2022 Men's World Cup: Winners and Losers of the Round of 16

Nick AkermanFeatured Columnist IVDecember 6, 2022

2022 Men's World Cup: Winners and Losers of the Round of 16

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    AL KHOR, QATAR - DECEMBER 04: Jude Bellingham of England Goal celebrations, cheers after Jordan Henderson of England scores the 1-0 goal. prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Round of 16 match between England and Senegal at Al Bayt Stadium on December 4, 2022 in Al Khor, Qatar. (Photo by Tnani Badreddine/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)
    Tnani Badreddine/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

    We're 56 games down at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

    The round of 16 had a little bit of everything: top-quality football, a massive shock and the worst penalties you could ever wish to see.

    It also had some winners and losers that might catch your attention.

Winner: Jude Bellingham's Liverpool Hype

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    AL KHOR, QATAR - DECEMBER 04: Jordan Henderson of England celebrates after scoring his team's first goal with Jude Bellingham of England during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Round of 16 match between England and Senegal at Al Bayt Stadium on December 4, 2022 in Al Khor, Qatar. (Photo by Tnani Badreddine/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)
    Tnani Badreddine/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

    Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham put on a stunning display in England's 3-0 victory over Senegal. He is unlikely to be a Borussia Dortmund midfielder much longer.

    With Bellingham already linked with a move to Liverpool, his celebration after setting up Reds captain Jordan Henderson didn't douse the transfer story's flame.

    The pair went head-to-head, literally, in a moment that has gone viral as fans anticipate a summer switch to Anfield. Bellingham's post-match tweet defending Henderson added further zest to a story that won't go away until he's seen holding up the shirt of a new club.

    Whether it's Liverpool or someone else, Bellingham's next team will get one of the most impressive young central midfielders in recent memory. He's physical, got an eye for a pass, tackles well, can dribble, scores goals…he's got it all.

    The 19-year-old feels like a leader in an England lineup that he only really broke into as the World Cup started. His displays against Iran and Senegal have produced an explosion of hype in England as people who don't watch the Bundesliga or Champions League see him play consistently for the first time.

    It won't be long before that's rectified and he's on prime-time UK television on a weekly basis.

Loser: Kyle Walker and the Kylian Mbappé Challenge

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    DOHA, QATAR - DECEMBER 04: Kylian Mbappe of France celebrates his second goal during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Round of 16 match between France and Poland at Al Thumama Stadium on December 04, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Lionel Hahn/Getty Images)
    Lionel Hahn/Getty Images

    With England vs. France set for the quarter-finals on Saturday, it's a popular opinion that Kyle Walker is the only man fast enough to deal with Kylian Mbappé. Granted, Walker is exceedingly quick. But is he good enough to deal with Mbappé?

    England's backline has three clean sheets out of four games, keeping USA, Wales and Senegal quiet while conceding two against Iran in their opening match. It's solid form, but England have not faced a side that comes close to France's ruthlessness.

    Mbappé is the competition's top scorer with five goals. He is playing unbelievable football at an electric pace and continues to lead France's charge to defend their title with his explosive dribbling and extraordinary finishing ability.

    Combine this with England's history—oh no, not the history—and it's hard to suggest Gareth Southgate will come up with a plan that effectively neutralises the tournament's best player. England cruise through the group stage and falter at their first real test? Sounds eerily familiar.

    Even if this squad has done a lot to dispel the old English problems, the defence is cumbersome and feels on the verge of a mistake whenever put under pressure, something Mbappé is more than capable of highlighting to the world whether or not Walker can match his pace.

Loser: USMNT Under Gregg Berhalter

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    DOHA, QATAR - DECEMBER 03:  Christian Pulisic of USA is consoled by Head Coach Gregg Berhalter after defeat in  the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Round of 16 match between Netherlands and USA at Khalifa International Stadium on December 03, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images)
    Visionhaus/Getty Images

    There are two ways of looking at USA's performance at the 2022 World Cup.

    You could say the team went unbeaten in the group stage and fell to the might of a European powerhouse in the round of 16. Draws against Wales and England plus a win over Iran before losing to the Netherlands isn't bad, right?

    You could also say USA were the only team to drop points against an awful Wales side, failed to get the win against a snoozing England team they dominated and then beat Iran, who had run out of puff by the third match. Two draws that could have been wins plus a win over Iran before tactically playing into the Netherlands' hands is bad, right?

    Two sides to the story that are united by one thing: Gregg Berhalter is holding back a quality generation of USA players.

    This is hardly a revolutionary opinion for anyone who has followed the USMNT under his stewardship. Even before the tournament, Berhalter's decision to leave Ricardo Pepi at home—a striker who has a better goals-per-minute ratio than breakout superstar Cody Gakpo in the Eredivisie this season—looked to be a bad one.

    Berhalter's call to start Jesús Ferreira for the first time in the tournament during the 3-1 defeat to the Netherlands only compounded a lack of goalscoring threat that he made worse.

    Ferreira dropped deep and was constantly out of position in search of the ball, leaving USA toothless against a top-class defence. Gio Reyna added a threat after halftime, but one has to ask why he didn't play more minutes across the tournament. Berhalter's bemoaning of a lack of quality striker options after the game was essentially the wail of a man oozing blood after shooting himself in the foot.

    The coach's tactical decisions also left USA vulnerable to Denzel Dumfries, one of the Dutch's most potent threats.

    Antonee Robinson showed his qualities in the previous games but was left exposed against the attacking full-back who was involved in every goal, scoring one and providing two assists. Berhalter never provided protection or support for a tiring team that could have achieved more in Qatar with a little extra nous.

    USA's future is bright, but it's not Berhalter.

Winner: The Atlas Lions

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    Morocco's team makes a group photo on the pitch after winning the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Morocco and Spain, at the Education City Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
    AP Photo/Martin Meissner

    Morocco are unbelievable and should be celebrated as the story of the World Cup. Topping a group of Belgium, Croatia and Canada was historic. Knocking Spain out on penalties is legendary. They are more than equipped to beat Portugal in the quarter-finals.

    Walid Regragui and his team are so good at reading situations as they unfold. They worked extremely hard against possession-heavy Spain, who kept the ball moving side to side in a bid to carve an opening. It rarely came. They also knew when to burst forward and were the closest to winning the game in 120 minutes before shocking the world on penalties.

    Absolutely know this, though: Morocco can go toe-to-toe with anyone. They are quick, play forward-thinking football and aren't afraid to commit numbers forward.

    Hakim Ziyech and Youssef En-Nesyri are playing with the confidence to trouble any defence in the world. Sofyan Amrabat has been one of the players of the tournament in defensive midfield, and his efforts against Spain rank alongside the best individual performances we've seen in Qatar. Then you've got the entire defence. And Bono. Morocco deserve all the praise they are getting, both now and for years to come.

    Only a brave onlooker would bet against that praise stopping at the quarter-final stage.

Loser: Cristiano Ronaldo

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    Portugal's forward #07 Cristiano Ronaldo warms up during the Qatar 2022 World Cup round of 16 football match between Portugal and Switzerland at Lusail Stadium in Lusail, north of Doha on December 6, 2022. (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP) (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP via Getty Images)

    Few would have woken up this morning and expected to see Cristiano Ronaldo dropped. Even fewer would have expected his replacement, Gonçalo Ramos, to score a hat-trick in a 6-1 demolition of a Switzerland side that couldn't handle the swagger of Fernando Santos' brave selection.

    Even the most ardent Ronaldo fan must admit Portugal looked a lot better without him. Ramos held the ball up well, and his pacey runs beyond the Swiss backline caused havoc whenever Portugal entered the final third.

    Bernardo Silva, Otávio, Bruno Fernandes and João Félix played some stunning football behind him. The passing, movement and ability to bring the ball forwards removed the Swiss combativeness that usually makes them competitive against top sides. Portugal haven't flowed like that with Ronaldo in their side in Qatar.

    A lot has gone on with Ronaldo in recent weeks. He looked slow and off the pace at Manchester United, often missing chances he used to put away. Exactly the same can be said so far at the World Cup. It's an issue when his former club and national team have both improved without him.

    Now, wouldn't it be the most Ronaldo thing in the world to score against Morocco?