2022 Men's World Cup: Expert Predictions for the Round of 16
And now the fun truly begins.
It's win or go home for the 16 teams left in the World Cup as the knockout stages start with the young upstart United States squad taking on Dutch captain Virgil van Dijk and the Netherlands on Saturday.
Can the French continue their run to become repeat World Champions? Does Cristiano Ronaldo have a little more magic left in his boots to make sure his beloved Portugal goes through to the quarterfinals?
The B/R World Football Staff got together to provide its predictions for every game in the round of 16.
Disagree with our team of experts? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section of the B/R app.
Netherlands vs. United States
Nick Akerman: USA
I really think the USA have a decent chance of shocking the world here, but with a few caveats. Christian Pulisic needs to be fully fit; his movement and ability to bring the side forward can take advantage of the spaces left by the Dutch wide men, particularly Denzel Dumfries.
USMNT’s midfield also needs to keep up the combative form and keep the ball away from Frenkie de Jong, who will dictate if he’s given time. I’ll go for USA…just.
Shane Evans: USA
The Americans got their dramatic win in the final match of the group stage vs. Iran. They'll look to make more history in this match against a much more formidable opponent.
Luckily for Gregg Berhalter and his squad, they match up quite well against an athletic and speedy Dutch side. The two sides' playing styles are similar at times, and I think that familiarity will give the USA the slight edge in a coming-of-age victory.
Meg Swanick: USA
The United States are the underdogs once more, taking on the world’s most elite team that’s never actually won a World Cup. Louis van Gaal would love for this to be the magical year, though the Netherlands haven’t looked fully lethal in the group stage.
23-year-old Cody Gakpo is the Dutch man of the moment, having scored in all three group-stage matches, but Berhalter’s midfield and defense have been locked tight. I think Berhalter’s young, scrappy squad sends them home.
Alex Windley: USA
The USMNT delivered for their fans and made it out of their group. Against the Netherlands, they don't have much to lose, so why not go for it?
With Pulisic returning from injury and a defense that hasn't let in a single goal through open play, the U.S. may be the underdog, but they have the heart and team spirit to pull off an upset.
Argentina vs. Australia
I think we’re going to see the highest score of the round in this one. Argentina have felt their way into the tournament after a ropey start. Some smart tactical changes have given Lionel Messi more room to operate, halted their susceptibility to being counter-attacked down the wings and generally improved the team’s passing flow.
Australia have done amazingly to get this far, but they also received a 4-1 whacking against France in the opening game. We can expect this to be similar.
It's no surprise that every expert here is picking Argentina to win this match. If Messi doesn't win this match on his own, it's almost a disappointment. If Australia were to somehow pull off the upset, it'd go down as one of the biggest shocks in the tournament's long history.
The Socceroos qualified for the World Cup defeating Peru in the intercontinental playoff and have punched above their weight getting out of the group. Argentina have also surprised at this World Cup, first by losing to Saudi Arabia and then by stuttering for one half against Mexico before turning it on to collect two wins.
Now that the Argentines have hit their stride—collecting goals from Messi, alongside a trio of talents 23 or younger in Alexis Mac Allister, Enzo Fernández and Julián Álvarez—they'll likely send the Socceroos home.
Argentina looked much more like their usual selves against Poland. The early group-stage scare vs. Mexico aside, La Albiceleste have enough talent and experience to make a deep run, and Messi is on a mission to cement his legacy.
I can see them dispatching Australia with ease. Sorry, Aussies!
England vs. Senegal
I think England will edge a surprisingly tight game. Gareth Southgate has such a wealth of talent at his disposal and he’s sure to frustrate many fans no matter who he picks from Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden, Mason Mount, Marcus Rashford…the list goes on. You’d expect England to score no matter how they line up, as even Qatar breached the Senegalese defense.
Ismaïla Sarr and Co. will get at the Three Lions back line, a stodgy unit that always looks like it could make a mistake, but England should outlast their opponents.
The Three Lions didn't have much trouble with Group B, even in their most rocky performance of the tournament against the USMNT. Undefeated and only two goals allowed (in the blowout 6-2 win over Iran), Gareth Southgate's side is full of confidence.
I like what the Senegalese bring to the table in this match and they'll challenge the cohesion of England at the back, but ultimately they just don't have enough.
Senegal looked steady in the group stage for a team missing their talismanic leader, Sadio Mané. The African champions will test Southgate’s million-dollar lineup, and Ismaïla Sarr might get one past them.
England will have possession, but they’ll need to watch Senegal on the counter. It’ll be a fun matchup, but I suspect we’ll see Southgate’s squad at least in the quarterfinals.
Many thought Senegal would crumble without the presence of Sadio Mané, but the Lions of Teranga persevered and got out of the group stage.
Winning two out of their three games, Senegal finished second in the group with performances their fans can be proud of. Though their matchup against England won't be easy, they will have the high of winning back-to-back games to lean on to pull off the upset.
France vs. Poland
A well-rested Kylian Mbappé and France have far too much for a pretty blunt Poland side. France have arguably looked the best team in the tournament when at full strength, so the rotational side’s loss to Tunisia won’t halt their momentum.
Poland, despite having such a talented squad, are lacking zest, even after Robert Lewandowski finally broke his World Cup duck.
Against Argentina in their final group-stage match, Poland's main man and most important player, Robert Lewandowski, was mostly uninterested. You didn't hear much from him, and his main highlight from the match was the weird exchange with Messi. He'll need to be much more of a factor against this deep French squad or Poland won't have any chance.
Kylian Mbappé, the world's best player at the moment, is primed for another run through the tournament, and this Polish defense isn't slowing him down.
This has been a tournament of underdog upsets and high-ranked disappointments (farewell, Germany and Belgium). But none of that applies to the French. The French have looked as good as expected—or better, given the players absent and injured.
Lewandowski finally got his World Cup goal and Poland were pleased to make the knockouts, but they’ll be out of their depth with the French.
What more can be said about France? Not only do they have one of the world's best young talents in Mbappé, but they are hungrier than ever to repeat as world champions. Somewhat underestimated heading into the tournament compared to the likes of Spain and Brazil, Les Bleus looked scary in the group stage even with all their injuries.
With the talent they have, I fully expect them to make it to at least the quarterfinals.
Japan vs. Croatia
I am incredibly intrigued by this one. Japan’s organized chaos is perfect for taking down favorites, as we’ve already seen with their wins over Germany and Spain.
However, Croatia are excellent at nullifying their opponents’ strengths, almost sucking the life from games before getting a positive result. I think this goes to extra time and Luka Modrić does something a bit special to win it.
One of the more balanced ties, Japan and Croatia should give us an interesting match. The World Cup finalists from 2018 have started this tournament a bit more slowly. A 4-1 win over Canada, one of the worst teams in Qatar, was bookended by a pair of 0-0 draws.
Japan have been all action and will be riding the high of beating Spain to top Group E through to an upset win over The Checkered Ones.
Japan were my dark horse to escape their Group of Death, and they defeated both Spain and Germany to do so. I don’t know that you can still call them a "dark horse" at this point, but I’ve got my eyes on them to defeat Croatia also.
Croatia’s squad of aging stars looked more than capable through the group stage, but my money’s on Japan’s relentless press and counter to prove victorious in this matchup.
I will continue to ride the hot hand of Japan. Shocking the world by not only topping the group but beating Germany and Spain in the process, the Samurai Blue are the manga Blue Lock come to life.
With talents such as Ritsu Doan and Kaoru Mitoma off the bench and a defense heroically captained by the experienced Maya Yoshida, Japan have the momentum to go deep into the tournament.
Brazil vs. South Korea
With or without Neymar, Brazil should cruise by a gutsy South Korea side without much issue. Tite rested most of his major stars in the defeat to Cameroon and will be confident of sweeping the challenge of Heung-min Son aside in comfortable fashion.
Brazil certainly haven’t hit the heights of that memorable opening win over Serbia, but they have everything needed to win this competition. South Korea won’t stop that.
What a way for South Korea to advance! A very dramatic last day in Group H has Heung-min Son and his side through on goal difference over Uruguay, who finished third. Their reward? A round-of-16 date with World Cup favorites Brazil.
Neymar's ankle remains a question, but the South Americans do not lack in attacking options beyond him and shouldn't have much trouble moving into the quarterfinals, despite the feel-good story that South Korea brings into the matchup.
South Korea is yet another nation whose proved at this World Cup that the game is growing at a formidable pace, and far beyond its traditional footballing borders.
South Korea overcame Portugal with a late goal from Wolves’ midfielder Hee-Chan Hwang to reach this matchup with the Brazilians. And while I suspect they fall to one of the most formidable teams in this tournament, I imagine they’ll do so in compelling fashion.
Brazil is still the favorite to win the tournament in my eyes. Even with the injury to Neymar, they have plenty of depth to replace him. It would be a massive disappointment for Brazil to head home early.
Ankle soreness aside, I see Neymar doing everything in his power to make it in time for the matchup with South Korea. If he does, Brazil's chances to win get significantly higher than they already are.
Morocco vs. Spain
These two teams should produce a really exciting, back-and-forth game. I can’t see Morocco trying to play it safe. Everything about them so far has suggested they will try to take the game to Spain, and I think that leaves them vulnerable.
Spain to get it done by a couple of goals, but boy, it should be fun.
As great of a story as Morocco is at this tournament, Spain are an absolute powerhouse. A possession powerhouse. Against Japan in the 2-1 loss, they had a ridiculous 78 percent of the possession.
It could have a higher number vs. Morocco. Expect a slower game initially with the Spanish doing their thing only to briefly let Morocco back in before closing the door with a multi-goal victory.
Morocco are playing with nearly as much swagger as their incredibly friendly, vibrant fanbase, which has been making waves in the stands here in Qatar. From Hakim Ziyech to Youssef En-Nesyri and Achraf Hakimi, their quality has shown up in Doha to collect two wins and a draw, placing first in their group.
Unfortunately for the Moroccans, Japan snagged first place over Spain, matching Morocco with a possession-heavy (the sky remains blue) Spain, which boasts multiple goal-scorers ready to put Morocco’s defense on the back foot. I think both teams get on the scoresheet and after extra time the Spaniards escape, but just barely.
Spain will pass their opponents to death and enjoy it while doing so. Though they didn't end the group stage the way they'd liked, La Roja still advanced.
Despite the 2-1 loss to Japan, Spain have a good squad with a nice mix of youth and experience. The game against Morocco will be tough, but I see manager Luis Enrique making tactical tweaks that will see them through.
Portugal vs. Switzerland
I have to say, Portugal have looked far better than I expected. The full-strength XI is well-organised, incisive and buzzing with the creativity of Bruno Fernandes, arguably the Player of the Tournament so far. Even with an underperforming Cristiano Ronaldo, they look consistently dangerous.
Switzerland are exactly the type of side that would undo them in previous years. They have fighters all over the pitch and genuine match-winners in Xherdan Shaqiri and Breel Embolo. If you asked me before the tournament, I’d pick the Swiss. Right now, I’m impressed by Portugal and expect them to get the win.
The star of the show, Ronaldo, looked pretty average in his side's 2-1 defeat against South Korea. The chances were there, ones you'd expect the worldwide superstar to deposit...but he just didn't. Perhaps he's finally showing his age at 37, as he has not been the CR7 we're all used to.
Ronaldo and the rest of the Portuguese squad will have their hands full with Switzerland, who are well-organized and delivered a strong result against Serbia to move on. The Ronaldo story won't end just yet though, as the quality and depth Portugal possess will allow them to outlast the Swiss.
Cristiano Ronaldo hasn’t exactly impressed this World Cup, but so far, he hasn’t had to. Portugal’s depth of talent has filled in with enough to get them into the knockouts.
Their meeting with Switzerland will be a close one. Xherdan Shaqiri may have graduated to Major League Soccer, but he’s been electric for the Swiss this World Cup. I’ve got this one going to penalties and Switzerland sneaking by to the quarters.
With this potentially being Ronaldo's last world cup, Portugal will do everything in their power to make sure he goes out on top.
In the group stage, the Portuguese didn't necessarily dominate, but they did manage to top the group. This squad has a wealth of talent that surrounds Ronaldo, so he's not responsible for carrying the offensive load. In the round of 16, Portugal, much like Spain, will have the experience to navigate when it gets tough. For that reason, I see them moving past Switzerland and into the next round.