The World Cup is down to the final eight teams. This round brings some tasty matchups with England facing off against classic rival France while Brazil get last World Cup's runners up in Croatia. Make sure you check out the entire bracket here. Before the matches kick off, however, let's take a look at ten players who you won't want to miss when they take the field.
England's talisman, Harry Kane has shown his creative side during this World Cup with three assists to his name so far, helping fire England into scoring 12 goals at the World Cup to date. Kane is as able to beat a team in so many ways as one of the best number nines in the world but his passing sets him apart. When he draws in defenses, he can easily play a pass to England's contingent of wingers to keep the attack going. Still in search of his first team trophy for club or country, if Kane can keep this level of performances up, he just may get it during the World Cup. Gareth Southgate will need everything that he can get from Kane to topple France, but the England number nine will be up for the occasion.
Dropping deep to orchestrate play, Kane's five chances created rank second on the Three Lions behind Luke Shaw and he has also been driving the ball up the pitch with four take-ons completed, which is third among the England contingent. Watch out as you never know where Kane will pop up.
It feels weird to do a list of players to watch at this stage of the World Cup without Luka Modric being Croatia's representative but that's how good 33-year-old Ivan Perisic has been during this World Cup. Roaming the flanks for Croatia, his equalizer against Japan was a critical one to push the team into the quarterfinals and he has two assists to add to his tally during this World Cup. While Perisic plays as a wing-back for Tottenham currently, he has taken up an advanced role for the national team to push the pace.
Joint top for chances created with Mateo Kovacic with five, Perisic has been putting in work at both ends of the pitch to spark Croatia's performances. He has been an outlet in the air while also winning possession in the attacking third to give Croatia easy attacking chances. He'll have a tall task facing Brazil but if he can break up their passing play, Croatia may have a chance to pull off another upset.
The greatest of his generation (and arguably any) has not failed to deliver in what is likely to be his final World Cup. His three goals have come when Argentina have needed them most, particularly the devastatingly precise finish to break Mexican resistance after the disaster that had gone on behind him against Saudi Arabia. At 35, he bears an enormous weight of expectation off the field with relative ease and on the pitch he does not seem to be struggling with his primary role.
Messi ranks first or second across the tournament for progressive passes, passes into the penalty area, chances created, shots and goals. As the tournament wears on his teammates are starting to feed him more frequently in the pockets of space where he is most devastating, an ill omen for the Netherlands. There is a sense of destiny around the great man.
The shield ahead of Morocco's outstanding defense, Amrabat excelled playing through the pain barrier in the triumph over Spain, a match he had needed injections at 3 am the night before to get through. Not for nothing did Spain boss Luis Enrique label Amrabat "extraordinary," the Fiorentina manager had won all four of the tackles he attempted and shut down countless passing lanes that might have gotten the Spanish into dangerous spots in the final third.
No one is going to confuse Amrabat with the most expressive midfielders in the tournament but the 26-year-old does not dawdle in possession, instead keeping the ball moving and ensuring that those ahead of him get quick balls on the counter. Bernardo Silva and Bruno Fernandes will try to weave their delicate patterns around the Morocco defense. They will need to be precise indeed to find a way past Amrabat.
There is not much left to say about the Paris Saint-Germain man that has not already been said at some point. However, it is impressive how Mbappe has transformed his ability to single-handedly lead PSG to big results on the international stage as well. The 23-year-old's goals against Poland made him the youngest player since Pele to score five World Cup knockout stage goals and he is not done there. France boss Didier Deschamps has admitted that Mbappe has set Qatar glory as one of his objectives and Les Bleus' hopes of defending their title are growing thanks to his ability to shoulder much of the nation's hopes and expectations. Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann, Adrien Rabiot, Theo Hernandez, and Hugo Lloris have made for a solid supporting cast so far, but there is no mistaking that the tournament's leading scorer (five goals to date) is key to French chances of success. With 24 goals and seven assists to his name for club and country already this season, do not bet against his hot form continuing against England.
Every World Cup has a breakout star and the Dutch sensation is one of the lead candidates in Qatar so far. Like Mbappe, Gakpo is 23 years of age and currently plies his trade with PSV in his native Netherlands. However, as reported numerous times by our own Fabrizio Romano, he is a man in demand and is likely to be on the move in January or next summer. Much of his next move will be dictated by what he achieves this tournament and Gakpo has already hit three goals from four appearances with Oranje on top of his 15 goals and 14 assists with PSV. Up against Lionel Messi's Argentina next, Louis van Gaal's men will rely heavily upon Memphis Depay and Gakpo up top if they are to harbor realistic hopes of reaching the semifinals or better.
The entire Brazilian attack
The Brazilians strikers are historically players to watch at the World Cup but the feeling is that this is one of the years when they can really make a difference.
Starting with Neymar, who faced the actual risk of missing the final games of the competition after he picked up an ankle injury in the opening match against Serbia.
Vinicius Jr. scored one goal against South Korea in the round of 16 and he's a crucial player already for the national team. So far the best striker on the Brazilian roster is Tottenham player Richarlison who scored three goals in the first four matches of the tournament, including the deciding brace against Serbia.
Brazil's chances to win their sixth World Cup will depend on how the strikers will perform in the next games, starting from the quarter final against Croatia.
Morocco were the surprise of the round of 16 when they won on penalties against 2020 Euro semifinalist Spain. PSG winger Achraf Hakimi was the hero of the whole country as he scored the deciding fifth penalty with a panenka and has been one of the best players of the tournament so far. Hakimi, as he showed in the past seasons in Europe, can be considered as an additional striker as he scored three goals already in the first part of the current Ligue 1 season. Hakimi had been transformed at Inter Milan by Antonio Conte, who made him a much more complete player in both defense and attack. When he arrived at the Italian club from Borussia Dortmund he showed a lot of potential but also some defensive mistakes. When he left Italy to join Paris Saint Germain, he was already one of the best right-backs in European soccer.
The 21-year-old Benfica man has been tasked with two things this season. First, for club Benfica, it was to replace Darwin Nunez, who left for Liverpool. Then for country, it was to replace the legendary Cristiano Ronaldo in the starting lineup. He's done both. Already with 14 goals in 21 games this season for his club, he's carried that over to the national team. He started the round of 16 match against Switzerland, and all he did was score a brilliant hat trick, the first being an absolute near-post rocket.
He's got some size, he's got some technical ability, and most important, he has a nose for the ball. It remains to be seen if he'll continue to start, but one thing is for sure – he's earned it, and his value is skyrocketing as a result.
The emerging star out of the Argentina squad who has already shown what he can do in the Champions League with Benfica. His value is skyrocketing after some big performances since entering the side for the second game against Mexico, scoring in that game. He then assisted Julian Alvarez in the win over Poland and is doing everything right. He's a calming presence in a midfield that needed one with a superb technical ability allowing him to make an impact with soft, swift passes going forward. He's on the verge of locking in his spot as a long-term starter for this national team and will be pivotal in dealing with the Dutch's transition game defensively.
Don't be surprised to see him make a big impact on both sides of the pitch, and keep an eye on how he watches Messi's positioning and knows a step ahead where exactly to put the ball to get it to the superstar.