World Cup quarter-finals: Still time for Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar as the real stuff starts now

Nick Wilhelm

Updated: Dec 08, 2022 09:07

World Cup quarter-finals: Still time for Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar because the real stuff starts now


History shows Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar still have time to make this World Cup their own

Twenty-four of the 32 teams at the 2022 World Cup are out but for the eight nations remaining, the tournament might just be getting started. Adam Bate on why history shows us that what happens next will define careers, not what we have seen so far in Qatar...

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Spain scored seven goals in the tournament's opening match against Costa Rica. People were purring at it. They are now gone. The only thing stopping England from thrilling is Kylian Mbappe's France. Expectations for both have been moderated by Brazil's quality.

Despite the fanfare reserved for some, there is still hope for supporters of any team still competing in this World Cup. In the last game before the quarterfinals, Portugal showed up, proving their point that the tournament had officially begun. This is supported by history.

In the past, many eventual champions have stumbled through the group stage, scarcely making an appearance. There is a well-known golden boot winner who did not play until the quarterfinals. The material of legends usually occurs afterwards.


Argentina captain Diego Maradona with the World Cup trophy in 1986

In 1986, Diego Maradona led the World Cup in a way that no one else had. In Argentina, he made a gutsy and outstanding effort against Uruguay in the round of 16, and his lone goal up to that quarterfinal came in a draw with Italy.

However, Carlos Bilardo's team was not the focus of Mexico '86 in the early going. In their first four games, Brazil scored nine goals without receiving a response. Bilardo had received flack. "Diego himself said to me, 'We are on our own.' And look what happened then."

The two goals Maradona scored against England changed his entire life. In the semifinal matchup versus Belgium, there were two more in what was probably an even stronger performance. The story was concluded by Jorge Burruchaga's assist on West Germany's game-winning goal in the championship match.

Late in a competition, perceptions might change. The 1998 World Cup final's two-goal hero was Zinedine Zidane. Zidane has started less games than Bernard Diomede before to the quarterfinal. He was barred for two of them after being sent off against Saudi Arabia.

"I do not have the impression that I have failed in any way in this World Cup," said Zidane after the semi-final. The fact that he felt the need to say it at all is revealing. "It is true that I have not scored, but I have one match left to do it." And do it he did.


France celebrate after defeating Brazil 3-0 in Paris to win the World Cup in 1998

Zidane's second red card in a World Cup match occurred against Italy in the 2006 championship game. Italy has done more than any other country to spread the notion that a slow start is not necessarily a bad thing. They drew their first three games in 1982 but still managed to win.

Few predicted a replay of the 2006 match, when Italy stumbled into the quarterfinals thanks to a stoppage-time penalty against Australia. Brazil, the defending champion, was the favorite. The home field advantage favored Germany. The best football had been being played by Argentina.

Marcelo Lippi was being pilloried by the Italian press. "Lippi tried to tear the dream from us," screeched Corriere dello Sport after the round of 16. But the team took shape. Most of Italy's scorers in the group stage did not even start the final. It all came together.

There were similar doubts about Spain in 2010 when they lost to Switzerland in their first game. "Spain played without conviction," said Luis Aragones, the former coach who had guided the team to victory at Euro 2008. Vicente del Bosque's caution was criticised.

In the end, it didn't matter. Spain won the World Cup and had just eight goals remaining in the competition. Argentina had more points by halftime of their round of 16 match, but they had already left for home by the time Spain defeated the Netherlands in the championship game.


Vicente Del Bosque overcame early criticism to win the World Cup with Spain in 2010

After their rough treatment of Spain that evening, the Dutch are not well remembered. However, to get there, they had won six of their previous six games. Strangely, they suffered their first loss in the World Cup championship game. Spain was the first to arrive.

Germany grasped this in 2014 after needing extra-time to beat Algeria. "All that matters is that we are in the quarter-finals," said Per Mertesacker. "You will get these games at a tournament," said head coach Joachim Low. "It is about winning." They won it all.

During the 2018 World Cup, France defeated Australia and Peru by a solitary goal, drew with Denmark, and was trailing Argentina in the round of 16 until Benjamin Pavard's spectacular goal. However, they were later regarded as deserving champions despite having the worst goal differential of any quarterfinalist.

In terms of individuals, Harry Kane won the golden boot despite goals from Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann in the championship game. Although it is not typically the case, the England captain scored all six of his team's goals before to the quarterfinal stage of that World Cup.


Paolo Rossi scored all six of his goals at the 1982 World Cup in his final three matches

Famously, Paulo Rossi did not score until Italy's actual quarterfinal match against Brazil in 1982. He scored six goals in total. Who can recall that before the last eight rounds, Mexico's Luis Hernandez had more points than Croatia's Davor Suker, who went on to win the prize in 1998?

Of course, the lone player to score a hat-trick in the most important game of them all serves as the greatest personal example. Sir Geoff Hurst had not even kicked a ball at the competition prior to England's quarterfinal match in 1966, let alone scored a goal. But it wasn't over yet.

At this point, 56 of the 64 games have been played. There are still more men and moments that will shape this World Cup.

Quarter-final fixtures

Friday December 9

Croatia vs Brazil - Kick-off 3pm

Netherlands vs Argentina - Kick-off 7pm

Saturday December 10

Morocco vs Portugal - Kick-off 3pm

England vs France - Kick-off 7pm

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