World Cup last 16: Why every team that escaped the group stage will, won't win it all in Qatar

World Cup last 16: Why every team that escaped the group stage will, won't win it all in Qatar

Editor's note: As teams officially qualify for the round of 16, we've added them to the file. Friday's revision now includes the teams that advanced from Groups G (Brazil, Switzerland) and Group H (Portugal, South Korea), as well as updated odds of winning it all.

A typical World Cup can feel like a marathon, but this one feels like a sprint. After a nonstop, 13-day group stage ends on Friday, there are no days off before the round of 16 begins with Netherlands vs. USA and Australia vs. Argentina on Saturday.

Therefore, we shouldn't wait to preview the knockout rounds. While the dance card continues to fill in, let's talk about each qualifying team's biggest strengths and weaknesses: basically, the reasons they advanced, the reasons they could make a run and the fatal flaws that will probably trip them up at some point.

Why they will win it all: They've recovered from losing to Saudi Arabia.

There was tension and there were unforced errors, but they finished the group stage atop Group C, with the second-best xG differential in the tournament to date (behind only France). Their defense barely allowed any decent looks over three matches, and they looked the part of the contender they were supposed to be all along.

Why they will win it all: They take their chances. If we were being particularly cynical (or perhaps realistic), we would call the Socceroos lucky. In three group stage matches, they attempted 21 shots worth just 1.8 xG but pulled three goals from them and stole a pair of 1-0 victories from Tunisia and Denmark. They attempted fewer than half the number of shots (21) as their opponents (50) in the group stage, but advanced.

Rob Dawson reacts to Australia's 1-0 win over Denmark and speaks about their chances in the World Cup knockout stages.

However, one man's lucky is another's clinical. All three of their goals -- Craig Goodwin's counter-strike against France, Mitchell Duke's flick of a header against Tunisia and Mathew Leckie's weaving counter against Denmark -- were beautifully taken. Against both Tunisia and Denmark, they cluttered shooting lanes and left their opponents with low-percentage opportunities while maximizing the danger they created from minimal looks. If you don't need many chances to score, you don't need many chances to pull an upset.

ESPN FC's Dale Johnson talks to the FC Daily guys about the overall confidence that fans have had in VAR during the World Cup.

Hiring a conservative coach (Tite) to lead a squad full of flamboyant attackers can easily backfire without the right balance and man management. You play away from your strengths, the attackers get frustrated, and things fall apart.

Why they will win it all: Party in the front (eventually), veterans in the back.

In his six-plus years in charge of the Selecao, Tite has mostly found said balance. Brazil have allowed just 27 goals and lost only five times in his 78 matches in charge. Four of the five losses were by one-nil margins -- which hints at how things look when they go wrong, but they don't go wrong often.

The veteran base of defenders Thiago Silva (38) and Marquinhos (28) and midfielder Casemiro (30) was an unsolvable puzzle for both Serbia and Switzerland, who combined to attempt just 11 shots worth 0.48 xG, putting none on target. And as both opponents grew tired and frustrated, the Brazilian attack eventually kicked in, and they booked their last-16 spot with two wins. What has worked for six years under Tite has worked in Qatar.

Brazil overwhelmed Serbia with 19 shots and two goals in the second half. The ball was constantly at Neymar's feet -- he had the most touches of any non-defender -- and the eventual goals, both from Richarlison, felt inevitable.

Why they won't: The attack runs through Neymar (who's hurt once again).

Neymar left the match after 80 minutes, however, after suffering damaged ankle ligaments. Without their focal point, Brazil resorted to aimless crossing against Switzerland (25 of them, with only a 16% completion rate) and attempted only 13 shots. They eventually took control with a scruffy late goal from Casemiro, but the attack wasn't nearly as smooth without its center of gravity, whose return to the competition is unknown.

Why they will win it all: You can't stop them from doing what they want with the ball.

England fans at Boxpark by Wembley Stadium celebrate the two goals early in the second half.

Why they won't: Shots matter. For all of their on-ball prowess, none of it translated into goals in either of their scoreless draws against Morocco and Belgium. They combined to attempt 16 shots worth 1.2 xG in those matches -- poor quantity combined with poor quality -- and while they were able to limit Morocco to even fewer opportunities (eight shots worth just 0.4 xG), a desperate Belgium overwhelmed them with 16 shots in attack and, frankly, should have scored, won and eliminated Croatia from the competition.

Julien Laurens doesn't hold back as he rips into Didier Deschamps and the French players after their 1-0 loss to Tunisia in Qatar.

Why they will win it all: Set pieces. They were England's secret weapon in the 2018 World Cup, where the team scored six set-piece goals (four from corners) in seven matches, two of which put them ahead in both the quarterfinals and semifinals.

They've only got two such goals so far -- one from Bukayo Saka on a corner against Iran and one from a scorching Marcus Rashford free kick that opened the scoring against Wales -- but it remains a clear advantage as they've created 10 shots from set pieces, and opponents have yet to attempt one. (The US created seven corner-kick opportunities but got no quality looks from them.)

When you've got as much talent as anyone in the competition, and you've got a cheat code for creating solid scoring chances, you're in great shape.

Why they won't: The subs are doing too well? It's an odd critique, admittedly, but the England attack is in a strange place at the moment. The Three Lions scored nine goals in the group stage with Gareth Southgate's first-choice attacking trio of Harry Kane, Saka and Raheem Sterling performing relatively well, scoring three goals and creating a combined 2.18 expected goals (xG) and expected assists (xA) in a total of 512 minutes. That's a rate of 0.38 combined xG+xA per 90 minutes. The trio of Rashford, Phil Foden and Jack Grealish, however, combined for a torrid five goals and 3.37 xG+xA in just 271 minutes, 1.12 per 90.

History suggests Southgate will stick to his guns when it comes to lineup selections, and having prolific bench players who are commanding a higher workload is a great problem to have. But it can still be a problem if you aren't putting your most in-form and effective lineup on the pitch as the matches increase in importance. The last thing you want to do is leave available goals unclaimed while trying to bring the World Cup trophy home.

At the heart of France's success, of course, has been Mbappe, the FIFA Young Player Award winner at the last World Cup and the current front-runner for Golden Ball winner at this one. As ESPN's Ryan O'Hanlon laid out after two matches, the best player in the world is playing some of his best-ever ball at the best possible time.

ESPN FC's Gab Marcotti defends Morocco after Spain finish 2nd in their group and face them in the round of 16.

Why they won't: The wrong kind of conservatism. The modern game is one of pressing and possession, and it would make sense that most of the tournament favorites do those things well. There are currently eight teams with betting odds of +1400 or better to win the World Cup, and six of them currently rank in the top eight in passes allowed per defensive action (PPDA, a common measure of defensive intensity), all averaging under 12.0 PPDA. Brazil (12.2, 11th in the competition) is close. France (18.5, 26th) is not.

For all of their absurd talent, they were downright passive against Denmark, allowing the Danes to average 6.4 passes per possession and end 50% of their possessions in the attacking third. This opened up space for transition attacks -- something that the impossibly fast Mbappe and his teammates can thrive in at times -- but it also raised a question: How will the French fare among the best possession teams in the field if they can't (or won't) take the ball away from them?

Why they won't: Read the last three paragraphs again. You don't win the World Cup by giving superior opponents that many chances. It will eventually backfire, but until then, it's going to be hell to actually eliminate them from this competition.

Mark Ogden gives his analysis on the 2-0 win over Uruguay in Group H that takes Portugal into the round of 16 at the World Cup.

This didn't result in a cards problem -- they've only been dealt two yellow cards to date, none for any of their best attackers -- but it contributed to a set pieces problem. Kevin De Bruyne nearly scored on a first-half free kick in the Belgium match, and in all, when combined with 20 corner kicks, opponents attempted eight shots from set pieces. Morocco only managed three shots and created three corners. It's easier to win without possession (and Morocco's 37% possession rate was fifth-lowest) if you're the one creating set-piece danger.

Why they will win it all: They turn you over. Louis van Gaal's Dutch team is active. They lead the competition with the fewest passes allowed per defensive action (9.3) and despite leading for the majority of each group stage match, they started 29 possessions in the attacking third to opponents' 17. Midfielder Frenkie de Jong leads the team in ball recoveries, but the pressure is a full-team effort: Netherlands have commanded 57% of overall touches in the attacking third with a 57% possession rate.

They've got the raw defensive talent -- Virgil van Dijk, Nathan Ake, Jurrien Timber, Matthijs de Ligt -- to safeguard them while pressing heavily (goalkeeper Andries Noppert has been excellent, too), and they put the ball in more dangerous areas than opponents.

Gakpo, the increasingly sought-after PSV Eindhoven attacker, has scored three goals from four shots worth just 0.3 xG. The rest of his teammates have scored just two goals from 21 shots worth 2.5. They neither create high-quality or high-volume shots -- they averaged just 0.3 big chances created ("a situation where a player should reasonably be expected to score," as defined by Stats Perform) in the group stage; only two teams averaged fewer, and that will eventually become a clear issue if it does not change.

This makes their matchup with the United States an interesting one: the teams have a lot of the same strengths and same weaknesses.

Why they will win it all: They've got the hottest goalkeeper in the competition.

Allow even three goals instead of two -- which would have still been overachieving -- and Poland would be on a plane home right now.

Why they won't: They can't create opportunities for one of the best strikers in the world.

Lewandowski isn't Poland's only high-level player, of course -- 14 other members of the roster play for clubs in Europe's Big Five leagues -- but when your headliner is neither getting the service he needs nor taking advantage of the opportunities he gets, your ceiling isn't going to be very high. He could unleash a hat trick at any time, but if he couldn't do it against Saudi Arabia, it's fair to assume the odds aren't high that he will do it against France.

Why they will win it all: Where passing is harder, Portugal is better. One would assume that a squad featuring Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes, Raphael Guerreiro and Joao Cancelo would be one of the more creative in the competition, and that has played out thus far. They have been fortunate in the finishing department -- they created shots worth 3.3 xG in their first two matches but scored five goals from them, and they scored one of their goals when Cristiano Ronaldo whiffed on a Fernandes cross (which fooled the Uruguayan goalkeeper) -- but they still created plenty of chances, and they made sure that they were the only team regularly completing passes into dangerous areas.

Fernandes and Silva have both completed 40 passes into the final third (with a ridiculous 86% completion rate), and the stalwart Portuguese defense, led by cent-backs Ruben Dias along with veterans Danilo Pereira (31) and Pepe (39), has fended off most threatening buildups. Even one of Ghana's goals came on a cross that a defender deflected.

Why they won't: You have to hold onto leads to win it all. When their first two matches were tied, Portugal dominated, controlling 69% of possession, attempting 19 shots worth 2.0 xG, allowing just six shots worth 0.7 and scoring three times. Dominant.

Once they were ahead, however, they sacrificed a dangerous amount of control. They allowed two goals to Ghana (one to tie the match at 1-1, one to make it 3-2), and in those two matches their possession rate fell to 45% with opponents attempting 14 shots to their seven. While Brazil's Tite has pulled off a solid balance of conservatism and attacking flair, one could argue that Portugal's Fernando Santos hasn't quite found that same balance.

Why they will win it all: Transition. Tuesday's Senegal vs. Ecuador match pitted two of the best transition teams in the competition. In their first two matches, Ecuador had scored two of their three goals from what I call "transition possessions" -- possessions beginning outside of the attacking third and lasting 20 or fewer seconds -- and had not allowed opponents a single shot in those possessions. But against Senegal, the shoe was on the other foot. Senegal created two early high-quality transition opportunities and allowed Ecuador none.

That's been the story of the competition for Senegal. Their xG differential in transition possessions is +0.8, fourth best among teams in the knockout rounds, and while they were decent in transition attack (one goal, 0.96 xG), their primary strength was in completely snuffing out opponents' opportunities. The defensive spine of keeper Edouard Mendy, center-backs Kalidou Koulibaly and Abdou Diallo and defensive midfielder Nampalys Mendy is as stout as just about any in the World Cup.

Why they won't: You've got to finish. When the news came down that star Sadio Mane was going to miss the World Cup because of injury, it was fair to wonder how the heck Senegal was going to put the ball in the net.

It's still fair to wonder, too. While they handled Qatar with ease, and they attempted plenty of shots against higher-level opponents Netherlands and Ecuador, the finishing indeed lacked. They attempted 28 non-penalty shots worth 2.14 xG in those two matches but scored just once from them, via a deflection to Koulibaly on a free kick. (They also scored on an Ismaila Sarr penalty against Ecuador.) They have been decent at generating set-piece opportunities, but in open play they are creating almost no threat against solid opposition.

After barely registering an attack in the competition's first three halves, they outscored opponents 4-2 in the final three. The more important the moment, the better they played.

Why they won't: 1v1s. South Korea neither attempts nor wins them. The art of the duel isn't the most make-or-break in soccer, but it can help -- of the top nine teams in ground duel win percentage, six advanced to the knockout rounds, while only three of the bottom nine did.

South Korea? They attempted the fourth-fewest and, at 42%, won the second-lowest percentage of them. Take out left back Kim Jin-Su and star and frequent duelist Son Heung-Min, and that falls to 38%. That they charged back so well in the group stage without winning many confrontations was impressive, but it will be difficult to continue doing so if they either can't or won't force the issue.

Whatever a match requires, Switzerland delivers a pretty good version of it. You could make a solid case that they have one of the highest floors in the competition.

Why they won't: What do they do particularly well? One would assume that, over the course of four knockout matches, you will also have to prove a high ceiling. They finished the group stage 11th in goals scored, 12th in xG created, 12th in goals allowed, 13th in xG allowed, 14th in pass completion rate, 13th in progressive carries, 18th in progressive passes completed, 21st in progressive pass completions allowed, 26th in progressive carries allowed ... you get the point.

Why they will win it all: The midfield is relentless. Wales couldn't move the ball through the midfield, so they started booting long balls to a tall forward. Jude Bellingham had 10 touches in the first 13 minutes but only 40 thereafter as England found passing lanes through the midfield hard to come by. (Mason Mount had only 45 total touches in 90 minutes.) Iran created only 60 total touches in the attacking third until Weston McKennie went off the field in the 65th minute. (They created 64 in the final 25 minutes.)

Relentless running and pressing from the trio of McKennie (24), Yunus Musah (20) and captain Tyler Adams (23) and fullbacks Sergino Dest (22) and Antonee Robinson (25) have made advancing the ball into dangerous areas almost impossible and allowed the US to control large portions of games -- granted, without generating a large number of quality scoring opportunities -- against not only Wales and Iran but also England. And if they were able to control Bellingham and Mount, they can control most of the midfields in this competition.

Why they won't: Matches are 90 minutes long. One problem with relentless running and pressing: It wears you out, especially when some of your most important players came into the World Cup with recent injuries and fitness concerns. McKennie is averaging only 69.3 minutes per match, Dest 78.0. And as these players begin to tire, the Americans' effectiveness vanishes.

Fatigue has indeed limited certain key players, and manager Gregg Berhalter's substitution decisions (both timing and personnel) have been, to put it diplomatically, shaky. When things move into game management mode, the US quickly fray. The fatigue isn't going to suddenly get better as the tournament progresses.