Just a handful of games remain in the 2022 Qatar World Cup as the stakes grow higher for the eight teams still with a chance to win the world’s biggest sporting event, but there will likely be drama both on and off the scoresheet in the quarterfinals.
Messi’s last stand: 35-year-old Argentina forward Lionel Messi—hailed as one of the greatest soccer players of all-time—has never won a World Cup, and many believe this year’s tournament will be his last real shot at capturing the coveted trophy. (Watch: Argentina plays the Netherlands in the quarterfinals at 2 p.m. Friday on Fox.)
Neymar vs. Pelé: Brazilian superstar Neymar is just one goal away from tying one of the most sacred records in Brazilian sports—Pelé’s 77 national team goals. Even greater attention has been brought to the potential milestone as Pelé, 82, has been hospitalized for over a week due to a bout with Covid-19. Doctors say his condition is improving. (Watch: Brazil plays Croatia in the quarterfinals at 10 a.m. Friday on Fox.)
Morocco’s run for the ages: Morocco on Tuesday stunned Spain, beating the European powerhouse in a penalty kick shootout, becoming the first Arab team to ever make it to the World Cup quarterfinals. They could make history again with a win in their match Saturday, which would make them the first African team to advance to the World Cup semifinals. (Watch: Morocco plays Portugal in the quarterfinals at 10 a.m. Saturday on Fox.)
Ronaldo the benchwarmer? A big question heading into the Morocco-Portugal match is whether Portuguese captain Cristiano Ronaldo—whose 118 international goals are the most of any player in history—will be in his country’s starting 11. Portugal coach Fernando Santos dropped Ronaldo from the lineup for the round of 16 match against Switzerland after the star reacted petulantly to being substituted out of Portugal’s final group stage match against South Korea.
France goes for the repeat: France has looked like one of the strongest teams at the World Cup so far, and the 2018 winners are looking to make history as just the third country to ever repeat as World Cup champions, after Italy (1934, 1938) and Brazil (1958, 1962). (Watch: France plays England in the quarterfinals at 2 p.m. Saturday on Fox.)
Mbappé on a tear: 23-year-old French forward Kylian Mbappé has already scored five goals in four games, making him the heavy favorite to win the Golden Boot award as the tournament’s top scorer—and his nine goals between the 2018 and 2022 tournaments puts him level with Messi for career World Cup goals and one ahead of 37-year-old Ronaldo.
England goes for glory: England is in the midst of a golden age, with its most talented and cohesive generation of players in decades—but the group has yet to win a major trophy. England went out at the semifinal stage of the 2018 World Cup and its team agonizingly lost to Italy in penalty kicks at the final of last year’s Euros in front of home fans in London. England’s one and only major tournament win came at the 1966 World Cup, which the country hosted.
WHAT WE DON’T KNOW
Where Ronaldo will play after Portugal’s World Cup run ends. He parted ways with Manchester United by “mutual consent” on November 22 after blasting the club in an interview with Piers Morgan, saying he doesn’t “have respect” for manager Erik ten Hag. He’s reportedly been offered a contract to play for Saudi Arabian club Al Nassr that would pay him more than $200 million a year, but he’s denied reports that he accepted the deal.
Thirty-two teams arrived at the World Cup for the group stage, which started on November 20 and ended Friday. The U.S. was among the 16 teams to advance from the group stage to the knockout rounds, but their run ended Saturday in a 3-1 loss to the Netherlands. The 2022 World Cup is the first ever held in winter due to the brutally hot summers in host nation Qatar. Much of the attention heading into the event was on the host country, which has faced widespread condemnation for allegedly violating the human rights of thousands of migrant workers who built up Qatar’s infrastructure ahead of the event. Qatar has also been accused of bribing FIFA officials in 2010 to win hosting rights, beating out a bid from the United States.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The 2022 World Cup Final is set for December 18 at 10 a.m. Brazil are the betting favorites to win it all heading into the quarterfinals, followed by France, Argentina, England and Portugal, according to Caesars Sportsbook.
By Nicholas Reimann, Forbes Staff