Following the shock group phase exits of heavyweights Germany and Belgium, the completed last 16 knock-out round of the world’s most watched sporting event had plenty more excitement to offer.
For many, the best match was saved to last as Tuesday night’s concluding tie saw a rampant Portugal XI thrash Switzerland 6-1 with 21-year-old Olhão-born Benfica striker Gonçalo Ramos contributing a hat-trick on his full senior debut, as aging idol Cristiano Ronaldo could only watch on from the bench.
Earlier that afternoon, expected quarter-final opponents Spain slumped to defeat, Morocco emerging the deserved 3-0 penalty shoot-out winners following a goalless 120 minutes of normal play.
Also very impressive was Brazil’s four-goal, first-half blitz against hapless South Korea, the game ending 4-1, with England’s most accomplished 3-0 win over Senegal not far behind.
France and the Netherlands recorded comfortable 3-1 successes over lesser fancied Poland and the USA respectively, but Argentina experienced some anxious moments during their 2-1 defeat of Australia. Lastly, heroic Japan’s run finally came to an end with 2018 World Cup runners-up Croatia’s experience proving decisive in securing a 3-1 penalty shoot-out victory after the match had ended 1-1.
Next up, Brazil face Croatia (Friday, 3pm) and Argentina take on the Netherlands (Friday, 7pm), the winners meeting each other in next Tuesday’s (7pm) first semi-final.
On the other side of the draw, Portugal play Morocco on Saturday at 3pm, whilst England must overcome France at 7pm to earn the right to take their place in next Wednesday’s other semi-final (7pm). The tournament reaches its climax on Sunday, December 18 at 3pm.
By SKIP BANDELE