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Winners & Losers from days 15 &16 of the World Cup

Magical Mbappe, Brazilian brilliance, and penalty pain.

France v Poland -World Cup Photo by Eric Verhoeven/Soccrates/Getty Images

FIFA rankings aren’t everything — we’ve seen that they can be gamed to a certain extent by how a national team schedules friendlies, or by not scheduling them at all, and there are all sorts of systemic issues with how things are weighted — but if you’d bet on the higher ranked team advancing in every Round of 16 game so far, you’d have been right every time. After all of the wonderful chaos of the Group Stage, the rather straightforward results of the knockouts up to this point have been a bit of a let-down.

That’s not to suggest that there’s been zero excitement. With two games left to be played in this round, there have been 21 goals (not counting penalty shootouts) in the Round of 16, only 3 fewer than were scored in the 2018 Round of 16. There’s actually a chance that this could be the highest-scoring Round of 16 since the modern format began with the 1986 tournament, when 26 goals were scored in the round. There have been blowouts of varying degrees in the last couple of days — France beating Poland 3-1, England beating Senegal 3-0, and Brazil beating South Korea 4-1 — as well as a 1-1 game between Japan and Croatia that ultimately went to penalties. Let’s look at who really won and lost in those games.


Japan’s standing in global football: Japan shocked plenty of people by forcing their way into the knockout rounds with 2-1 wins against Germany and Spain in the Group Stage. They took a lead just before halftime against Croatia, the 2018 World Cup runner-up, and eventually went to penalties. Dominik Livaković, the Croatian goalkeeper, ended their tournament, saving three of the four penalties he faced, but Japan can still hold their heads high. Anyone who has paid close attention won’t have been completely caught off guard by Japan’s performances, but after this tournament people all over the world will have to give them the credit they’re due. The J League is already becoming better recognized as a desirable scouting destination among European clubs, and that’s only going to increase.

England’s future: England’s 3-0 win against Senegal was another really strong performance from the team that fell on penalties in the 2020 Euros final to Italy and was a semifinalist in the 2018 World Cup. They’ve shown that when they’re at their best they have a real chance at competing for the title in this tournament, but if you look at the players who have had the biggest impact for England so far at the World Cup, it’s hard not to be even more bullish on their future. The three arguably best English players so far in the tournament have been Jude Bellingham, Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka. With Foden the oldest of the bunch at 22, it’s not unreasonable to think that these three could be the starring core of the team for the next decade.


People not named Kylian Mbappe who want to win things: In France’s 3-1 win over Poland, Kylian Mbappe scored his 4th and 5th goals of the tournament, putting him 2 goals ahead of the rest of the pack in the Golden Boot race. Because that’s clearly not enough, Mbappe also assisted on Olivier Giroud’s opener, his second assist of the World Cup. If you’re keeping track, that means he’s contributed 7 combined goals and assists, 3 more than the next closest players (two of whom, Bruno Fernandes and Alvaro Morata, have yet to play in the Round of 16). With France strong favorites to win the whole thing, there’s a real chance that Mbappe could round out his World Cup-specific trophy collection, potentially adding another World Cup title, a Golden Boot and Golden Ball to his FIFA Young Player Award.

The chances for a Men’s World Cup winner from outside of Europe and South America: With Australia having already gone out to Argentina, and Japan and South Korea falling to Croatia and Brazil, we’re left with no competitors from Asia as we head toward the Quarter Finals. Senegal’s loss to England — with the USMNT having already been eliminated by the Dutch, leaving no Concacaf teams at the tournament — leaves Morocco as the sole remaining team from outside of Europe and South America. Ahead of the last two Round of 16 games, there are only 4 teams remaining who have never won the tournament, and at least one of those will be eliminated by the time we reach the next round. It would be great to see a men’s World Cup winner from outside of the presumed elites, but for now it may just be a bridge too far.

Storylines to watch on day 17

7:00 AM - Morocco vs. Spain: As noted above, Morocco are the last remaining team from outside of Europe or South America at the tournament. They’ve got plenty of quality and have shown that they can give anyone a game when they’re on. They’ll need to be at their best against Spain, although the Spanish side is looking a lot less than unstoppable after a draw against Germany and a 2-1 loss to Japan. These two teams last met was at the 2018 World Cup, when they drew 2-2 in the Group Stage.

Watch the game on Fox, Telemundo, or streaming on and Peacock.

11:00 AM - Portugal vs. Switzerland: Xherdan Shaqiri is a delightful little man, and we should all wish for joy in his life. Imagine Shaqiri happy, gleeful as Switzerland advance, while that unemployed guy with the abs finds teammates to blame. It’s a beautiful dream, and I hope we see it.

Watch the game on Fox, Telemundo, or streaming on and Peacock.

You can catch replays of all games in English on or Spanish on Peacock 30 minutes after the final whistle.

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