World Cup Update (Part 2)

A summary of the knockout games in soccer’s most prestigious tournament.

Reading Time: 7 minutes

After a group stage of intense drama and excitement, the knockout rounds of this year’s World Cup in Qatar were even more suspenseful and competitive. Here is a review of the tournament’s later stages, including the final where Argentina was crowned champions.


The round of 16 kicked off in the city of Al Rayyan with a dominant 3-1 Netherlands win over the United States. Next, Lionel Messi helped the Argentinians squeeze past Australia in a game that ended 2-1. Kylian Mbappé starred for France, leading the tournament’s scoring charts with a brace in his team’s 3-1 victory over Poland. Lastly, England achieved a resounding 3-0 victory against Senegal, earning a spot to fight against France in the quarter-finals.

On the other side of the bracket, Japan missed out on quarter-final qualification after losing to Croatia in a penalty shootout. Their Asian counterpart, South Korea, did not fare any better, as they were battered 1-4 by a beautiful play from Brazil. Then, a valiant Morocco punched their ticket to the quarter-finals when they unexpectedly defeated Spain in a penalty shootout following a 0-0 tie in regular time. Finally, the round of 16 was concluded by a Portuguese humiliation of Switzerland. “A Seleção” put six goals past the Swiss in a 6-1 victory, despite the decision of head coach Fernando Santos to bench star player Cristiano Ronaldo. In fact, Ronaldo’s replacement, the 21-year-old Gonçalo Ramos, scored a hat-trick in the match.


Croatia vs. Brazil

The drama of the quarter-finals began immediately when Croatia defeated Brazil in what could be the tournament’s biggest upset. The Croatians put on a defensive masterclass as coach Zlatko Dalić’s side tirelessly stifled Brazil’s relentless attacks. Particularly, Croatian goalkeeper Dominik Livaković kept his team alive with 11 saves, while defenders Josip Juranović and Joško Gvardiol put on excellent performances as well. The game remained 0-0 at the end of the normal regulation time, setting the teams up for another 30 minutes of extra play. A spark of Brazilian magic from superstar Neymar saw the “Seleção” take the lead in the 105th minute, a lead that was expected to win the game for the yellow-donning Brazilians. However, the Croatians defied all odds when they found a late equalizer in the 117th minute through super-sub Bruno Petković. The match would be decided through a penalty shootout. The Croatian side dispatched four perfect penalties while Livaković repeated his heroics by saving the first Brazilian penalty. Brazil’s Marquinhos missed the fourth penalty, ending the match in a 4-2 Croatian victory.

Netherlands vs. Argentina

A Messi-inspired Argentina faced off against an extremely well-rounded and talented Dutch team in the second quarter-final matchup. “La Albiceleste” took the lead in the 34th minute when a defense-splitting pass from Messi found Argentine right-back Nahuel Molina, who slotted the ball into the back of the net. The second-half performance saw the Argentinians continue with their dominant performance as a 70th-minute foul by Dutch right-back Denzel Dumfries on Argentine left-back Marcos Acuña earned the blue-striped team a penalty. Unsurprisingly, Messi executed the pen convincingly to give his side a 2-0 lead. However, the Dutch were far from done as an 82nd-minute goal from striker Wout Weghorst gave his country hope. With virtually no time left on the clock, Holland surprised Argentina once again with a creative set-piece opportunity that saw Weghorst secure the equalizer. They had salvaged the game, as it now went to extra time, then later penalties. Argentine goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez stepped up to save the first two pens, including a well-placed shot from Dutch captain Virgil van Dijk, while Messi’s side scored on four of their five shots to ultimately defeat the Netherlands 4-3.

Morocco vs. Portugal

Morocco’s impressive defense shone through once again as the Atlas Lions defeated a talented Portugal in the quarter-finals. The Moroccan backline managed to nullify nearly every threat Portugal threw at them, and any shot that slipped by was parried out by outstanding goalkeeper Yassine Bounou. The Moroccans then waited patiently for their opportunities, and after a mistake from Portuguese midfielder Bruno Fernandes, a brilliant cross from full-back Attiyat Allah and a header from striker Youssef En-Nesyri saw the Morrocans get their breakthrough goal. Things were even more intense in the second half after the introduction of Portugal’s Ronaldo, but Morocco held strong for a historic 1-0 win that made them the first African team ever to qualify for the World Cup semi-finals.

England vs. France

The quarter-finals concluded with a mouthwatering heavyweight matchup between European juggernauts England and France. The French got an early lead through a rocketing shot from midfielder Aurélien Tchouaméni, but England would equalize in the second half after striker Harry Kane converted a penalty kick. France was not done just yet, however, as a header from striker Olivier Giroud gave “Les Blues” the lead once again. Just two minutes later, French defender Theo Hernández would foul England’s Mason Mount in the penalty box to grant England a second penalty chance. But to the devastation of the English and the delight of the French, the reliable Harry Kane blazed the shot well over goal. France would keep their 2-1 lead to qualify for the semis and move one step closer to becoming the first back-to-back world champions since Brazil in 1962.


Argentina vs. Croatia

Messi’s Argentina took on the 2018 World Cup runners-up, Croatia, in an electrifying matchup that did not disappoint. The Argentinians found their breakthrough in the 31st minute when a long ball over the Croatian defense landed near the feet of young Julián Álvarez, who then earned a penalty after a blatant foul by Croatian goalkeeper Dominik Livaković. Messi stepped up to the spot and decisively secured a 1-0 lead for his country. Just seven minutes later, a fast counterattack from “La Albiceleste” saw Messi release Álvarez, who was able to take it all the way and find the finish thanks to some poor decision-making from the Croatian defense. The game looked set in Argentina’s favor as a late 68th-minute solo run from Messi created the third goal for “La Albiceleste”. When the final whistle blew, the scoreboard read 3-0, and Messi & Co. were on their way to a World Cup final.

France vs. Morocco

Following the Argentina victory, France fought a grueling battle against underdogs Morocco in the other semifinal match. The French started things early as an uncharacteristically shaky Moroccan defense allowed Theo Hernández to give “Les Bleus” a 1-0 lead within the first five minutes. The “Atlas Lions” regained their footing and even created some great chances—including a breathtaking bicycle kick from center-back Jawad El Yamiq—but they were denied by brilliant French defending. Then in the 79th minute, Mbappé showed his class again as he dribbled through the Moroccan defense, passed the ball to teammate Randal Kolo Muani, and celebrated after their second goal of the night. The game concluded 2-0 for France, granting the defending champions a place in the final.


Croatia vs. Morocco

As the losers of their respective semifinal games, Croatia and Morocco set foot in Khalifa International Stadium to fight for the still-coveted bronze medals. The excitement kicked off early as a clever free-kick routine saw Croatian defender Joško Gvardiol get a goal in the sixth minute. The Croats could not celebrate long, however, as Morocco almost immediately equalized in the ninth minute. Both teams reverted to their defensive mindset for the rest of the first half until a poor Moroccan clearance allowed Croatian winger Mislav Oršić to lash in a beautiful strike in the 42nd minute. The Croats then held on for the rest of the game to be crowned the third-best team in this tournament. While the Moroccans walked away empty-handed, their heads were held high as they concluded an epic underdog run that saw them defeat the likes of Belgium, Spain, and Portugal.


Argentina vs. France

After comfortably overcoming their semifinal matchups, Argentina and France faced each other in a final that would ultimately crown one of them as the world’s best soccer nation. Messi now had the chance to follow in the great Diego Maradona’s footsteps and become the greatest player of all time by capturing the ultimate prize. On the other side, a red-hot Mbappé sought to usurp the throne by becoming the first player since the legendary Pelé to win two consecutive World Cups. This clash of old and new, experience and youth, legend and talent, between two of the best nations in soccer and two of the best players in the world, certainly did not disappoint.

Right from the start, Argentina controlled the game with comfortable possession of the ball, while a nervous French team made some sloppy turnovers. Coach Lionel Scaloni’s decision to start Ángel Di María proved fruitful when the Argentine winger drew a foul from Ousmane Dembele and earned his side a penalty in the 21st minute. Messi (is it even a question now?) stepped up to the moment once again to give Argentina the lead. The scintillating Di Maria added another point to the board when he finished a beautiful Argentine counterattack in the 35th minute. But France was not out just yet. Not by a long shot. Substitutions in the form of Muani and Kingsley Coman brought much-needed energy to the French, and a defensive error from Argentine defender Nicolás Otamendi earned France a penalty in the 80th minute; the French were on the board. Just seconds later, Mbappe silenced Argentinians around the world by burying a stunning volley to secure the equalizer and carry the game into extra time.

The action continued when Messi capitalized on an opportunity to score a rebound shot and restore Argentina’s lead in the 108th minute. However, the end-to-end game had yet another twist in store when Mbappé’s shot struck a hand on the way through, earning France their second penalty in the 118th minute. After beating the Argentine goalkeeper once from the spot already, the Frenchman netted again to become the second player in history to score a hat trick in a World Cup final. It was now down to a penalty shootout.

Mbappé and Messi set the tone by scoring their opening strikes, but the French were denied in their next two penalties by Argentine goalkeeper Martínez. Argentina had no problems on their side, converting their first three shots with ease. Ultimately, Argentine Gonzalo Montiel had the winning shot that decisively crowned the South American nation winners of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Though frustrating for a bright France squad with an ever-promising Mbappé at its heart, Argentina rejoiced in their third World Cup courtesy of captain, man of the match, man of the tournament, and the greatest player of all time, Messi.