FIFA World Cup 2022: Round of Sixteen

Play Time is over. This is where the bat meets the ball…

Netherlands 3-1 USA: Your first playoff game is not the best time to start somebody, especially a striker, that has not played all tournament. That’s what US coach Gregg Berhalter did when he brought in his third striker, Jesus Ferreira, to start up top. This basically screamed to everybody, especially their Dutch opponents, that the US still hadn’t found reliable finishing. The Netherlands played with numbers behind the ball, then got out quickly in transition by moving the ball around, moving players into angles and space through diagonal runs, and not playing a straight east-west attack.

In the first nine minutes the US took the game to the Dutch, moving the ball specifically to the left to get their best player, Christian Pulisic, to get the ball into the box. This kept the Dutch from building up an organized attack going forward. But it took only one coordinated buildup, their first one, for the Netherlands to temper the US enthusiasm. In the 10th minute, the Netherlands used good movement to spread the field in attack when right flanker Denzel Dumfries sent a pinpoint cross into the center for front man Memphis Depay, left alone and trailing in late, one-timed it from the center of the box past keeper Matt Turner to the bottom left corner.

A score this early meant the game changed for both sides. A more organized Dutch team out of possession practically dared the US to get in a track meet with them, practically telling them, “You wanna run with us? Bring it!” More possession for the US, but the Dutch didn’t give them the space to get forward. Even though the Dutch weren’t pressing high, when the US did have the space to get into the opposition half, their passing lanes were cut off and they were quickly dispossessed. In the first minute of stoppage time, the Dutch goal was practically a carbon copy of the first: Dumfries with a pinpoint cross just behind the US backline, this time with left wingback Daley Blind trailing in to one-time it out of the reach of Turner.

Dumfries was the player of the game, constantly beating the US defense on the right to provide accurate service into the box. The last half of the game Pulisic was making most of the shots on goal from long range, indicating he had no faith in his “finishers”. The US was quickly getting into the final third from the left side, but they were met with a wall of Dutch defenders that had just as quickly gotten back into the box. Sending players in waves late – and leaving the back woefully open — Haji Wright found himself with a touch just in front of the right corner of the goal that cheekily found its way into the goal in the 76th minute (I really don’t think he meant to do that, that’s just how the ball incidentally bounced).

The Dutch quickly put the kibosh on what had temporarily been US hope. Overcommitting on the right, the US backline left Dumfries totally alone on the left when he snuck into the box and finished a long cross from Daley Blind only five minutes later. The Dutch are hitting on all cylinders now, especially with a backline that is tough to break and clinical attacking and finishing. The USA won the possession battle almost 3-2 and even took more shots 17(8) – 11(6), but they are gone from this tournament because of what has plagued them throughout, their inability to find a consistent finisher up front. – DK

Argentina 2-1 Australia: Too many questions coming into this one for Australia as they are dealing with significant injury issues to some of their starters, so it remains to be seen if they can counter in transition (they will also play for set pieces). Argentina do what they do: exert positional dominance, bring the wingers in and use both ball skills and deft passing to build a rhythm and get the ball up front. It’s a mistake for the Socceroos to stay compact and give up possession to the Albiceleste; their ball skills and attack are way too structured and coordinated to let them have the ball too long.

As is expected, Lionel Messi sits in the space between the midfield and back, runs into a sliver of space, and finishes a zinger through bodies in front in the 35th minute. The Australians had to chase the game and up the tempo going forward thereafter. In response, the Albiceleste pressed higher. A Argentinian press up high in the 57th minute caused a fatal Australian mistake in their own box that Julian Alvarez converted into a goal.

A triple substitution for Australia on 72 minutes signified a desperate last roll of the dice by manager Arnold and they were handed a lifeline when an own goal by Enzo Fernandez halved their deficit 13 minutes from time. Craig Goodwin latched onto a loose ball outside the box and struck a fierce effort first-time, which took a huge deflection off Fernandez, ending up in the goal. In their 2-1 opening group match against Saudi Arabia, when Argentina allowed an early goal, they panicked and came undone. But this time they withstood the predictable Socceroos onslaught. Despite their desire, a comeback didn’t materialize for Australia. – DK

France 3-1 Poland: Les Bleus rolled out their starters this time. Poland made their intentions known by rolling out five advanced midfielders, so they were going to try and keep France back as much as possible. While everybody expects France to dominate this one, Poland still has the best finisher in the world the last two years, poacher Robert Lewandowski, so they are always going to have a chance. Poland was very aggressive high, even pressuring French keeper Hugo Lloris, and challenged France everywhere in their own end. The Poles were always going to surround Kilian Mbappe’ with two or more players on the left, who is so good a gaining separation.

The Polish wingers were putting in low crosses with power, meaning that any redirection by anybody up front was going to leave Lloris unprepared. Poland was better at combination play in the box, keeping France’s backline busy having to clear balls out. France needed to find space inside to get some effective attacking buildup, and they finally found it in the 44th minute when Mbappe’ came inside with the ball and put in a through-ball to a running Olivier Giroud beating the off-side trap for the tap-in. Poland then went to advancing quickly down the wings and pounding it inside. Midway through the second half, France started getting better possession in the middle and center through turnovers and cutting off passing lanes as Poland, having run up and down most of the game, were beginning to show weariness out of possession.

I’m going to make a declarative statement here: KILIAN MBAPPE’ IS THE BEST FUTBOL PLAYER IN THE WORLD! He doubled France’s advantage on 75 minutes with a powerful strike before adding another with a sensational curled finish into the far top right corner — his fifth of the tournament. Poland deciding to play a fast counterattacking game against the fastest player in the world was always going to be risky. Outside of a garbage time penalty by Lewandowski, France’s center back Rafael Varane constantly put a body on him when Lewandowski came inside, never giving his the space to make real contact on service. The ending we all figured would happen. – DK

England 3-0 Senegal: Marcus Rashford went back to the bench (?!) in favor of Bukayo Saka. Senegal was going to do what they always do: Interrupt the England attack in the middle third and pump the ball up into the final third to their two forwards. Similarly, England pressed in the middle third to keep Senegal from making those long passes early. For most of the tournament so far, front man Harry Kane has been pushed outside to keep him from getting on the end of a chance in the box, so he became more of a provider than a finisher.

Senegal looked more dangerous in the final third because they were forcing cheap turnovers deep in England’s end. But all their defensive efforts went for naught in the 38th minute when an anchor man Jordan Henderson unexpectedly came late through the middle on a righteous buildup by Kane and Jude Bellingham on the left to get on the end of Bellingham service to one-time a goal. Getting quickly behind the Senegal defense on the wings and sending a cross with some cheese on it into the middle for a one-time shot seemed to be working for the 3 Lions.

But it was a deadly counter through the middle that doubled England’s lead with an odd-man rush resulting in a Kane goal just before halftime. The wheels came off for Senegal in the 57th minute when England started finding large amounts of space in the opposition half and Saka ran onto service from Phil Foden on the left to score a one-timer just in front of goal. The England win now sets up a delicious quarterfinal between the 3 Lions and the defending champions next Saturday. – DK

Japan 1-1 Croatia (1-3 pen): Japan has had only 34% possession throughout this tournament so far. Their tactical approach is spend the first half staying tactically compact and disciplined, then change to a more direct running approach after that. Croatia got the ball into spaces and made coordinated thrusts into the opposition end. Japan was usually there to cut it off and make runs down the flank (usually the right), then cross it in for somebody to get onto (usually unsuccessfully). That’s because Japan’s early attacks usually involved one or two players quickly getting into the final third but without help trailing in keeping up, allowing Croatia to get numbers behind the ball. But in the 43rd minute, Japan defender Maya Yoshida getting forward in the box on a corner, nodded the ball down for Daizen Maeda to tap in.

It usually takes Croatia time to figure out their opponents, where the space and open lanes are, but once they figure it out, they then start to dominate possession and spend a lot of time in the final third. In the 55th minute, a slow buildup in the Japanese half finished with a Dejan Lovren cross with cheese on it from the right into inverted winger Ivan Peresic, who just had to redirect the ball into the far right end. Wow, those have to be the worst penalty kicks – by Japan – in the history of penalty kicks.

Brazil 4-1 South Korea: Neymar is back from injury, and so is their standard lineup that has him creating just behind the poacher up front. Korea had to get the ball onto the feet of left inverted forward Heong-Min Son, having a so-so tournament so far; their attack goes through him. What has gone practically unnoticed is that Brazil thus far has one of the best defenses in this tournament, with their second team only giving up a scrub time goal in their last group fixture. In less than 13 minutes, however, The Seleção were already taking the steam out of Korea. By the 29th minute, the competitive part of this match was over.
It just became a repetitious dance: press, disposess, transition fast, spread it out to the front wingers, send it in, finish, rinse, repeat! It was as clinical a dismantling as it gets. As commentator Stuart Holden puts it, this was filth at the highest level. In the second half, Brazil just mailed it in, still making those counter runs but with less urgency. Sure, Korea put in a goal in the 78th minute, but by then even they knew this was just saving face. -DK

Morocco 0-0 (3-0 pen) Spain: Alvaro Morata scored in every group fixture but did not start in this one. Morocco were going to let the Spanish defenders have the ball, but their goal is to not give them the center, and as soon as Spain got possession, Morocco surround them. Morocco played it very safe, not sending numbers forward in attack. If Spain was going to get forward, they had to send one or two players forward even if it was just as decoys, designed to open up space in the opposition half and find room for attacking buildup through the center.

The longer the game went without Spain scoring, the more uncharacteristically impatient they became, and the more confident Morocco became in the back and going forward. For all their possession Spain created precious few chances, but still more than Morocco, and they were able to find targets in the box that could get onto it and would have been goals but for Morocco cleaning them up. Morocco’s best and most creative player was Hakim Ziyech, who they needed on the pitch but in a match that went into extra time was clearly getting tired with Spain putting constant pressure on him. The match clearly evolved into who would score first because that was probably going to be the winning score (it never came for either side).

Spain has as much futbol talent as any country on the planet, but the heart and refuse-to-lose quality that defined the Golden Generation from 2007-2012 is no longer there, and they have reverted back to what defined them most in the 50 years leading up to their most rewarding years in the early part of this century. – DK

Portugal 6-1 Switzerland: Forward Ronaldo went to the sub’s bench (I’m sure he pouted about it), while one of the best players in the tournament so far, Bruno Fernandes, is back on as the advanced playmaker on the right wing. On paper this looks like a Portugal win, but the Swiss have a nasty habit of grinding out results. Embola up front is having a great tournament, while the creative buildup is always going to come from Granit Xhaka through the middle and Xherdan Shaqiri on the right. (Side Note: I guess the Qataris have lost interest in this tournament, I saw a lot of empty seats).

A lot of familiarity on the field; both times they played this year they were very physical events. For this game the Swiss looked like they were playing with 3 center backs, playing very narrow. I love that both teams are playing with a sense of urgency from the start. Sharpshooter Gonzalo Ramos, in only his fourth start for Portugal and playing in the spot Ronaldo usually occupies, just needed a half yard of space in the box and rockets it and roofs it 17th minute. In the 33rd minute, 39-year-old Pepe timed his run on a corner perfectly and used that bald head to slam home their second goal.

The Swiss opened up the game in the second half, get in behind the backline and make direct quick switches of play. Portugal needed to be patient in their defensive pressure and kill off the game (they are not immune to blowing leads; it’s why they had to go through a playoff in order to get here). Ramos’ second one-timer in the right corner in the 51st minute put the nail in the Swiss coffin. After that, the pounding just became bloody. A deflated and dispirited Switzerland just let Portugal in at will. Portugal go into their quarterfinal match against Morocco hitting on all cylinders right now. -DK

Earlier matches

Leave a Reply