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Breaking down the World Cup quarterfinals

We are well past the halfway mark of the World Cup, and the field of 32 has been narrowed down to the final eight. This is the absolute cream of the crop. Some giants have fallen already — I’m looking at you Belgium, Germany and Spain — and some teams have over-performed (shoutout Morocco). With that being said, here’s how I see the World Cup quarterfinals playing out.

Croatia vs. Brazil: Friday, Dec. 9 at 10 a.m. EST on FOX

This matchup pits Croatia, the 2018 World Cup finalists, against the pre-tournament favorites and five-time champions, Brazil. When you look at it like that, it seems like a fairly even matchup. Digging deeper, maybe not so much.

Brazil are phenomenal and have looked every bit the favorites to win this tournament. So much so that their scintillating first half in a 4-1 victory over South Korea had a fellow Observer Sports writer texting me, “That honestly might be the best half of footy I’ve ever watched.” They are young, fast, exciting and endlessly creative. Neymar Jr. sits deeper than he has in the past, playing the creative No. 10 role behind the electric attacking trio of Richarlison, Vinicius Jr. and Raphinha. They score a lot, play beautiful football and defend well (only two goals allowed in four games).

On the other side, Croatia have gotten older since 2018 and lost some key players, even if their talisman in the middle, Ballon d’Or winner and Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modrić, remains. Regardless, at 37 years old, Modrić’s age is starting to show, and he was even subbed off in extra time during his team’s win over Japan in the Round of 16.

I am also concerned about Croatia’s lack of goals. In four games they’ve scored just five times, with four of those coming in a 4-1 win over a weak Canadian side. They played two goalless draws in the group stage and needed a heroic penalty shootout from goalkeeper Dominik Livaković to beat Japan in the first knockout game.

Prediction: Brazil 2 – 0 Croatia

Netherlands vs. Argentina: Friday, Dec. 9 at 2 p.m. EST on FOX

This game is fascinating. Netherlands have played better than I expected coming in, and Argentina bounced back from a shocking 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia to reach the quarterfinals.

The Oranje have been led by 23-year-old forward Cody Gakpo, who scored three goals in the group stage and brought some thrust to an otherwise unimpressive Dutch performance in the group stages. Regardless, Netherlands remain unbeaten at the World Cup and seemed to find another gear against the United States in the previous round. In particular, left back Denzel Dumfries had a game for the ages against the United States, tallying two assists and a goal in the 3-1 victory.

However, likely their most important player ahead of the Argentina match is captain and central defender Virgil van Dijk. The Liverpool man will be under increased scrutiny because of the player he’s tasked with stopping: Lionel Messi.

The diminutive Argentinian is, in my humble opinion, the finest footballer in the history of the sport, and this is his World Cup swan song. It’s also the first World Cup since the passing of the legendary Diego Maradona, who led Argentina to their second — and last — World Cup triumph in 1986. This all gives Argentina some serious “team of destiny” vibes, but still, the games need to be played and won on the field.

Nothing showed this more than their group stage opener. La Albiceleste entered the tournament on a 36-game unbeaten run, having not lost a game since 2019. They were clear favorites to run the table and win the tournament. Instead, they conceded twice in five minutes and lost to Saudi Arabia, who snapped their unbeaten streak.

Despite this, they bounced back with some strong showings against Mexico and Poland to top their group and progress to the knockout stages. The game with Australia was maybe a little closer than expected and they missed some crucial chances, but with Messi looking like he’s back at the peak of his powers, Argentina is not to be underestimated.

Prediction: Argentina 3 – 1 Netherlands

Morocco vs. Portugal: Saturday, Dec. 10 at 10 a.m. EST on FOX

This game has very interesting storylines on both sides. Morocco were not supposed to be here, but after topping a group with fellow quarterfinalists Croatia and world No. 2 Belgium, then beating European power Spain in the knockouts, they certainly look the part.

Then you have Portugal; the Iberian side looked solid in the group and then looked incredible in their round of 16 game against Switzerland after benching Cristiano Ronaldo, the player widely considered the greatest in their nation’s history.

On the Moroccan side, you have two exceptional players leading the team: right back Achraf Hakimi and winger Hakim Ziyech. Hakimi was a great storyline in the last round, as the 24-year-old Madrid-born defender scored the winning Panenka penalty to eliminate Spain. Hakimi is also part of a stingy Moroccan defense that has only allowed one goal in four games and just held Spain scoreless for 120 minutes and penalties. They will need more of that to overcome Portugal’s offensive prowess and become the first African nation to reach a World Cup semifinal.

Portugal are similar to the Netherlands in that they topped their group somewhat unimpressively. Their opening 3-2 win against Ghana benefited from a suspect penalty decision, and then they lost to South Korea in the final game. They took care of any doubts, though, as they blew Switzerland out of the water, beating them 6-1 in their opening knockout round game. The most remarkable thing about that victory was the hat trick from Gonçalo Ramos, the man tapped by manager Fernando Santos to replace the benched Ronaldo. It’s hard to know if Santos will bench Ronaldo again, but Ramos’ hat trick — and the dominant 6-1 result —certainly suggests that he should.

Prediction: Portugal 3 – 1 Morocco

England vs. France: Saturday, Dec. 10 at 2 p.m. EST on FOX

In my opinion, this is the most exciting of the four quarterfinals. It’s a World Cup final-caliber matchup, and I believe the winner should be considered a favorite entering the semifinals. Both teams cruised through their groups and then comfortably handled business in the first knockout round, where France dominated Poland 3-1 and England won 3-0 over African champions Senegal. These are two absolutely stacked and in-form teams going up against each other.

France are the reigning world champions and they have the tournament and possibly the world’s best player: 23-year-old forward Kylian Mbappé. The PSG star has scored five times and assisted two more goals in the first four games of the World Cup. France have suffered injuries to several key players (N’Golo Kanté, Paul Pogba, Karim Benzema and Presnel Kimpembe) and somehow look just as dominant as anyone could’ve expected. They seem poised to become the first nation to repeat at the World Cup since Brazil did so in 1958 and 1962.

On the other side is England. Much of their strength comes from their depth; eight different players have scored for the Three Lions and that only includes 1 goal from their captain and striker, Harry Kane, who won the Golden Boot with six goals at the previous World Cup in Russia.

The star of England’s side so far has been midfielder Jude Bellingham, whose brilliance doesn’t show up on the stat sheet like Mbappé’s. Regardless, the 19-year-old wonder kid has been the undroppable lynchpin in England’s midfield, even when playing alongside Champions League and Premier League winners who are many years his senior.

Bellingham has excelled in the attacking third just as much as the defensive one, and his composure on the ball is astonishing for such a young player. England’s chances rely as much on him controlling the middle of the field as they do on their ability to contain –— or at least, somewhat limit — Mbappé’s impact for France.

Prediction: France 3 – 2 England AET (after extra time)

Contact José Sánchez Córdova at jsanch24@nd.edu.

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Schatz: The 6,500 souls that built the 2022 Fifa World Cup

The World Cup is back, and most soccer fans all over the world are excited for its return. For the first time in FIFA history, an Arab nation is hosting it. However, with this feat comes a very dark turn. Qatar won the bid over several other countries such as the U.S., Japan and South Korea. 

Before I discuss what occurred in the years leading up to the World Cup, I would like to start with the atrocities Qatar has consistently committed. In their 2022 freedom house report, the country was deemed “not free” with a score of 25 out of 100. For comparison, the U.S. has a score of 83 and Tunisia 64. 

How did Qatar get such a low score? Well, despite having some of the wealthiest citizens in the world, Qatar has a large number of migrant workers and refuses to protect the rights of women and LGBTQ+ people. Qatar, like many other Gulf countries, lives under the guardianship system. In this system, women are treated as property to their male guardian. Women thus need permission from their male guardian (whether it be husband, brother, father or other male family member) for certain activities. LGBTQ+ members are constantly harassed, and Qatar legally prohibits sexual acts outside of heterosexual marriage. 

So with these examples, and countless others, Qatar should not have even been eligible for the bid. Even though FIFA’s then-chairman Sepp Blatter supported the original bid, he has since admitted it was a mistake. 

Even with the global spotlight on Qatar, they have yet to make changes. As I stated previously, a majority of Qatari workers are migrants and noncitizens. According to multiple reports, over the course of the ten years since Qatar received their bid, over 6,500 Southeast Asian migrants from India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have died building the stadiums and hotels that guests will stay in. This is not including the thousands of migrants that work in Qatar from other parts of the world. 

The death toll is not the only issue with the migrant workers in Qatar. These workers are noncitizens, which means they are not granted the same rights as Qatari citizens. These workers would work 18-hour days, were subject to extreme heat and dangerous conditions and were sometimes imprisoned for what appeared to be no reason. 

With the stadiums and hotels lying on the bones of those who built them, you can’t help but wonder why there aren’t more protests on the event. Sure, many newspapers have reported on the atrocities, and there has been plenty of buzz on the human rights abuses. But soccer teams and countries that are protesting the World Cup are doing it in a very superficial way. Cities in France join London in stating that they will not be hosting public screening of the events. Yet, both countries sent their team as representatives. And many have pointed out the hypocritical response from France as Paris Saint-Germain F.C. is owned by a Qatari company. Australia posted a video against human rights in Qatar, and Denmark has released a statement that they will be wearing more subtle jerseys to protest. However, and I know this is a shock to every individual reading this, all of these countries will still be attending the world cup and bringing hundreds of fans, and thousands of dollars, into Qatar.

Qatari organizers have tried to mitigate the issues by stating that “everyone is welcome.” But many do not feel that this sentiment is real. With statements of welcome from Qatar come very damaging ones. Like a Qatari ambassador saying that homosexuality was “damage in the mind” and that members of that community should respect their culture and accept their rules. 

As the first game on Sunday roles around, millions of fans across the world will be tuning in to support their team. There will be thousands of fans there who will spend their money to continue to contribute to Qatar’s government that is flooded with corruption and human rights offenses. I am not blaming the fans. In fact, I will probably be turning on multiple games over the course of the series. Rather, I hope that it will make people think just a little more than they did previously on the graves that the World Cup is built on. 

Contact Olivia Schatz at oschatz@nd.edu.

The views of this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.