Asia's failings, Croatia's marathons and Neymar's return: Five takeaways from day 16 of World Cup 2022

Neymar dance
(Image credit: Getty)

Be afraid, be very afraid. Brazil laid down a daunting marker to their fellow World Cup 2022 (opens in new tab) contenders on Day 16 with an outstanding performance to progress to the quarter-finals. 

South Korea were 4-0 down - and it could've been more - by the break, only for the Asians to pull one back in the second half. 

While the Selecao dazzled and dominated, the first tie of the day came down to the knife-edge tension of a penalty shoot-out - the first of the tournament.

After a 1-1 draw in regulation time, Croatia edged it on spot kicks thanks to three saves from goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic - ending a remarkable giant-killing campaign from the Samurai Blue. 

Brazil have to be the favourites now

(Image credit: Getty)

They were tipped for success from the outset, but Brazil are starting to look unstoppable in Qatar. It ay only have been South Korea, but this was a night in which everything clicked into place. 

Richarlison kept up his scoring form, Vinicius Jnr bagged a rare goal, the defence looked composed and Neymar's return was scintillating. Many football fans had been worried that the ankle injury he sustained in the group stage would limit his impact, but he proved any doubters wrong. The samba dance moved came out early as Brazil breezed into the last eight. 

Next up, they face Croatia. You'd want exceptional odds to dare bet against them making the semis in this kind of form. 

Asia still a way behind Europe

Son Heung-Min of South Korea celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the South Korea v Cameroon - International friendly match at Seoul World Cup Stadium on September 27, 2022 in Seoul, South Korea.

(Image credit: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

South Korea toiled admirably against Brazil, and can leave with their heads held high after scoring against the favourites. But it was clear they lagged a long way behind in terms of quality throughout their 4-1 loss. 

There were five Asian sides at the start of this tournament: Qatar, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Japan and South Korea (with two of those left at the start of the evening), so for none of them to make it to the quarter-finals of a World Cup staged in Asia is disappointing. 

Croatia love to go beyond 90 minutes

Ivan Perisic celebrates scoring Croatia's first goal during the Qatar 2022 World Cup round of 16 football match between Japan and Croatia at the Al-Janoub Stadium in Al-Wakrah, south of Doha on December 5, 2022.

(Image credit: Ozan Kose/AFP via Getty Images)

As disappointing as it was to see Japan’s giant-killing streak come to an end, the manner of their defeat can’t have come as much of a surprise to those familiar with Croatia’s recent history.

This was the seventh time in Croatia’s last eight major tournament knockout games that extra-time was required.

The only exception was their defeat in the 2018 World Cup final against France, so this was far from uncharted territory for Zlatko Dalic’s side.

Once it got to penalties, Croatia won their third consecutive World Cup shoot-out – a record that is only bettered at the tournament by Germany (obviously) who have won four out of four.

Livakovic was the hero, making three saves from four poor Japanese penalties. He became the third goalkeeper to do so at the World Cup after Portugal’s Ricardo in 2006 and Danijel Subasic for – you guessed it – Croatia in 2018.

Giant-killers Japan an inspiration to the underdogs

Ritsu Doan of Japan celebrates after scoring their team's first goal during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group E match between Germany and Japan at Khalifa International Stadium on November 23, 2022 in Doha, Qatar.

(Image credit: Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

Japan’s World Cup campaign will live long in the memory, both for their fans and those of some international football powerhouses. 

The Samurai Blue’s remarkable double scalp of Germany and Spain – both world champions in the last 12 years – was the biggest shock of a tournament filled with upsets. 

It underlined a theme of the group stage – that the international football playing field is more level now than in years gone by and nothing can be taken for granted. 

Ask Argentina, Brazil, Portugal or France, who all suffered surprise group defeats, or Germany, Uruguay, Belgium and Denmark, who went out early. 

Japan leave Qatar with their heads held high and as the champions of the underdog.

They are an example that less-fancied nations will follow for years to come, after being given little hope of progression by almost everyone as soon as the group stage draw was made.

Ronaldo melodrama creates tension in Portugal camp

Ronaldo Santos

(Image credit: Getty)

Cristiano Ronaldo doesn’t like being substituted. This is no secret.

But this time, he’s managed to wind up his manager, put his starting place in doubt and create an unwanted off-field distraction ahead of a huge game for the team he captains, Portugal. 

And all for coming off with 25 minutes left of what was, in the grand scheme of things, a relatively unimportant game against South Korea - considering Portugal were already through.

Asked if he had seen video footage that appeared to show Ronaldo criticising Santos’ decision to replace him, the Portugal boss said: “Yes. I didn't like it. Didn't like it at all.”

"From there, it's things you sort out internally. It was sorted out this way, and now we think about the game tomorrow.”

A keen eye will now be trained on how much game time Santos gives Ronaldo against the Swiss.

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Alasdair Mackenzie is a freelance journalist based in Rome, and a FourFourTwo contributor since 2015. When not pulling on the FFT shirt, he can be found at Reuters, The Times and the i. An Italophile since growing up on a diet of Football Italia on Channel 4, he now counts himself among thousands of fans sharing a passion for Ross County and Lazio.