From 32, to 16 to eight. That is how knockout football tends to work, and is indeed how it has proceeded at the World Cup of 2022.
The remaining teams are ordered below by their likelihood to win the tournament. Some previous rankings are higher than eight, because we ranked the 16 teams left last time out.
8. Croatia (previous position: 7th)
Ground it out against Japan and snuck through thanks to some poor penalties from their opponents. At this point in a tournament staying alive is all that matters, but tough to find a less convincing win of the round of 16. Croatia clearly know how to negotiate knockout football, and especially games which go beyond 90 minutes, but they will need more than resilience to eliminate Brazil on Saturday.
7. Morocco (previously 9th)
Perhaps we should not be surprised that Spain, a team which has now not won a knockout game at the World Cup since the 2010 final, were eliminated by Qatar’s biggest overachievers? Their place in the quarter finals has far more to do with their own compellingly gutsy football under Walid Regragui than any failings of their opponents. Without doubt a major upset to see them reach this stage, but their steeliness in midfield and defence, the threat of Hakim Ziyech up front and the coolness of their penalties suggest they could go further still.
6. Netherlands (previously 10th)
Uneven performances at the beginning of the tournament now look like a Louis van Gaal rope-a-dope masterclass. Did a number on a tricky USA team, setting traps and picking them off on the break, and have arguably the breakout player of this World Cup leading the line in Cody Gapko. A potentially thrilling match next against Argentina, and you would be foolish to write off van Gaal in their situation. At worst it is a toss-up.
5. Argentina (previously 5th)
An increasing sense that Lionel Messi and his many admirers are collectively willing this team forwards. Can they give their talisman’s career its fairytale ending? They will have to find another gear after their narrow win against Australia, who came close to taking their round of 16 match to extra time. For all the Messi chat, and the way he can do nothing for half an hour then score a goal as delightful as the one which game Argentina the lead against Australia, their best asset may be their defence. The Australia goal was the first they have conceded since two in their opening game against Saudi Arabia.
4. Portugal (previously 6th)
In their hammering of Switzerland, Portugal looked a little like Aston Villa in the game after they sacked Steven Gerrard, when they scored three goals in the first 14 minutes in a 4-0 win against Brentford. Was this the Cristiano Ronaldo effect, or, more accurately, the non-Cristiano Ronaldo effect? It was an astonishing finish for their first goal from Goncalo Ramos, the man who replaced him, who went on to score a hat-trick. Made a competent Switzerland look hapless, but Morocco will present a different and possibly harder challenge.
3. England (previously 1st)
Highly impressive again in seeing off Senegal, who like Switzerland for Portugal were good opponents made to look bad by their opponents. Just the small matter now of their biggest World Cup match in 20 years. The result and to some extent the performance against France will go a long way to determining Gareth Southgate’s legacy. It is too close to call, because if England can keep Kylian Mbappe quiet they have shown they have enough grit and talent to go toe-to-toe with the best. Is this when they revert to type, or will they show their fans that at last England are ready to seriously challenge in this competition?
2. France (previously 2nd)
After the unpredictable group stage the round of 16 was notable for strong teams flexing their muscles and racking up eye-catching scores. What to make, then, of France’s mere two-goal victory against Poland who looked one of the weakest teams to make it out of the group stage? On paper it was a less convincing win than Portugal’s or England’s, but in practice it was the increasingly terrifying Mbappe who earns them their spot just above the team they face next. Behind Argentina vs Netherlands it is the hardest match to call in the quarters. For once in knockout football, there is a sense that England’s A-List opponents will have to be at their very best to beat them.
1. Brazil (previously 4th)
Full of flair, joy and dancing as they wallopped South Korea, but it was the way they scored their three non-penalty goals and the litany of chances they created afterwards which will frighten every other team left in this World Cup. No team has such terrifying pace and skill when rushing forward and Neymar has adapted his game to be the wise older head dictating traffic from a deeper position. A sense that many in their team are being elevated by the stage and the heavy history of the shirt. Also, somewhat under the radar, the meanest defence in the competition by xG against.