The 2022 Qatar World Cup has continually told its own stories; bearing interesting nuances along the way. And yet, the drama has been high-octane.
There are suggestive notions of decline for some of the big European teams on the one hand, and steady progress for the more consistent teams from Asia and Africa on the other.
The second-best team in the world is out after the group stages. Belgium finished in third place at the 2018 edition. And for much of the talk about this being the last chance saloon for this generation of talented players, there is the sense that they should not have lasted this long.
From the start, the Red Devils looked disinterested and disjointed. Despite being the highest scorers in Russia, Roberto Martinez’s team scored just once at this tournament. But when Jeremy Doku came on late in the game against Croatia, his contributions showed just what might have been if the manager had pruned the side and given chances to the emerging players.
Germany also exited the tournament at this stage for the second time since they won it in 2014. Die Mannschaft helped Spain progress yet could do nothing to help themselves. They needed La Roja, who could not return the favour.
Vincent Aboubakar scored, celebrated, and got sent off in less than a minute. His goal was not enough. Cameroon are heading home, but with their heads held high after an impressive performance against the best team in the world.
We are set for more excitement this weekend.
Review Of Group Stage Round 3 (E-H)
Romelu Lukaku missed a handful of chances as Belgium and Croatia settled for a goalless draw.
Two first-half goals from Hakim Ziyech and Youssef En-Nesyri helped Morocco defeat Canada and seal the top spot.
Japan earned a surprising 2-1 win against Spain thanks to two quick goals in the second half.
Kai Havertz scored a brace after coming off the bench in Germany’s 4-2 win against Costa Rica.
South Korea came from behind to defeat Portugal 2-1 late in the game and seal qualification.
Uruguay thought they had done enough after defeating Ghana 2-0, only for the news of South Korea’s win to filter in before full-time.
Breel Embolo was on target in Switzerland’s hard-fought 3-2 win against Serbia, which saw them qualify for the knockout rounds.
Cameroon defeated Brazil 1-0 to become the first African team to get a win over the Selecao at the World Cup.
Preview Of The Round Of 16
The Netherlands will take on the United States in the opening encounter. Cody Gakpo will fancy his chances once again, as Gregg Berhalter will count on Christian Pulisic.
Argentina face off against Australia. The South Americans seem to have improved from their first match, with Lionel Messi now dictating the flow of events.
France will tackle Poland on Sunday afternoon. Didier Deschamps will revert to his trusted XI, led by Kylian Mbappe. Robert Lewandowski will expect a tough afternoon while hoping to finish off his chances.
England face a tough test against the swift Senegalese side. Ismaila Sarr has stepped up in the absence of Sadio Mane. The forward will be willing to run at the English defence. Marcus Rashford will expect to continue in his rich vein of form.
Japan will continue to believe when they meet a limited Croatia team, as Brazil will be confident of winning against South Korea.
Morocco will be positive against a Spanish side that struggled in the last two matches. Hakim Ziyech will be itching to score once again for the North Africans.
Portugal and Switzerland clash in the final Round of 16 match on Tuesday night. Cristiano Ronaldo will be keen to get on target against this compact Swiss team.
Netherlands vs USA (under 3.5 goals)
Argentina vs Australia (1)
France vs Poland (1)
England vs Senegal (over 1.5 goals)
Japan vs Croatia (goal/goal)
Brazil vs South Korea (1)
Morocco vs Spain (over 2.5 goals)
Portugal vs Switzerland (over 1.5 goals)