And then there were eight. After four dozen group matches and eight eliminators Qatar 2022 now has its full complement of quarter-finalists. On Sunday week, the captain of one of the Netherlands, Argentina, France, England, Croatia, Brazil, Morocco or Portugal will triumphantly hoist what is arguably the most iconic trophy in world sport skywards through a deluge of ticker-tape to jubilant roars from his ecstatic teammates, fans and fellow countrymen.
Having long spoken of his desire to win trophies, an ambition that has thus far gone unrealised at Tottenham Hotspur, the honour could fall to Harry Kane, but for now England’s captain is unlikely be looking any further than Saturday’s appointment with France, who are currently second favourites behind Brazil to become only the third nation in tournament history to retain the title.
But being favourites means little. On racecourses across the UK, perceived bankers get turned over with monotonous regularity. While the odds-makers called the last 16 largely correctly, a series of matches that suggested several upsets might be on the cards delivered only one.
Following a group stage that produced a few seismic shocks and saw big name sides such as Germany, Belgium – and to a lesser extent Denmark and Uruguay – crash out , most teams who were expected to advance to the quarter-finals from the first knockout round duly obliged, with Spain the notable exception. Australia, Poland, Switzerland, South Korea, the USA and Senegal can all claim to have left Qatar with their heads held high – Switzerland less so after their thrashing – but there has always been a certain inevitability about the cream of the last 16 crop rising to the top.
In the five World Cup staged previously in this millennium, only South Korea – co-hosts in 2002 – have sent eyebrows soaring in disbelief by advancing to the semi-finals, having first surpassed their own and worldwide expectations by making it to the final eight. With the benefit of home advantage and plenty of luck, Guus Hiddink’s side won no end of admirers as they advanced through the knockout stages at the expense of Italy and Spain before running out of road against Germany. In any other year, the manner in which Turkey made it to the other 2002 semi-final, albeit at the expense of less vaunted opponents, only to lose against Brazil would have been fairly sensational news. In a tournament comparatively full of surprises, the USA also made it to the quarter-finals of Japan and South Korea 2002.
In the four tournaments played since, only Ukraine (2006), Ghana and Paraguay (2010), Costa Rica (2010) and arguably Sweden (2018) have looked to have notions above their stations by making it to the quarter-finals and not one of those surprise packages made it any further, with all eventually going out to more streetwise, often wilier and simply better sides. Despite not being in the top 20 of Fifa’s international rankings, Morocco have bucked the trend in knocking out Spain to take their place in a last eight otherwise full of familiar faces for the first time in their history. Having conceded just one goal – an unlucky own goal – in their past eight games, this obdurate side from north Africa could go even further and will take some beating. BG
Hakimi holds nerve for box-office moment
Achraf Hakimi booked Morocco’s place in the quarter-finals with one of the great major-tournament penalties. After playing his part in a magnificent defensive display against Spain, and having already seen his teammate Hakim Ziyech belt his own shootout spot-kick down the middle, the Madrid-born defender dinked the ball into the back of the net with an effort that Andrea Pirlo – or indeed Antonin Panenka – would have been proud of. His celebration was right up there, too, jigging happily on the spot as he awaited the arrival of his on-rushing teammates. Nerveless? No. There were certainly nerves. But after one deep breath, a last moment to focus, Hakimi sent Morocco into the last eight. It was sensational coolness under pressure, and will go down as one of the most memorable moments of a drama-packed tournament. LMc
Ramos seizes moment for rampant Portugal
Gonçalo Ramos’s opening goal flashed past Yann Sommer and into the top corner before Switzerland’s goalkeeper had a chance to move. The Swiss defenders all looked around in disbelief, wondering how they had fallen a goal behind in the blink of an eye. Fabian Schär could have done more to block the shot, and Sommer was beaten at his near post, but the strike was so sweet and powerful it was a moment simply to praise Ramos’s technique and opportunism. By the end of the night, with six goals scored, Portugal had rocketed to somewhere near the top of the rankings of potential tournament winners and Ramos had seized his moment by scoring the World Cup’s first hat-trick. When the Portugal squad massed by the corner flag to celebrate that rocket of an opener, Cristiano Ronaldo was just another face in the crowd. As this rate he will need to get used to it. LMc
There were troubling scenes outside the Education City Stadium before and during the Morocco v Spain match, with fans of the African nation unable to gain entry for the last-16 tie. Journalists reported that there was the risk of a crush when the stadium entrance was closed midway inside the first half and a flashpoint when an officer fell off a horse amid chaotic scenes near a chainlink fence. Fans said by organisers to be ticketless tried to get past a security cordon but were pushed back by police and security forces. It was reported that the situation calmed down when many fans outside chose to watch on their mobile phones. GB
The exits of both Japan and South Korea in quick succession left Asia without a representative in the World Cup’s last eight, but press reaction domestically has mostly viewed the defeats through the prism that reaching the last 16 was an achievement in itself.
In The Hankyoreh in South Korea, there was a lament for the pressure the schedule had put the team under compared to Brazil. “The World Cup was held while the European leagues were in progress, affecting the duration of the tournament,” the newspaper said. “The Korean players, who had no choice but to put up with the tight schedule, suffered from physical exhaustion. Brazil changed most of the starting lineup in the third round of the group stage.”
The Kyunghyang Shinmun had reporters on the streets of Seoul where fans gathered to watch at 4am in temperatures of -4C. “Citizens who filled the plaza three hours before the start of the game melted the cold with cup noodles and hot coffee,” it noted, adding: “It snowed quite a bit from the end of the first half, but the enthusiasm for cheering was not dampened.” There was no indication on whether there was a noodle shower when South Korea scored.
The Japan Times said that after the wins over Spain and Germany, “the international soccer community should be taking note of how this Japan side isn’t another flash in the pan”. Dan Orlowitz reckoned: “Over four games at this tournament, the Samurai Blue’s performances showcased some of their greatest strengths – and exposed their most glaring weaknesses”, and said that “it’s now hoped that Monday’s heartbreak will drive many of the 19 players at their first World Cup to bring the team to the promised land of the quarter-finals and beyond.”
The internet reacts
Roy Keane continued his quest to make friends all over the world with his disparaging remarks about Brazil’s dance celebrations on Monday. TNT Sports BR were not the only people to compare Keane’s remarks that the dancing was “disrespectful” to his own actions during his career, but with over five million followers on Twitter their flashback to that Keane tackle on Alfe Inge Haaland will have had more reach than most.
Not everybody quite hit the mark. One outraged tweet suggested that Keane had been born into a society where people don’t dance because they don’t know how to express themselves. Quite a difficult take on Irish culture to explain to Michael Flatley, one imagines.
Still, at least one bunch of internet killjoys were impressed. The self-styled official celebration police of the World Cup have promoted Keane to an honorary role as chief constable, complete with a lovely British police hat. Keane will surely love that. MB
Today’s live coverage
It’s the first of two rest days in Qatar but we’ll have rolling World Cup news between 9am and 5pm GMT and be sure to get your live football fix with the Guardian’s minute-by-minute coverage of Arsenal v Juventus in the Women’s Champions League at 8pm.
And finally …
Olivier Giroud impressed in his France press conference by switching between English, French and Italian to answer a variety of questions on subjects ranging from his thoughts on Harry Kane and Didier Deschamps’ tactics to what he made of the mocked-up images of his and Kylian Mbappé’s bromantic on-pitch embrace in the 3-1 win against Poland. “There is nothing calculated about the photo, it was a really nice photo and the Photoshops have made me laugh. Sport makes us live amazing things and it wasn’t a winning goal in a final but it was important,” he said, in case you’re wondering. After half an hour of holding court, remaining cheery and unruffled, perhaps there is a job as a press officer for the striker when he hangs up his boots. GB