Photo by: Emilio Garcia
The 2022 FIFA World Cup was full of storylines in the group stage of the tournament. World-class players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi continued to dominate, while underdog teams like Morocco and Japan have shocked the world. Let us take a look at the must-watch matchups in the round of 16.
Netherlands vs USA:
The Netherlands remain undefeated thus far in the tournament, finishing the group stage with a record of two wins and one draw. Although the Netherlands have been playing a very defensively structured game, only conceding a goal in the group stage. An unlikely hero has also emerged for the “Oranje.” Cody Gakpo is currently tied with four other players – Kylian Mbappe, Marcus Rashford, Enner Valencia and Alvaro Morata – leading the tournament in goals with three, more than the entire USA team.
USA only scored two goals in their three group stage matches as they managed to win one and draw two, only giving up one goal, which came against Wales in their opening match. The United States 4-3-3 “holding” formation makes it difficult for teams to make runs around the back line and allows them to control possession throughout their matches. United States midfielder Brenden Aaronson is a massive part of their possession game as he ranks number one in the tournament in player possession.
Both teams are built for a possession-based game and both are very sound defensively but Netherlands has the edge on the offensive side of the ball and that should be enough to propel them into the quarter-finals.
Argentina vs. Australia:
For the second time in their country’s history, Australia is headed to the round of 16 after going 2-0-1 in the group stage. In the two games, they won while the other teams failed to score a goal against them, winning against Tunisia and Denmark 1-0. Their 4-2-1-3 formation allows them to play a back line of five when the opposition tries to play balls into the box, not allowing many balls to get towards keeper Danny Vukovic. The formation also leads to quick counters, with the two wingers out wide making runs for the midfielders or back lines to play the ball over the top of the defence. Australia will need to be defensively sound and choose their counters wisely in order to have a chance over the stacked Argentina side.
For the fifth time in a row, Argentina has advanced to the round of 16. After losing their first group stage match to Saudi Arabia, Argentina bounced back and won their next two to finish at the top of Group C, looking like their dominant selves. Messi led the way with two goals and one assist in three games. He had help from youngsters Julian Alvarez, Enzo Fernandez and Alexis Max Allister as they all scored their first-ever FIFA World Cup goals. Argentina led their group with the highest expected goal per 90 differential at +1.74, which was 1.44 higher than any other country.
On paper, Argentina should have no trouble outing Australia in the match, but with Australia’s persistent defence and ability to keep the ball out of their own box, Argentina may be up for a tougher fight than expected in a potential last match on the world stage for Lionel Messi.
Portugal vs. Switzerland
Portugal finished at the top of Group H with two wins and a loss, the loss coming in their last game against South Korea after they had already secured their spot in the round of 16. The Portuguese dominated possession in all of their games thus far having the ball 60 per cent of the time in all three games. Though there seems to be some turmoil in the Portuguese dressing room surrounding star player Cristiano Ronaldo. After a substitution in the 65th minute of their matchup against South Korea, Ronaldo was seen directing vulgar terms in the direction of the coach. Of course, Ronaldo has denied swearing at the coach and instead suggested he was directing his words at South Korean players while heading off the field. Despite some of the drama surrounding the team, Portugal heads into the game against Switzerland the clear favourites in what could be Ronaldo’s last game at the FIFA World Cup if Switzerland can manage to get past the round of 16 for the first time since 1954.
In what was arguably the most entertaining game of the World Cup so far, Switzerland won their final group-stage game against Serbia 3-2 to advance to the knockout stage for the third World Cup in a row. The matchup against Serbia showed that this team is not built like teams prior, as Swiss teams are often built from the backline up and have trouble on the offensive side of the pitch. Breel Embolo is Switzerland’s striker and leads the team with two goals in as many games. His ability to track through balls from midfielders – Remo Freuler, Granet Xhaka and Denis Zakaria – makes him dangerous in and around the box. But when Embolo is not leading the offence Switzerland is fine with sitting back and playing a possession-based game until the defence gets lackadaisical and opens up.
That being said, Portugal may be the favourite in the match due to their stature as a country. But with the tactics Switzerland plays with, they may be able to catch the Portuguese on the counter if they get too complacent.