The World Cup: What does each team need to win?

The group stage of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 has given soccer fans more than they could have imagined. There have been thrilling games, historic victories,  epic comebacks, and last-minute game-winning goals. 

Sixteen out of thirty-two nations have moved on to the Round of 16. For some teams, this is when the World Cup gets real. It’s either win or go home. After almost a week of action, the fútbol community has gauged the performance of every qualified team’s performance so far. 

Here are our analysis of each team and what it will take for them to have a chance of winning the cup. The first game in the round of 16 features the U.S. vs the Netherlands at 10 a.m., Saturday morning.

France: Arriving in Doha as title defenders did not put on extra pressure on Didier Deschamps’ men. The group stage’s champions curse and its ghosts from 2002 were left behind by “Le Bleus,” and walked through Group D comfortably despite  injuries to key players before the World Cup, including 2022 Ballon D’Or winner Karim Benzema, forward Christopher Nkunku, midfielders Paul Pogba and N’golo Kanté, and center-back Prensel Kimpembe. Lucas Hernandez was added to the injury list after just 13 minutes in the tournament. A strong 4-1 victory over Australia on match day 1 of their group and a solid performance against Denmark thanks to Kylian Mbappe’s two decisive goals sealed the deal for the French. 

What do they need to win?

Although France’s side suffered injuries, the squad’s depth is superior to most of the teams that advanced. The speed on the wings provided by Mbappe and Dembélé, alongside the freshness and ability of midfielder Aurélien Tchouaméni, plus the experience of forwards Antoine Griezmann and Olivier Giroud could end up being the key ingredients to win the tournament back-to-back.  (Giroud has scored twice in this World Cup after not making a single goal in 2018). Their first game in the knockouts is Sunday at 10 a.m. vs. Poland.

Portugal: The media and part of the soccer world had their doubts about Portugal for this World Cup. Fernando Santos’ conservative playing style has not convinced many, but the team’s coach keeps on trusting the method that led him to win the UEFA European Championship in 2016, and the UEFA Nations League in 2019. Their first match and victory against Ghana by 3-2 was not simple. There were some flaws in the back line, but their variety of attacking options including Cristiano Ronaldo, Joao Felix, and Bernardo Silva, and Bruno Fernandes proved essential. Meanwhile against the Uruguayans, Portugal successfully held back Uruguay’s counterattacks. And the team converted two goal-scoring opportunities. 

What do they need to win?

Portugal has only made it twice to the FIFA World Cup semifinals, finishing third in England in 1966 with Eusebio as their main star and fourth in Germany 2006, with an emerging CR7 in their ranks. If they want to have a serious chance to win the World Cup for the first time, they must take each game step by step, be more compact on defense, and be more efficient with their set pieces and attacks. This could make a big difference whether or not CR7 plays the full 90 minutes in every round of the knockouts. Their first game in the knockouts is on Tuesday at 2 p.m. vs. Switzerland.

Brazil: O Pentacampeão certainly would like to add another star to their crest, and the quality of their squad serves as clear evidence that Brazil is one of the favorites to win in Qatar. And it came easy. Having defeated Serbia and Switzerland, the two European teams in their group by 2-0, and 1-0 respectively, they qualified early for the round of 16. 

What do they need to win? 

There is no easy game in the World Cup, and Brazil’s way through the knockout bracket could be very rocky if they underestimate any rival. This team is a perfect example of how camaraderie looks. Various factors such as the experience in the defense and within the 3 posts offered by Thiago Silva, Dani Alves, and Alisson, combined with a compact midfield featuring Casemiro and Fabinho as the backbone of Brazil, in addition to a talented youthfulness featuring wingers like Vinicius Jr, Richarlison, and Rodrygo, and the return of Neymar Jr for the knockouts after a sprained ankle injury, could join and become the needed components for a World Cup title for Tite’s 26-men roster. Their first game in the knockouts is on Monday at 2 p.m. vs. South Korea.

Netherlands: The Clockwork Orange finished on top of Group A relatively easily. Starting off on the right foot against Senegal on match day 1 was crucial for Dutch, and getting a goal in their game against Ecuador after 90 minutes of pure intensity eased their nerves, and led them to a 2-0 victory over the Qatari in the last match of the group.

What do they need to win? 

The Netherlands and its players – coached by Louis Van Gaal – most likely have their eyes set on competing in a seventh game in the tournament. They have all the tools to reach the semifinals, but first they have to go through the Round of 16 and face a young but determined U.S. squad. Cody Gakpo has certainly been one of the revelations so far, scoring 3 goals in the group stage, and the world will watch and see whether he can put the team on his back if things start to go wrong in an elimination match. Furthermore, the strength of Netherlands defense, led by Virgil Van Dijk and Nathan Ake from the Premier League, combined with Frenkie De Jong’s vision in the middle has been consistent. The team conceded only one goal during the group stage. They must be more compact in the back, and need their attackers to be more involved on the wings. Their first game in the knockouts is Saturday at 10 a.m. vs. the United States.

Senegal: The 2022 African champions knew they were going to be competing toe-to-toe with the Ecuadorians for a place in the knockouts. After losing their first match 2-0 to the Netherlands in the dying moments of the game, Senegal had no margin for error. The Lions of Teranga benefited tremendously from Netherlands 1-1 draw against Ecuador, which left things up for grabs on matchday 3 with La Tri. Abdou Cisse’s side drew first blood and Ecuador hit back 22 minutes into the second half, but Senegal reacted three minutes later with a header by their captain and Chelsea defender Kalidou Koulibaly, which secured their spot in the knockouts.

What do they need to win? 

It is unlikely that Senegal will win the World Cup. Nonetheless, Abdou Cisse  experienced in 2002 what it is like to reach the quarterfinals as a player. He has the responsibility to guide his team to the next round. And even though Senegal may be defeated by the English in the Round of 16, the Lions of Teranga are one of those teams you would like to avoid. This is a golden opportunity for this African side to show all of its potential, as they did in the groups without their star, Sadio Mane. Their first game in the knockouts is Sunday at 2 p.m. vs. England.

England: It’s very easy to get carried away after an outstanding 6-2 win in England’s opening game against Iran. That intensity cost the team against the United States, when it only earned a tie due to the Americans’ lack of accuracy in the final third. Still, the English swept through Wales by 3-0, and demonstrated again why the nation includes the most competitive soccer league in the world and why they are contenders to bring the trophy “back home.” 

What do they need to win? 

The Three Lions traveled to Qatar as one of the favorites to win the Cup. Their range of options in every position puts England at an advantage. Gareth Southgate needs to make sure his squad is focused first on the round of 16 match against Senegal. England has never lost a game to an African team in the World Cup. And this English side would not like to be the exception. The United States did a good job in putting the lads under stress by creating various chances on the wings and in the box. So England’s fate in the World Cup is something that can either go well for them, or end up in an absolute failure. Their first game in the knockouts is Sunday at 2 p.m. vs. Senegal.

United States of America: The U.S. waited eight years to be back in the World Cup after their last appearance in Brazil 2014. The team boasts a young, talented roster with notable players such as Christian Pulisic, Timothy Weah, Matt Turner, Yunus Musah, Bredan Aaronson, Tyler Adams, and Weston Mckennie who play in the best leagues in Europe, There are also experienced players like Tim Ream and some MLS additions: DeAndre Yedlin, Walker Zimmermann, and Jesus Ferreira. This has created considerable expectations for Gregg Berhalter’s squad. The U.S. was able to meet their objective by finishing top 2 in Group B after drawing 1-1 with Wales in a match that almost ended with a win for the USMNT. The 0-0 draw against England does not reflect all the emotion of a game that went back and forth. The U.S. did not feel intimidated by England. In the end, the Yanks went for the win against the Iranians. A brilliant first half full of American chances included a play that combined Tyler Adams, Weston Mckennie, Sergiño Dest, and Christian Pulisic’s final touch. Then in the second half, the U.S. showed a firm defense, holding back most of Iran’s dangerous attempts, which was enough to qualify for the round of 16.

What do they need to win?

The United States’s first objective has already been met: successfully passing the group stage. The team is still undefeated, but will have a difficult round of 16 match against the Dutch. This U.S. squad is the youngest in USMNT’s history to play in a FIFA World Cup. They have shown courage and determination in every game and will challenge whichever team it faces. Getting through a couple of more rounds would be the cherry on the cake for Gregg Berhalter and his men. Their first game in the knockouts is Saturday at 10 a.m. vs. the Netherlands.

Australia: When a nation like Australia qualifies for the World Cup on five consecutive occasions since 2006, it is clearly not a team to be taken lightly. Winning the international playoff against Peru for a spot in Qatar really shows how dangerous the Socceroos can be. After a 4-1 defeat at the hands of the French, Australia turned the page quickly, and won 1-0 against Tunisia. Then on match day 3, Australia did not disappoint. A great play on the edge of the box by forward Mathew Leckie in the 60th minute meant qualification for the round of 16.

What do they need to win?

Australia will not have an easy matchup in game four of the World Cup. Beating Argentina will require a miracle. Yet it is not impossible. The Australians must take advantage of any bit of space that is given by the Argentinians, and the Socceroos must be accurate in front of goal if they create goal scoring opportunities. Failure to do so will result in a trip back to Sydney. Their first game in the knockouts is on Saturday at 2 p.m. vs. Argentina.

Argentina: To nobody’s surprise, the 2021 Copa América champions are considered one of the huge candidates to win the World Cup. Yet, all the hype around them had a negative effect on “La Scaloneta” in the first game vs. Saudi Arabia, as the Saudi made a historic comeback in the second half which ended in a 2-1 loss for Argentina. Shaking off their first loss, Argentina beat Mexico 2-0, with goals scored by Lionel Messi and Enzo Fernández in the last half hour. This 2-0 win against Mexico was the boost they needed to face Poland. In game three, Lionel Messi missed the chance from the 12-yards spot to put his team in the lead. However, Argentina kept pushing in the remaining 45 minutes, and Alexis Mac Allister scored in the 48th. Argentina displayed their best abilities with 27 consecutive passes, resulting in a strike by Julián Álvarez which led to a 2-0 victory and a 1st place in Group C.

What do they need to win? 

After an initial scare, Argentina got quickly back on their feet. Arguably, the best thing that could have happened to Messi and his teammates was not only losing to Saudi Arabia in the first match, but losing a 36-game unbeaten streak. The first thing the Argentines have to do to make it far into the World Cup is to not underestimate any rival. Also, rotating a few players from their starting 11 with younger and fresh variants could be the key to reaching a potential seventh game. Last but not least, Scaloni and his coaching staff must remain true to their playing style instead of relying on Messi for every single attack. Adapting to different scenarios within each game and applying high pressure when losing the ball may do the trick for “La Albiceleste.” Their first game in the knockouts is Saturday at 2 p.m. vs. Australia.

Poland: The Polish national team traveled to Doha with the goal of winning Group C. Nevertheless, Poland did not convince many with their way of playing. Letting their opponents have possession and waiting for a chance to counter attack was the norm in Poland’s tactics. After missing a penalty and getting a point on Matchday 1 against Mexico, the Poles improved their tempo and were able to defeat Saudi Arabia 2-0. In the last group stage match Poland’s approach to the game did not pose a major challenge for the Argentinians, despite blocking a penalty by Lionel Messi in the first 45 minutes. However, Argentina won the game 2-0. Still, Poland advanced to the knockouts.

What do they need to win? 

Poland only scored 2 goals and conceded 3 goals respectively. If they really want to make it further in the tournament, they would have to somehow beat France in the Round of 16. At last, waiting to make counter attacks on the current World Cup champions does not seem like a smart idea for the Poles, and they will have to find a loophole in France’s midfield to have a bit more possession in the match. Their first game in the knockouts is Sunday at 10 a.m. vs France.

Japan: The Japanese have been the greatest surprise of the group stage. Prior to the tournament, few people believed that Japan would make it to the top two of the group. Japan’s first match against the Germans was a roller coaster, with Germany dominating the game until the last 15 minutes. Japan made a historic comeback and defeated Germany 2-1 for the first time ever. In matchday 2, Japan’s momentum backfired for them, and Costa Rica beat them 1-0.  Then in match three, Spain took an early lead in the first half through
Álvaro Morata. Soon after the second half began, the Japanese tied the game at the 48th with a left-footed screamer by Ritsu Dōan. Three minutes later, the world watched how the Japanese turned the game around, after scoring one of the most controversial goals of the tournament so far, that originated from a back cross near the inside of the 6-yard box. The controversy of this play was that the ball appeared to go out of bounds before the cross. However, thanks to FIFA’s goal-line technology, the circumference of the ball was confirmed to cross the line completely and not go out of bounds by a tiny margin and they won 2-1, knocking Germany out of the World Cup. In the end, the Japanese efforts should not be belittled by one call. They deservedly earned 1st place in a group they were seen as one of the underdogs. 

What do they need to win?

Japan made it out of Group E and will play Croatia in the round of 16. Japan has shown the world that they are not intimidated by the usual suspects. This “Samurai Blue” roster is a balanced mix of young and veteran players, who are capable of using the wings effectively in attack, and capable of holding their opponents. Their first game in the knockouts is Monday at 10 a.m. vs Croatia.

Spain: Coach Luis Enrique and his team have been under scrutiny in this tournament. A massive 7-0 win against Costa Rica got everybody talking in the soccer world. However, the team did not perform very well against Germany, and tied 1-1. Miraculously, Spain’s 2-1 defeat against Japan was still enough to advance.

What do they need to win?

Morocco will not be an easy game for Spain in the round of 16. They must be careful when going for the attack, as the Moroccans can cause them real danger on defense. It is not the time for Spain to relax if they want to win a second World Cup. Their first game in the knockouts is Tuesday at 10 a.m. vs. Morocco.

Morocco: Alongside Japan and Australia, Morocco has been one of the big surprises of the group stage. They finished top of their group above Croatia, sending Belgium back home. A hard fought point earned in a 0-0 draw while facing the current World Cup runner-ups, Croatia, caught fans and the media off guard. Then, an enormous 2-0 win against Belgium after a back and forth battle paved the way for qualification in game 3. Morocco jumped onto the field knowing they needed a win. What seemed like another group stage disappointment at first, turned out to be one of the greatest achievements in the history of African soccer. Within the first 25 minutes, the North African side attained the three points with 2 goals by Hakim Ziyech and Youssef En-Nesyri, clinching an incredible 1st place position in Group F.

What do they need to win?

Morocco’s 1st place granted them a spot in the round of 16, a feat they have not accomplished since 1986. They are going against Spain in the round of 16. It is true that the odds favor the Spanish to advance. “The Atlas Lions” of Morocco have a solid core of players in the top 5 leagues in Europe. Achraf Hakimi, Youseff En-Nesyri, Hakim Ziyech, Sofiane Boufal, led by the experience of Sofyan Amrabat and by their captain Romain Saiss, are some of the members of a 26-men group that could cause one of the major upsets in Qatar. Their first game in the knockouts is Tuesday at 10 a.m. vs. Spain.

Croatia: Croatia’s performance in the group was not bad, but not great either. A 0-0 tie against Morocco, followed by an outstanding 4-1 win over Canada, and ending with a 0-0 tie vs. Belgium was just enough for them to move on.

What do they need to win? 

Croatia’s World Cup run in 2018 took them to the final. This time, things have changed for the Croatians. Luka Modric is still their top player, but that generation is mostly gone. Croatia has a chance to make it further, but it will be surprising if they reach the semi finals. Their first game in the knockouts is Monday at 10 a.m. vs. Japan.

South Korea: For the most part, Asian teams have done well in this World Cup.  South Korea shocked the world by qualifying in 2nd place in Group H. They started with a scoreless tie vs. Uruguay, followed by a 3-2 loss to Ghana. In game three, the South Koreans beat Portugal against the odds, and made it to second place by having a higher goal differential than Uruguay.

What do they need to win? 

South Korea must play the game of their lives to defeat Brazil. Certainly their counter attacks are one of their best tactics. But in reality, Brazil’s squad is stronger and the South Koreans will have a difficult mission to complete. Their first game in the knockouts is on Monday at 2 p.m. vs. Brazil.

Switzerland: The real battle in Group G was between the Swiss and the Serbians. Switzerland started with the right foot by winning against Cameroon 1-0. In game two, their efforts could not hold the Brazilians long enough and lost 1-0. Their last game felt like a final. The Swiss fought for the victory and got the three points after beating Serbia 3-2.

What do they need to win?

The Swiss had an interesting challenge during the group stage. Nonetheless, they were able to advance to the round of 16. Portugal will be a tough opponent for them. If Switzerland stops Portuguese attacks, then the game could open up in their favor. Their first game in the knockouts is on Tuesday at 2 p.m. vs. Portugal.

This story was updated to reflect final group results.

Jesus Acosta is from Caracas, Venezuela. He is a junior at FIU pursuing a major in Digital Communications and Media + Interactive. He aspires to work in the sports industry in the near future.