Stage set for mouth-watering quarter-finals

Out of 32 contenders, 24 have been eliminated and the rest are set to begin their do-or-die battles for a spot in the Qatar 2022 semi-finals from today.

Following an exciting Round of 16 which saw upsets, thrills and emotions while the best of the best made a step closer to the biggest prize in football, stage is set for the final stretch of the World Cup in Qatar, the “best ever” according to billions of fans all over the globe.

The round of the last eight kicks off today, but the question on everyone’s mind will be, will the favourites live up to expectations? Or will there be mouth-watering upsets?   

With Asian and North American teams already out of contention, the World Cup quarter-finals feature teams from three continents, Europe, Africa and South America.

The defending champions France join the last eight along with fellow UEFA contenders England, the Netherlands, Croatia, and Portugal. CONMEBOL’s best hopes rely on five-time winners Brazil and two-time winners Argentina who are set on a collision course and are likely to face off in the semi-finals if they overcome their next opponents. 

CAF has their hopes pinned on Morocco, the first-ever Arab team to make it to the World Cup quarters.

The Russia 2018 finalists Croatia face Brazil in the opening match of the quarter-final stage, at the Education City Stadium.

The Europeans are participating in their sixth World Cup finals since they gained independence in 1991, and they will be keen to repeat their heroics from four years ago. They came to touching distance of winning the World Cup title last time, but went down 2-4 to France.

The Croatians knocked out Japan in in a thrilling shootout to reach the last eight and they will heavily rely on their experienced skipper Luca Modric in today’s crunch tie.

Meanwhile, the Brazilians, one of the hot favourites to win the title this time, will be targeting another title glory after a 20-year hiatus.

Their last triumph came in 2002 when they trounced Germany 2-0.

Currently number one in the FIFA rankings, Brazil is the only side that has played at every World Cup finals edition since its inception in 1930.

Brazil made it to the quarters after hammering South Korea 4-1.

Meanwhile, The Netherlands will take on another title-favourite, Argentina in today’s second quarter-final encounter.

After missing out on the 2018 edition, the Dutchmen will be looking to ride on their exceptional form after making it to the last eight with a convincing 3-1 win over USA.

The Dutch, who have reached the final on three occasions (1974, 1978, 2010), will be looking to break the title hoodoo this time, but the Lionel Messi-led Argentinians will have everything in their arsenal ready to block their path at the Lusail Stadium.

Argentina won the world cup twice—once in 1978 and in 1986 and have been runners-up three times in 1930, 1990, and 2014.

Argentina, who came to Qatar with a 36-match unbeaten streak, shockingly lost to Saudi Arabia in the group stage, but gained their rhythm once again with back-to-back wins over Mexico and Poland to advance. They then beat Australia 2-1 to enter the last eight.

Tomorrow, history-makers Morocco will face an uphill task against a Portugal side who are brimming with confidence after thumping Switzerland 6-1 – that too while keeping their talisman Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench.

The best performance for the Portuguese came way back in 1966 when they finished third. Portugal started Qatar 2022 campaign with a 3-2 win over Ghana before progressing to the Round of 16 after a 2-0 victory over Uruguay. They lost 2-1 to South Korea, but that couldn’t affect their spirit, a fact proven a few days later.

The Portuguese will be eyeing the semis when they take on the Atlas Lions at the Al Thumama Stadium.

Last but not least, it will be the reigning champions France who will be looking to fill the last slot in the semi-final line-up when they take on England in a mouth-watering fixture at Al Bayt Stadium tomorrow.

Having tasted the title-glory in 1998 and 2018, Les Bleus will be aiming at winning consecutive World Cups, a rare feat that has only been achieved by two teams -Italy (1934, 1938) and Brazil (1958,1962).

France defeated Poland 3-1 with the help of a brace from their reliable striker Kylian Mbappe and veteran Olivier Giroud to reach the quarters.

England, meanwhile, have won the World Cup only once in 1966. 

They came into this year’s edition as the 2018 third placed team and began with a 6-2 victory over Iran, registering a goalless draw with USA and sealing progression to the round of sixteen with a 3-0 win over British rivals Wales.

England defeated African champions Senegal 3-0 in the round of sixteen to earn a place in the last eight.