After a series of stunning upsets, blowout victories, and many outrageous goals, only eight teams remain in the 2022 World Cup. What should we make of the tournament so far? What are the key matchups in the quarterfinals? And who is going to win it all? Read on for thoughts and predictions from the Ringer staff.
1. Which quarterfinal match are you most excited to watch?
Aric Jenkins: Gotta be England-France, no? Talent on the pitch aside, I can’t resist the narrative of 900 years of historical beef. But since this is ostensibly about football and not the Norman conquest of the Anglo-Saxons, I can’t wait to see the experienced Kyle Walker facing off against the player of the tournament, Kylian Mbappé. These two teams are the most evenly matched of the quarterfinals, but I think France will nick it in the end.
Kellen Becoats: We are truly spoiled for choice here, but I’m going to go with England-France. There are fascinating matchups and questions all over this one: France’s improvised young midfield vs. Jude Bellingham, the English defense vs. Kylian Mbappé, and which of these high-powered attacks will be able to score more goals.
Jomi Adeniran: England and France, the rematch of the century! Can the English slow down the French attack, or will Mbappé and Co. have England—rather than football itself—coming home? I have the French, but as we’ve seen in this World Cup, anything is possible.
Damian Burchardt: As much as I’d like to come up with something original here, England-France is promising to be an absolute banger. There are an infinite number of story lines to get excited about in this matchup. Can Kyle Walker stop Kylian Mbappé? Can the 21-year-old Bukayo Saka keep delivering on the world’s biggest stage? Will England’s penalty curse come back to haunt them? Plus … the goals! There will be goals. Both teams are too front-loaded to make this a boring game.
Brian Phillips: Here’s how excited I am about Portugal-Morocco: England-France is not only the best game on paper but also a fresh installment in a rivalry that dates back to a brief historical conflict called [checks notes] the Hundred Years’ War. AND YET Portugal-Morocco is still the game I’m fantasizing about. The combination is just too weird and thrilling. We get Portugal’s never-ending Cristiano Ronaldo melodrama. We get the aftermath of Portugal’s sudden eruption into greatness during its 6-1 obliteration of Switzerland on Tuesday. We get Morocco, the giant-slaying underdogs, the team that beat Belgium 2-0 and then notched an instantly legendary Panenka-fueled upset of Spain.
Is Portugal for real? Is Morocco for real? Will Ronaldo ever start again? Will Goncalo Ramos equal Ronaldo’s career World Cup goals in his second start? I have absolutely no idea what to expect from this match. I can’t wait.
Rodger Sherman: To be honest, I’m already looking past the quarterfinals. I’m manifesting an Argentina-Brazil semifinal like I manifested the Duke-UNC Final Four game in March. Brazilian fans will literally show up to any sporting event and chant about how Pelé is better than Diego Maradona. Seriously, I went to the Olympics in 2016, and they’d be doing anti-Maradona chants at the Denmark-Slovenia handball match, even though Argentina was not playing and Maradona had been retired for decades. If they meet in the semis of the World Cup? Meu deus.
2. Which player will be the most decisive in the next round?
Phillips: Well, to answer that question, I’m going to have to break down the last 40 years of World Cup history in order to see what the underlying stats reveal about … hahaha no, just kidding, the answer is Kylian Mbappé.
Becoats: Kylian Mbappé. The kid looks unstoppable, and England hasn’t faced a goal threat like him in the early rounds. I also just want another instance of this celebration, if I’m being honest.
Jenkins: Bruno Fernandes. I’m tempted to go with his teammate and hat trick hero Goncalo Ramos—we saw how his presence unlocked a Ronaldo-less Portugal—but Fernandes will orchestrate any goals to follow. I foresee the Manchester United man, as the chief playmaker and penalty taker, putting an end to Morocco’s Cinderella story.
Burchardt: Richarlison. Brazil’s been impressive and a joy to watch. But they are running out of the dance routines they prepared for the World Cup mainly because of the Tottenham striker’s hard work in the final third. In addition to scoring two goals in the group stage, he played a huge role in Brazil getting another three in the round of 16 matchup with South Korea—he won a penalty kick and kept Korean defenders preoccupied with his relentless runs into the box, leaving Vinícius Júnior and Lucas Paquetá with ample space to take advantage. With Gabriel Jesus now out with an MCL injury, there’s all the more pressure on Richarlison to make goals happen.
Adeniran: Everything for Argentina runs through Lionel Messi. If he continues to play like the GOAT, he could be on the brink of another trip to the World Cup final.
3. Who has been the player of the tournament so far?
Phillips: Mbappé again, but Richarlison deserves a special shout-out for scoring the coolest goals at the tournament so far.
Burchardt: Mbappé—and by far. Not only does the 23-year-old enter the quarterfinals with five goals and three assists to his name, but also he’s stepped up for France when things got tough, displaying the experience and maturity of a leader.
Adeniran: It has to be Kylian Mbappé. He’s scored five goals in this tournament alone, surpassing the great Pelé with nine total World Cup goals before the age of 24. He’s playing like the best on the planet at the moment.
Jenkins: We all know it’s Mbappé, and I already wrote as much above—boring! But to spice things up, or at least select a player who’s not primarily responsible for scoring goals, I’ll stick with my pick for “young player to make an impact”—Josko Gvardiol. The 20-year-old has been outstanding at the heart of Croatia’s defense, and if the Vatreni want any chance of upsetting Brazil, Gvardiol will need to put in an immense performance once again.
Becoats: Just for the sake of variety, I won’t pick King Kylian again. Sadly—as an Arsenal fan—I will choose Bruno Fernandes. I was sure Portugal was going to implode during this World Cup because of the media circus surrounding Ronaldo, but the Portuguese players have put on a show and Fernandes looks superb pulling the strings. He has three assists and two goals so far and hasn’t balked at taking more responsibility after CR7 was moved to the bench against Switzerland.
Sherman: Morocco’s Yassine Bounou, a.k.a. Bono. In 300 minutes of play and one penalty shoot-out, Bono has not allowed a single opposing shot to score. (He did allow one own goal against Canada; he is susceptible only to friendly fire.) His three saves in the penalty shoot-out against Spain marked just the second time in World Cup history that a team failed to score a single attempt, even though Spain supposedly had players take a thousand penalty kicks as practice to prevent this exact thing from happening. I assume fans of Bounou’s club team, Sevilla, are simultaneously proud and pissed.
4. What’s been the most impressive result of the World Cup?
Sherman: Ghana fans excitedly cheering after the loss that kicked them out of the World Cup because it meant Uruguay also got eliminated. Having that much disdain in your heart for a country nearly 5,000 miles away because of a game from 12 years ago? They’ve won the World Cup of Hating. Give them the Golden Boos.
Adeniran: Even though it didn’t change the outcome of the group, Cameroon beating Brazil is one of the greatest wins of not only this tournament but also World Cup history. We can talk about the goal all we want, but it’s the aftermath that makes this result iconic.
Aboubakar celebrates his goal for Cameroon by taking off his shirt, and then is sent off for a second yellow card pic.twitter.com/JubSqTAX1L— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 2, 2022
Jenkins: Japan has multiple candidates up for selection here, and while its victory over Spain clinched a berth to the knockout rounds, it was against a team that pretty much knew it was already through. Instead, I’ll go with Japan’s 2-1 victory over Germany—both teams’ first match of the tournament, when things were a lot less certain. To come back against a traditional superpower with both goals coming after the 70th minute … just sensational.
Burchardt: It’s between Saudi Arabia’s 2-1 victory over Argentina and Japan’s win against Spain by the same score—but I’ve got to give this one to Japan. Coming back from 1-0 down against Spain in the deciding match of the first round to secure the top spot in the tournament’s toughest group—while kicking Germany out of the World Cup—is quite a feat.
Phillips: This one’s easy: Ronaldo forcing himself to pretend to be happy while sitting on the bench and watching his teammates score an Alps’ worth of goals on the Swiss. Saudi Arabia over Argentina, one of the biggest World Cup upsets of this millennium, takes second place.
Becoats: Morocco is the most wonderful surprise of this World Cup, and I think it’s hard to argue against its round of 16 win over Spain being the most impressive result of this tournament—although Rodri may disagree. There have obviously been some brutal beatings—see Brazil blasting South Korea and Portugal’s demolition of the Swiss—but few people could have seen this Moroccan run coming. It’s also impossible not to feel the energy buzzing around this team. Should a non-problematic country in a region similar to Qatar push to hold a future World Cup, its bid could be boosted by pointing to the throngs of North African and Arab fans flooding the stadiums and giving some *ahem* authentic support.
5. Which team was the most disappointing?
Jenkins: Denmark. Euro 2020 semifinalists and a so-called dark horse to win the World Cup. It’s OK to lose to France, but to lose against Australia, fail to win a single match, and score only one goal in the tournament? Questions need to be asked.
Adeniran: I’m tempted to be a hater against my favorite team and say Germany, but they’ve done this before. The real answer is Belgium. Its “golden generation” ended up winning zero trophies and didn’t play in a single final.
Phillips: Can we really say Belgium was the most disappointing team of the tournament if everyone expected it to be the most disappointing team of the tournament? Yes, we can! Belgium didn’t just underperform; the team looked cranky and uninterested while doing it. I’ve watched hundreds of boring soccer teams in my life, but Belgium might be the first one that even seemed more bored than I was.
Sherman: I’m not personally disappointed, but … Qatar spent $200 billion hosting the World Cup (on top of the money spent on bribes) and then spent money trying to build a competitive national team (including buying fans and spots in other confederations’ continental championships). To ensure a quality performance, it had its best players skip club football to take part in a six-month training camp. The reward? The team took zero points from three losses and became the first eliminated, in the worst performance by a host country ever. The consensus opinion of Qatar went from “no opinion” to “that homophobic country with all the human rights violations where you can’t drink beer and the soccer team is awful.” Normally, to get such a poor return on your investment, you have to either buy Twitter or be a 37-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo.
Burchardt: In a failed attempt to separate politics from sports, Qatar’s miserable performance puts FIFA under even more scrutiny for selecting the country as World Cup host. The disgustingly expensive scheme to put together some sort of a team ahead of the tournament—by naturalizing talented youth from around the world and bankrolling superstar coaches and footballers—yielded the first time a host lost the opening match and crashed out of the World Cup without a point. Money can’t buy everything, it seems.
Becoats: It’s Canada for me—on a totally unrelated note, please don’t look at my answer for “dark horse” in our World Cup entrance survey. The team tore through CONCACAF qualifying, finishing at the top of the region, and then … couldn’t even get a result over a Belgian team in crisis?! Look, I know that two teams in the group have moved on to the quarterfinals, but Canada was downright awful in Qatar. It was the second team to be eliminated from the tournament. The team watched its coach put his foot in his mouth and effectively wasted a cycle for wunderkind Alphonso Davies. It smacks of missed opportunities and raises a lot of questions before Canada becomes tournament cohost in 2026.
6. What’s been the goal of the tournament so far?
Becoats: Y’all know what it is, we don’t even need to go into detail here. *Whispers* Richarlison, come to the red half of North London, please.
Phillips: I did a whole podcast episode about team goals versus individual goals, and Richarlison has scored a sensational example of each type at this World Cup. I’m taking his bonkers scissor kick against Serbia, but Brazil’s stunning pinball goal against South Korea was just as good.
"Pure filth." Richarlison put Brazil up 3-0 against South Korea with an absolutely amazing GOAL OF THE DAY. ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/31ChKiIwX7— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 6, 2022
Sherman: Can’t pick between Richarlison’s bicycle kick or Richarlison’s goal on the move with the back-to-back-to-back head volleys. This one sassy Brazilian has the coolest finishing touch of the tournament and the coolest buildup of the tournament.
Adeniran: I think it has to be Richarlison. Or actually, it’s Richarlison.
Ultimately, it’s Richarlison.
Jenkins: Luis Chávez’s free kick against Saudi Arabia. Look, Richarlison’s scissor kick was awesome, but try doing that yourself 100 times and you’ll probably succeed at least twice. You won’t come close to hitting a perfect free kick over the wall from 30 yards out.
This AMAZING free kick from Mexico's Luis Chávez is the Goal of the Day. ⚽️ ☄️ pic.twitter.com/4sLYeP6bId— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 1, 2022
Burchardt: It’s true that Uruguay left Qatar after an utterly disappointing performance … but this sequence and finish by Giorgian de Arrascaeta? Golazo. Masterpiece. A thing of beauty.
ANOTHER FOR URUGUAY— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 2, 2022
Giorgian de Arrascaeta scores his second goal of the first half pic.twitter.com/pJQNQSWA4K
7. What are your thoughts on the USMNT’s performance in the World Cup?
Adeniran: Good thoughts! They’re a top-16 team in the world and that’s great! Sure they can’t track runners in the box and they don’t have a reliable no. 9, but that’s OK! You just have to do enough so everyone’s favorite soccer coach can get a potential extension!
Phillips: I’m proud of them! The very young American team held its own against heavily favored opponents, made the knockout rounds, and lost to a favored Netherlands team in a match that came down to a few individual execution errors. No one should be hanging their heads over this run. 2026 is going to be fun.
Sherman: I left virtually every game thinking their quality was better than the result. They could’ve beaten Wales (stupid penalty!) and England (couldn’t finish!), and they white-knuckled their way to a one-goal win despite dominating Iran (Gregggggg!). Then they played well against the Netherlands, except for those, uh, three extremely embarrassing goals. Every game was much more thrilling and frustrating than it had any right to be. I have no idea how any of you invest in this sport emotionally year-round without severe emotional damage.
Burchardt: Let’s be honest here, it’s never been about 2022 for this USMNT team—it’s always been about 2026. In Qatar, Christian Pulisic and Co. had to show how good they could be when the World Cup takes place in North America in four years, and they did just that. Mission accomplished. Now, let’s find a striker who can turn all the flair, finesse, and skills of this group into goals and see you in the final at SoFi Stadium, MetLife Stadium, or wherever the 2026 World Cup winner will be decided.
Becoats: I said that this team was “cheeks” coming into the tournament, so this is my official apology. This team clearly has spots that could use improvement, mainly at striker, possibly left back, and maybe a better tactician as a manager. That being said, I still don’t quite understand why folks seem to want to chase Gregg Berhalter out of this job when he got a team that didn’t qualify for the 2018 World Cup into the round of 16 of this one. Tyler Adams and Yunus Musah really proved themselves as standouts. It was a fun ride, and gives reason for optimism headed into the 2026 men’s World Cup. Now, for the love of Clint Dempsey, find someone who can put the ball in the back of the net.
Jenkins: I was very impressed with the performance against England! The U.S. dominated the game and probably would’ve won if they had a proper striker. It was a showcase of the modern pressing tactics Berhalter implemented into the side. Clearly there are still holes, given the basic defending errors that cost the U.S. the match against the Netherlands. But I think the team ultimately performed exactly to the expectations of the U.S. Soccer Federation: a round of 16 berth. Going forward, I’d give Berhalter a chance to continue his work through a potential 2024 Copa America appearance, and from there evaluate whether he’s the right man to lead the team in the 2026 World Cup. Hopefully by then we’ll have at least solidified our go-to no. 9.
8. Now that the bracket is set: pick your two finalists and the World Cup winner.
Becoats: My prediction of Argentina-England is still intact, so I’m stubbornly sticking with it. Do I believe it after Brazil’s romp over South Korea? I’m not so sure. But I’m a romantic and would prefer to see Lionel Messi lift the trophy over anyone else.
Burchardt: Brazil will samba their way into the final where their joyous and effective play will be too much to overcome for England.
Adeniran: In the first survey, I had Brazil (good) vs. Germany (bad … very bad) in the final. I’m sticking with Brazil, obviously, and I believe France will be right there with them on December 18. The defending champions vs. the record champions.
Catch me dancing the samba when Brazil win their sixth star.
Jenkins: Brazil-France, 1-1 at the end of extra time. The game is decided on penalties and Brazil pulls it out after a couple clutch saves by Alisson. The team dedicates the victory to Pelé.
Sherman: Brazil > France. SO BORING, picking the two most exciting teams in the world.
Phillips: Brazil-England; England takes home the World Cup. Don’t look at me like that. I don’t even know how to spell jinx.