World Cup Monday Preview: No. 1-ranked Brazil welcome back Neymar in Round of 16, while 2018 runner-up Croatia battle upstart Japan

Editorial Use Only Mandatory Credit: Photo by Kieran McManus/Shutterstock (13626509q) Neymar of Brazil Brazil v Serbia, FIFA World Cup 2022, Group G, Football, Lusail Stadium, Al Daayen, Qatar – 24 Nov 2022

World Cup Monday Preview: No. 1-ranked Brazil welcome back Neymar in Round of 16, while 2018 runner-up Croatia battle upstart Japan

Round of 16: Japan (No. 24) vs. Croatia (No. 12)

When, where: 9 a.m. CT, Al Janoub Stadium (Al Wakrah, Qatar)

How Japan got here: The Samurai Blues of Japan pulled off a pair of historic upsets during the group stage, defeating both No. 11-ranked Germany and No. 7-ranked Spain, sandwiched around a surprising 1-0 loss to Costa Rica on Matchday 2. With its 2-1 upset victory over Spain on Matchday 3, the Japanese became the first-ever team out of Asia, Africa, or Oceania to register multiple wins against former World Cup champions at the World Cup. Japan astonishingly accomplished that feat in the same World Cup, no less, and within three matches of group play to make it even more remarkable. No. 24-ranked Japan entered Qatar as the highest-ranked nation out of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) qualifiers, earning an invitation to the 2022 World Cup alongside Iran, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Australia.

How Croatia got here: The 2018 World Cup runners-up finished second in Group F play behind Morocco and ahead of both Belgium and Canada to earn their third-ever trip to the knockout stage and their second straight trip as well. Croatia finished group play as one of just six nations to allow one goal in three matches, conceding its lone goal allowed during mostly garbage time in a 4-1 rout against Canada on Matchday 2. Croatia originally punched its 2022 World Cup ticket by finishing first place in Group F of the UEFA World Cup qualifying campaign, barely edging Russia. Many of the stalwarts from the Fiery Boys’ 2018 finals run are still here on the roster, although they are older and not in the same elite form as four years ago.

Key Stat(s) to know: Japan and Croatia finished group play, with each averaging exactly 1.26 expected goals per game, according to Football Reference. The 28-year-old reserve Takuma Asano has been one of the top aggressors for the Japanese offense in Qatar so far, leading the team with eight shots and three shots on target despite limited minutes on the pitch; his top feat is scoring the game-winning goal against Germany in the 83rd minute on Matchday 1. Andrej Kramaric leads Croatia with two of his nation’s four goals scored, as well as a team-leading five shots on goal, three shots on target, and 1.05 expected goals scored per game. Mateo Kovačić leads the Croatians with five chances created in their three matches so far. Kovačić ranks fifth overall in expected assists per game (1.04) at the World Cup, and his 90% success rate has been a vital cog in his team’s attack despite no assists in the box score. Veteran midfielder Luka Modrić of Real Madrid also finished the group stage tied for sixth with 25 receptions on defense

Player(s) to watch: Shūichi Gonda and Dominik Livaković, goalkeepers. Gonda finished group-stage play with arguably one of the most remarkable results of any fellow goalie at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Gonda allowed just one score to each of Spain and Germany in Japan’s two historic upset wins, and he did it despite both powerhouse nations showing the ability to pour on goals in a hurry via Spain’s 7-0 win on Matchday 1 and Germany’s 4-2 on Matchday 3. Japan allowed exactly one goal in each of its three group matches, and Gonda was the driving force in the box behind his nation’s surprising knockout stage berth. The 33-year-old veteran goalkeeper finished fourth overall in averaging 1.6 prevented goals per game, according to, and he was also top six with 1.8 goals prevented per game on 14 total shots. Croatia, on the other side, was led in large part by its defense and the stellar goalkeeping play of Livaković, as Livaković was top five in goals prevented rate (1.9) during group play.

What to expect: Japan came into the 2022 World Cup as just the No. 24-ranked nation according to FIFA’s latest men’s world ranking in October, but it has played like a true powerhouse football nation through its three matches so far. The confidence from beating both Spain and Germany should give a much-needed confidence boost to the Japanese in the Round of 16 against an aging-yet-experienced Croatian side. Croatia wasn’t exactly flashy in its second-place group finish, but it played sound enough defense to advance and attempt to make another deep World Cup run. Goals could be at a premium in this opening knockout stage match, given stout play from both the Croatian defense and Japanese goalkeeping, and it could indeed be the first team to score which wins the match. We have yet to see a Round of 16 match result in an extra time period, although this game could be the one to get us there and possibly see our first penalty kick shootout as well. If this match does get to PK’s, then it would be a battle between two of the best goalkeepers of the current tournament.

Match history: It will be the third time Japan and Croatia have played against each other in World Cup history. The two nations played to a 0-0 draw in 2006, while Croatia won 1-0 in 1998. Japan did defeat Croatian 4-3, however, in their match at the Kirin Japan Cup in June of 1997.

World Cup history: Croatia, only a FIFA member since 1998, has now qualified for the knockout stage for the third time in six official World Cup appearances. The last two times resulted in the Croatians finishing runner-up in 2018 and third place in 1998 in its first-ever appearance. Japan has now been to the Round of 16 in four of its past six World Cup appearances; the Samurai Blues have impressively qualified for seven straight World Cups after a long drought of not qualifying for seven consecutive campaigns from 1970 to 1994. Japan has never been to the quarterfinals, however, losing in the Round of 16 to Turkey in 2002 (1-0), Paraguay in 2010 (0-0, 3-5 on PK’s), and Belgium (3-2) in 2018. A loss for either side would be a disappointment at this point of the tournament, especially for Croatia’s aging golden generation.

Chris Dell’s Prediction: Japan 1, Croatia 1 (Japan wins on PK’s 3-2)

Round of 16: Brazil (No. 1) vs. South Korea (No. 28)

When, where: 1 p.m. CT, Stadium 974 (Doha, Qatar)

How Brazil got here: The Brazilians finished atop the Group G standings via a goal differential tiebreaker over Switzerland, although they rested most of their key players in a Matchday 3 loss to Cameroon and could’ve easily swept group play if it needed the win. B

How South Korea got here: South Korea scored in the 91st minute to defeat Portugal 2-1 and seal its place in the Round of 16 for just the third time in its nation’s history. South Korean reserve Hwang Hee-Chan registered the game-winning goal for the Asian Tigers, who needed both the win and Hee-Chan’s third goal to best Uruguay on the total goals scored tiebreaker in the Group H final standings. South Korea scored all five of its goals in its final two group matches after a 0-0 draw against Uruguay on Matchday 1. It will need all the offensive firepower it can get against the No. 1-ranked Brazilians come Monday in Doha, Qatar.

Key Stat(s) to know: Despite missing Neymar for two of its three matches, Brazil still finished second of 32 nations during group play with seven shots on target per match. South Korea, on the other side, finished second overall (behind only France) with 7.3 accurate crosses per match and showcased its super passing skills on the pitch. The 28-year-old Marquinhos of PSG finished fourth overall with 1.06 expected assists per game for the Brazilians, who showed solid form in their Matchday 2 game without Neymar, a 1-0 victory over the defensive-minded Swiss.

Player(s) to watch: Neymar and Vinícius Júnior. Brazilian megastar Neymar should indeed return to the starting lineup if he avoids any setbacks in practice on Sunday, and it would be a much-welcomed boost to the Brazilian offensive front against a feisty South Korean side which showed the ability to score early and often during its final two matches of group stage play. The 22-year-old Vinícius Júnior of Real Madrid tied for a top-10 finish with six chances created during group play, according to, and is a constant threat down the sidelines for whoever Brazil faces during the current edition of this World Cup in Qatar. Neymar,

What to expect: South Korea played like a team deserving of a knockout stage appearance during its final two group stage matches. The 24-year-old Cho Gue-Sung scored both of his goals on Matchday 2 in a loss to Ghana and ended the group stage in a tie for a top 10 finish in total shots (nine) and top 5 finish in shots on goal (five). Korean superstar Son Hueng-Min of Tottenham has yet to score in three starts at the 2022 World Cup, but he does have one assist, and his offensive presence will surely be needed for a full cap if South Korea were to pull off an improbable upset here. On the other side, it’ll be business as usual for Brazil in the Round of 16, as its entire starting unit should be returning intact for the first time since the first half of its Matchday 1 win against Serbia. Brazil has more than enough depth to earn a win outright here, even if Neymar is not yet back 100%, although the 2022 World Cup champions should certainly not take this South Korean side lightly. Look for Brazil to take advantage of a below-average Asian Tigers defense here, one who conceded three goals to No. 61-ranked Ghana.

Match history: Brazil is 6-0-1 all-time against South Korea, with the nations’ last match resulting in a 5-1 rout by the Brazilians during an international friendly in June and another 3-0 win in November of 2019. South Korea’s only win against Brazil came in a 1-0 victory in 1999.

World Cup history: South Korea’s previous two and only two trips to the knockout stage resulted in a Round of 16 loss to Uruguay in 2010 (2-1) and a third-place game loss to Turkey in 2002 (3-2). This is South Korea’s 10th straight time qualifying for the World Cup, although it didn’t win its first World Cup match until 2002. Nonetheless, it’s an impressive qualifying streak for the South Koreans, which dates back to 1986. Prior to then, the Asian Tigers’ first and only previous trip came back in 1954 in its World Cup debut in Switzerland. Conversely, Brazil enters the knockout stage in Qatar as the most highly decorated football nation in the world. The Brazilians are the most successful national team in World Cup history, having won five championships and twice finishing near the top with two finishes each in second place, third place, and fourth place. The “Little Canaries” of Brazil have made seven straight quarterfinal appearances dating back to 1994 but haven’t won a World Cup title since 2002, when they defeated Germany.

Chris Dell’s Prediction: Brazil 4, South Korea 1

Round of 16/Knockout Stage Schedule

Monday, Dec. 5

  • Who: Japan (No. 24) vs. Croatia (No. 12)
  • When, where: 9 a.m. CT, Al Janoub Stadium (Al Wakrah, Qatar)
  • Who: Brazil (No. 1) vs. South Korea (No. 28)
  • When, where: 1 p.m. CT, Stadium 974 (Doha, Qatar)

Tuesday, Dec. 6

  • Who: Morocco (No. 22) vs. Spain (No. 7)
  • When, where: 9 a.m. CT, Education City Stadium (Doha, Qatar)
  • Who: Portugal (No. 9) vs. Switzerland (No. 15)
  • When, where: 1 p.m. CT, Lusail Iconic Stadium (Lusail, Qatar)

Quarterfinals/Knockout Stage Schedule

Friday, Dec. 9

  • Who: Netherlands (No. 8) vs. Argentina (No. 3)
  • When, where: 1 p.m. CT, Lusail Iconic Stadium (Lusail, Qatar)

Saturday, Dec. 10

  • Who: England (No. 5) vs. France (No. 4)
  • When, where: 1 p.m. CT, Lusail Iconic Stadium (Lusail, Qatar)

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