Game
It took until the final day’sfixtures in the Round of 16 to get the first real upset, but Morocco delivered just that in an unlikely penalty shootout win against Spain this morning.
It was a historic win for Morocco, who had qualified for the knockout stages once before but never recorded a win at this stage of the tournament.
They can now proudly boast that they’re the fourth team from Africa to make the quarter-finals of a World Cup.
Spain dominated possession throughout the game against Morocco but could not create many clear-cut chances.
The Moroccan defence, which has stood up throughout this tournament, conceding only a single goal so far, continued to hold out the Spanish attack throughout 120 minutes of football.
When the game went to penalties, all the pressure was on the Spanish players to consolidate their superior possession and field position that they throughout the game into a win.
But the Moroccan goalkeeper stood up when his team needed him most, saving three Spanish penalties and helping his team to an unlikely quarter-finals birth.
Morocco will again go into their next match as the underdog after an impressive Portugal team brushed Switzerland aside in their Round of 16 encounter.
If Morocco’s defence can hold out for another 120 minutes of football, they will take a lot of confidence from their performance in today’s penalty shootout.
It’s A Bad Day To Be A Benfica Fan
Benfica fans will be hoping that the football scouts for the world’s biggest teams would have somehow missed the game between Portugal and Switzerland this morning. Then, they would have missed the star performance of 21-year-old striker Goncalo Ramos.
Ramos currently plays for Benfica in Portugal, but that’s unlikely to be the case for too much longer after Ramos became the first player to score a hat trick at this year’s World Cup.
Ramos’s first two goals marked the 18th occasion that someone has scored twice so far at this World Cup, but his third handed him the first hat trick of the tournament.
It’s likely that the biggest teams throughout Europe will be looking to acquire the services of Ramos, who now has three more World Cup knockout stage goals than teammate Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ramos has already been linked with PSG in France, and ironically, Manchester United are also rumoured to be interested in the young Portuguese striker to replace the recently departed Ronaldo.
With the January transfer window just around the corner, if Ramos can continue his goal-scoring run, teams will be lining up to sign the young striker, and Benfica won’t be able to enjoy seeing him in a home shirt for too much longer.
Tonight will be the first break in World Cup action since the tournament started 17 days ago.
Although it will be disappointing not to have the same high-quality, exciting football that we’ve enjoyed on our screens for most of the last three weeks, it signals that we are reaching the business end of the tournament.
This also means that from here on in, most of the games are set up as enticing affairs where either team has claims on a victory.
Let’s look ahead to the fixtures taking place on Saturday morning Australia time.
2am AEDT - CROATIA v BRAZIL
All eyes will be on Brazil to see whether they can continue their run of form against a Croatia side that will be hoping to cause an upset and make their second successive World Cup Semi-Final on Saturday morning Australia time.
Brazil was ultra-impressive in their 4 - 1 win over South Korea in the Round of 16 but will face a tougher test against a Croatian side that defeated Japan on penalties.
The extra 30 minutes of football played by Croatia against Japan is likely to be a factor, especially if the game includes extra time and penalties.
Brazil has had more of a chance to rest their players throughout this World Cup, and although they’ve battled injuries to players such as Neymar, Danilo and Alex Sandro, they will have the majority of their squad available for the quarter-final with Croatia.
Brazil is also likely to bring in one of either Bruno Guimarães or Fred into midfield, which could further boost the side that enjoyed such a resounding win over South Korea as they add to their ability to further control possession in the middle of the pitch.
Croatia will be hoping they can reverse a recent trend of struggling to score goals as they lack a traditional striker. Croatia has one of the best midfields in the competition but hasn’t been able to make the most of their midfield dominance so far at this World Cup.
Even in Croatia’s last game, it was Japan who had the better of the chances throughout the match as Croatia struggled to find teammates in the attacking third of the pitch.
Croatia will need to find a more efficient avenue to goal against Brazil than they’ve found so far at this World Cup.
It’s unlikely that Brazil will be as forgiving as Japan if they create as many chances against the Croatian defence.
It will be an upset for the ages if Croatia can get up over Brazil, but with one win in a penalty shootout already in this tournament, they will feel they are a chance to progress if they can just take the match to an ultimate shootout.
6am AEDT - NETHERLANDS v ARGENTINA
The Netherlands and Argentina will both feel they are a good chance to knock off one of the tournament’s best teams when they come up against each other in the quarter-final of the World Cup on Saturday.
Netherlands finished top of Group A during the group stages, and a 1-all draw with Ecuador has been the only blemish on their record in this World Cup so far. They finished the Group Stage with the third highest goal difference of any team in the World Cup and easily took care of an improving USA team in their Round of 16 match.
The Netherlands have also been one of the best performed international teams for the last 12 months in world football. They haven’t lost a match since the 28th of June 2021, before current coach Luis Van Gaal took over the helm.
They will come up against one of the other best performed sides in the last 12 months of international football, though, with the opening game loss to Saudi Arabia one of only two matches out of 13 in 2022 that they did not win. The other game was a draw to Ecuador in March.
If Lionel Messi’s side can capture the form that has taken them to a run of 22 wins in their last 26 games, then Luis Van Gaal’s Dutch side will face their toughest task of their entire winning run, but with Cody Gakpo and Memphis Depay in good form for the Netherlands, they certainly won’t be a lay down misere for Argentina.
This is likely to be an incredibly close game where the loser will be leaving this World Cup bitterly disappointed.
In what could be the game of the World Cup so far, we will lose one of the major protagonists that we’ve had in this tournament so far. Either Lionel Messi will be denied his fairytale, or Cody Gakpo and his Dutch teammates will be left to rue yet another World Cup disappointment for the team in orange.