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Comeback kings, surprise packages and injury-hit favourites: Teams to watch in World Cup round of 16

Comeback kings, surprise packages and injury-hit favourites: Teams to watch in World Cup round of 16

Morocco's Hakim Ziyech (7) celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal with teammate Azzedine Ounahi, top centre, Youssef En-Nesyri, top, Achraf Hakimi (2), Nayef Aguerd (5) and background, and Sofyan Amrabat, right, during the World Cup group F soccer match between Canada and Morocco at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha , Qatar, Dec 1, 2022. (AP photo/Pavel Golovkin)

DOHA: After a group stage which has seen countless upsets, lots of drama and some sensational footballing action, the World Cup moves into the round of 16 on Saturday (Dec 3).

While some heavyweights remain in the running to lift the trophy, other teams which had been tipped for success have been sent packing, with Germany, Belgium and Denmark on early flights home.

Here are four teams to watch out for in the round of 16:

MOROCCO

One of the two African sides which progressed past the group stages, the Atlas Lions have equalled their best-ever finish at the tournament (round of 16 at the 1986 World Cup).

What is more impressive is the manner in which they have done so.

In a group with the likes of Croatia and Belgium, Morocco kept two clean sheets against both of these fancied opponents and topped Group F.

Key to their success has been a solid defensive partnership of Roman Saiss and Nayef Aguerd, with full-backs Achraf Hakimi and Noussair Mazraoui looking impressive going forward. Head coach Walid Regragui's move to recall Hakim Ziyech, who had retired from international football previously, has also paid dividends.

Do not write Morocco out against Spain - this is a team that could spring a surprise.

JAPAN

Hardly anybody gave Japan a chance to progress from a group with World Cup heavyweights Germany and Spain.

But Hajime Moriyasu's men did the impossible and defeated both those teams en route to topping their group.

Coach Hajime Moriyasu has led Japan to the last 16 of the World Cup in Qatar (Photo: AFP/Philip FONG)

Their reward is now a round of 16 clash with Croatia, and the Blue Samurai will fancy their chances.

The game plan for Japan has been simple, soak up the pressure and spring on the counter-attack. And with threats like Ritsu Doan and Kaoru Mitoma, they have the tools to split any defence apart without needing much possession.

This is a team whose heads don't go down after going behind either. Japan came back against both Germany and Spain to win 2-1.

If they can stay patient against a Croatia side with a strong midfield boasting the likes of Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic, Japan have a chance.

ARGENTINA

After a shocking start to the tournament where they fell 2-1 to Saudi Arabia, Argentina have found their feet at the World Cup.

Back-to-back wins over Mexico and Poland have seen them score two goals in each game and keep a clean sheet in both.

While they were rather lukewarm against El Tri for most of the match, the Albiceleste dominated the Poles and could have grabbed a larger victory if not for the heroics of Wojciech Szczesny.

Perhaps this is a team still going through the gears, a scary thought for their opponents.

Argentina's Alexis Mac Allister, center, celebrates with this teammates after scoring his side's opening goal during the World Cup group C soccer match between Poland and Argentina at the Stadium 974 in Doha, Qatar, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022. (AP Photo/)

Aside from the obvious genius of Lionel Messi, there were impressive performances from Julian Alvarez, Alexis Mac Allister and Enzo Fernandez against Poland.

With all eyes on Messi, this trio could provide additional attacking thrust against Australia and make a big difference.

BRAZIL

A team which had looked in decent form in their opening matches against potentially stubborn opposition, Brazil topped Group G as most had expected.

But a late loss to Cameroon and a number of injuries to key players mean that Tite's men no longer look as invincible as some had thought.

Brazil's Neymar grabs his ankle after an injury during the World Cup group G soccer match between Brazil and Serbia, at the the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022. (Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP)

Granted, Brazil had already qualified and fielded a largely second-string side against the Indomitable Lions, but a late Vincent Aboubakar goal will highlight to South Korea that Brazil have weaknesses.

Brazil are also facing somewhat of an injury crisis, with Neymar, Danilo and Alex Sandro still hurt. Alex Telles also picked up an injury against Cameroon as did Arsenal striker Gabriel Jesus - reports suggest that both will be out for the tournament.

This Selecao side still have the attacking talent to unlock South Korea, but the match will be a test of their mettle.

Catch free highlights and moments from the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 at mewatch.sg/fifaworldcup.

Source: CNA/mt(gs)

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