Japan v Croatia: Round of 16 - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022
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The round of 16 truly separated the contenders from the upstarts. Nice stories like Australia and South Korea were summarily dispatched by tournament contenders Argentina and Brazil, respectively. Frisky upstarts like Senegal and the good ol' U.S. of A., met their matches. Even giant killers Japan, who beat Spain and Germany in the group stage, couldn't get by the magic of Croatia in penalties. Welcome to the business end of the tournament. I'm Mike Goodman and I'm here to tell you something you already know. Brazil? Pretty good at the whole soccer thing.

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⚽  The Forward Line

Don't sleep on Brazil's defense

Brazil v South Korea: Round of 16 - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022
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It's no secret that Brazil's attack can be breathtaking. Brazil's 4-1 defeat of South Korea was not only dominant. It was elegant, with the types of beautiful goals scored that earned them their reputation as the embodiment of the beautiful game -- though that's become increasingly inapt at this stage over the past decades. Either way, as the saying goes, defense wins championships.

Defensively, Brazil have close to no peers. They've conceded twice in Qatar, but their expected goals (xG) conceded total of 1.52 is second only to Argentina. What's fascinating about Brazil's defense is exactly how they keep teams at bay. They're good at making sure the opposition doesn't shoot, but their 6.5 shots conceded per match is actually "only" fourth-best in the tournament. They aren't magically keeping shots off target either, conceding 2.25 per match is seventh-best. Brazil just seem quite good at making sure that when the opponent takes a shot, it's not a very good one. That's an especially notable trait given how thin this side is at fullback. Against South Korea, Brazil started a converted center back, Eder Militao, at right back, and Danilo, a player who definitely exists, at left back.

It's also true that part of their defensive prowess comes from teams being afraid to attack because it leaves them vulnerable to Neymar, Richarlison, Vinicius Junior and Raphinha streaming forward in the other direction. But the truth is that Brazil's possession time this match has been relatively ordinary. They're only attempting 570.25 passes per match. That's tenth in the tournament. So having the ball a lot certainly doesn't completely explain it.

The bottom line is that Brazil's defenders, Marquinhos and Thiago Silva at center back, with Militao deputized out wide and Casemiro at the base of midfielders are all simply phenomenal players in their own right. They take situations that might be dangerous and make them less so. They cover up for the lack of fullbacks, and a front five looking to relentlessly attack. As much as Brazil's silky attackers will draw their headlines, those beautiful moves would leave their team vulnerable if it wasn't for the spine behind them.

🔗  Midfield Link Play

Japan's penalty misses will haunt them

Japan v Croatia: Round of 16 - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022
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Croatia sent Japan home. It took 120 minutes plus penalties, but Croatia advanced. Which shouldn't be a surprise. Croatia always advance on penalties. For Japan, their subpar penalty performance is understandable, at least according to our Nigel Reo-Coker, who shared his experience playing in England, most notably with West Ham and Aston Villa, on the House of Champions podcast.

Reo-Coker: "And I'll say this now: No matter what they say about practicing, and how these clubs go in and practice so that they're mentally ready, it's all cobblers. It's never the same as it is on gameday, after playing 120 minutes worth of football. It's never the same. When you pick up that ball, that lonely walk to the goal, the goal just shrinks with every step you take, your legs are heavy like you're wearing concrete boots, and it becomes the hardest thing in the world."

Let's get to some more links:

💰  The Back Line

Best bet

Let's wrap up the round of 16, all odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook.

  • Portugal vs. Switzerland, Tuesday, 2 p.m. ET 
    💰 Switzerland (+360). Switzerland just always perform at these big tournaments. At the Euros, they defeated France on penalties in the first round of the knockout stages and then took Spain there as well. This Portugal side has tons of attacking talent and also Cristiano Ronaldo. While it's easy to understand why they're the favorite, don't count the Swiss out.