The FIFA World Cup 2022 is down to its final eight teams.
Every country that is still in it will feel like it has a decent shot at bringing home the trophy, but they need every player to be at his best to take the next step and make it to the semifinals. Based on the performance of each player so far, our model predicts which players are likely to receive a high average grade in the quarterfinals.
The model is trained on data from the big five European leagues: Premier League (England), La Liga (Spain), Bundesliga (Germany), Serie A (Italy) and Ligue 1 (France). It takes each player’s performance in his last four games into account to predict his average grade in the next game, both in terms of quantity (number of events) and quality (sum of grades).
ARGENTINA: ENZO FERNÁNDEZ, BENFICA
Argentina's highest predicted average grade for the quarterfinals belongs to Lionel Messi, but Argentina would not be such a prolific soccer nation if the next star didn't present himself at the FIFA World Cup.
The 21-year-old midfielder started the tournament on the bench, but after two successful appearances as a substitute, Fernández earned himself a starting job against Poland and Australia. With a goal and an assist — and an unfortunate own goal — to his name already, his grades reflect his rise, and he is predicted to perform well against the Netherlands.
BRAZIL: ALISSON BECKER, LIVERPOOL
When did the tournament start for Alisson? Yes, the Brazilian goalkeeper was on the pitch for two games in the group stage — against Serbia and Switzerland — but both failed to get a single shot on target.
Even though Brazil outplayed them for most of the game in the Round of 16, South Korea did manage to force Alisson to seven saves (although one shot was later disallowed for offside). Alisson looked very much up to the task — he didn't receive a single downgrade and earned three positive grades.
Tite will be happy to know he can rely on his goalkeeper when his Brazilian side faces Croatia in the quarterfinals.
CROATIA: MATEO KOVAČIĆ, CHELSEA
A midfield with a combined total of 328 international games. That is what Brazil has to face in their quarterfinal against Croatia. Led by the 37-year-old Luka Modrić (159 caps), Croatia’s midfield of three is the core of the team, with Mateo Kovačić a key factor both in and out of possession. Kovačić is currently the highest-graded challenger of the tournament (96.3 across 29 challenges) and also grades well in 50/50 duels, passing, dribbling and shooting. The 28-year-old allegedly refused to sign a new contract at Chelsea before the World Cup and with his performance so far will surely attract the attention of other big clubs.
ENGLAND: HARRY MAGUIRE, MANCHESTER UNITED
No, Harry Maguire has not been England's best player so far this tournament. However, his performance might well be the highest above what was expected.
After a rough start to the season that cost him his starting position at Manchester United, the whole country was demanding that he ride the bench for England, as well. But Gareth Southgate kept faith in him, and Maguire is paying him back with decent grades across the board, including 80.0-plus grades for challenges, passing and aerial duels.
FRANCE: AURÉLIEN TCHOUAMÉNI, REAL MADRID
When it became clear that France was going to defend their title without Chelsea's N'Golo Kante and Juventus' Paul Pogba, Didier Deschamps didn’t look overly worried. And rightly so, because being able to fall back on Aurélien Tchouaméni is sure to make other coaches jealous.
The 22-year-old midfielder has silently taken over the position of Casemiro at Real Madrid and has been on top form defensively in Qatar so far, with a 90.0-plus grade for 50/50 duels and 80.0-plus grades for both challenges and aerial duels.
MOROCCO: ACHRAF HAKIMI, PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN
What do you do after sending your birth country home with a Panenka penalty? The Waddle celebration seems fitting.
Achraf Hakimi’s penalty sent Morocco to the quarterfinals of the World Cup for the first time in history, but his performance throughout the tournament has been stellar. Hakimi is a crucial part of Morocco's defense that did not concede a goal against Croatia, Belgium and Spain (only Canada managed to score against Walid Regragui’s side). He is among the top-graded players for all defensive facets (challenges, clearances, aerial- and 50/50 duels).
NETHERLANDS: FRENKIE DE JONG, FC BARCELONA
Every team needs a beating heart, and for the Netherlands, it is easy to identify him: His name is Frenkie de Jong.
Not only does the buildup start with him, but he is also crucial when the team is out of possession. In general, his grades reflect that importance to Louis van Gaal’s side: He is one of only three midfielders this tournament with at least one 90.0-plus grade, two 80.0-plus grades and five 70.0-plus grades (the others being Luis Chávez of Mexico and Jude Bellingham of England).
PORTUGAL: WILLIAM CARVALHO, REAL BETIS
Portugal was the most impressive team in the Round of 16, beating an otherwise solid Switzerland 6-1. Almost all the talk after the game was about Cristiano Ronaldo losing his spot to Gonçalo Ramos, whose hat-trick earned him a spot in PFF’s Team of the Last 16.
Very little talk has been about William Carvalho, the silent force in midfield for Fernando Santos. The experienced Carvalho is the defensive midfielder with the most minutes played without receiving a downgrade for positioning. His performance has reportedly attracted the attention of Arsenal and Newcastle United, and Portugal will likely depend on him to keep the balance against Morocco.