The 2022 World Cup began with some surprises. Saudi Arabia beat Argentina in one of the biggest upsets in tournament history. Teams like Belgium and Germany failed to make the knockout rounds.
But there aren't many surprises among the teams remaining in the tournament. Of the eight countries still in contention for the World Cup, seven are ranked in the top 12 of the FIFA rankings. Only Morocco, at No. 22, is outside the top 20. And the Moroccans have been one of the best teams in the tournament.
There are six teams remaining that can realistically claim they have a good chance to win the World Cup and another, Croatia, made it to the final in 2018. Here's how we view the teams heading into the final three rounds of the tournament.
Putting Morocco at No. 8 is not a slight — it's a sign of the depth of this quarterfinal field. Morocco features international stars like Hakim Ziyech and Achraf Hakimi and has allowed just one goal over four games. Its group F win was no fluke and Morocco's presence as the first African team in the quarterfinals of a World Cup since Ghana in 2010 is well-deserved.
The same core players that powered Croatia's run to the World Cup final in 2018 are a part of this team's 2022 tournament run. Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic have been phenomenal in midfield and Ivan Perisic has been one of the best wingers at each of the past two World Cups. While another run to the flnal seems improbable, the Croatians aren't going to be an easy out against Brazil on Friday.
6) The Netherlands
The Dutch dispatched the United States in the Round of 16 with two clinical goals in the first half. The Netherlands' Denzel Dumfries is one of the best attacking fullbacks in the world and Cody Gakpo will soon be playing in one of Europe's biggest leagues after scoring three goals in the group stage. Barcelona striker Memphis Depay is also getting healthier too.
Portugal looked dominant against Switzerland with Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench. This is a Portugal team stacked with talent that doesn't need its aging star striker and could be more dangerous without him on the field. After all, there's no place in the starting 11 for 23-year-old winger Rafael Leao. He's been coming off the bench after scoring seven goals and assisting on nine in 20 appearances for AC Milan this year.
The Argentines have bounced back from their World Cup-opening loss to Saudi Arabia to post three consecutive wins. Lionel Messi remains the key part of the Argentina attack as Julian Alvarez has taken a starring role up front and Lautaro Martinez and Angel di Maria have been starting games on the bench. While Argentina's win streak is now at three instead of 35, this team is still capable of beating anyone in the tournament as long as Messi is on the field.
England has ditched a three-man central defense and it has paid off in the form of a combined nine goals against Iran and Senegal. The defense hasn't been compromised with the move either as Jude Bellingham has been the midfield engine with Declan Rice holding it down in front of the back line. There's a lot of interchangeability up front on either side of Harry Kane as well. Saturday's game between the English and French could be the game of the tournament.
Is this a team that's better with Olivier Giroud in the lineup instead of Karim Benzema? It may seem like a wild thing to say, but this injury-ravaged France team is still very, very good. Kylian Mbappe has been the attacker of the tournament while Antoine Griezmann has slotted seamlessly into an attacking midfield role ahead of a duo of Adrien Rabiot and Aurelien Tchouameni that has been excellent in place of Paul Pogba and N'Golo Kante.
Brazil has shown nothing to dissuade people from believing it's the favorite to win the World Cup. Its only defeat came against Cameroon when Brazil started an entirely second-string starting 11. The attack can strike in myriad ways as shown by the four goals Brazil scored in the first half against South Korea and the first-choice lineup has given up just one goal across three games.
Stats that matter
- Brazil are favourites to win the 2022 World Cup with Gracenote's updated predictions estimating a 25% chance of the team lifting the trophy on December 18.
- Argentina are the main challengers with a 20% chance of winning followed by Portugal on 13%, the Netherlands and France (both on 11%), and then England, estimated to have 10% chance of winning.
- The most likely World Cup finalists are Brazil (39% chance) and Portugal (30%). Argentina have 31% chance but cannot get to the final if Brazil do. France (27%), England (25%), Netherlands (19%), Morocco (18%) and Croatia (11%) complete the possibilities.
- A Brazil v Portugal final leads the 16 possible World Cup finals at this stage, with a chance of 11.9% of happening.