Julian Alvarez of Argentina warms up during a practice on Thursday, a day before a World Cup quarterfinal against the Netherlands. Jorge Saenz/Associated Press

RAYYAN, Qatar — The upstarts from Australia, Senegal and the United States went as far as they could go. Japan headed home after two famous victories and a near upset, while Saudi Arabia left after one shocker. Heavyweights took on defeat but proceeded, nonetheless.

After a rambunctious 2½ weeks of soccer, order has been largely restored to this World Cup, except for Morocco, which has captured the hearts of the Arab world – and underdogs everywhere – by crashing the quarterfinal party.

Brazil, Argentina, France and England have combined for 10 world trophies and six second-place medals. Add the Netherlands and Croatia into the mix, and the number of championship appearances grows to 20 overall.

Brazil’s Neymar practices during a training session Thursday in Doha, Qatar. Brazil will face Croatia in a World Cup quarterfinal at 10 a.m. Friday. Andre Penner/Associated Press

Portugal has never gone to the final but won the European Championship – the sport’s second-most-prestigious competition – six years ago.

“It is a very, very thin line,” Argentine Coach Lionel Scaloni said Thursday. “We cannot really tell which is the favorite and who can win. We are talking about evenly matched national teams. Some opponents, in principle, you might think they don’t have enough talent. In the end, you realize it’s quite the contrary. Any of the eight teams can play in the final.”

Brazil began the tournament as the favorite and remains the favorite, despite a group-stage misstep against Cameroon. Argentina has Lionel Messi. France features Kylian Mbappé. England has 56 years of pent-up frustration since Wembley glory. A three-time runner-up, the Netherlands is the best soccer-playing country to have never won the title.


“The tournament is starting tomorrow for real for us,” Dutch Coach Louis van Gaal said, dismissing the round-of-16 test from the United States.

The top-heavy quarterfinals bring mammoth matchups, starting Friday when the Netherlands plays Argentina and Brazil faces 2018 finalist Croatia. On Saturday, reigning champ France faces England, and Portugal, with Cristiano Ronaldo likely on the bench again, is bracing for Morocco.

Victories by Argentina, a two-time champion, and Brazil, a five-time winner, would set up a semifinal Tuesday and their first World Cup clash since 1990. First, though, they have work to do.

In Thursday’s news conference, Brazilian Coach Tite answered questions about injuries, tactics and Croatia, but mostly was quizzed about dancing – specifically, Brazil’s post-goal sambas that have included its 61-year-old coach.

“If you ask me to dance, I will dance,” he said. “It’s not my national team. It’s the Brazilian national team, which I have the responsibility of being the coach. I will not speak about those who do not know the history and culture of Brazil.”

Brazil was criticized by some in the soccer world for being too expressive after scoring four goals in the first half of its 4-1 romp over South Korea in the round of 16.


“It is the Brazilian culture when a goal is scored; we will never disrespect it,” Tite said. “We will continue to do it our way.”

As for his dance moves, Tite added: “It’s a connection I have with the younger generation. I am 61 and working with players 21, 22 (years old). They could be my grandchildren. All of those who truly know me know if I have a chance to connect with them, I will continue dancing.”

The Croatians, who edged Japan on penalty kicks in the round of 16, are focusing on themselves.

“They have their own way. They celebrate. They are festive,” Croatian Coach Zlatko Dalic said of Brazilian expression. “They demonstrate their character and tradition. Respect or disrespect? I can’t say. I wouldn’t want to see my players dance. It’s a different culture. It’s nice to watch them.”

Dalic and his players are more concerned about an opponent that regained the services of superstar Neymar (ankle injury) for the knockout stage.

“Brazil is the favorite. That’s understood,” star midfielder Luka Modric said. “But proven favorites can also lose.”


Portugal will have to deal with a Moroccan side riding a wave of emotion (while conceding one goal – an own goal – in four matches). Morocco blanked toothless Spain through 120 minutes and a penalty kick shootout.

“They didn’t win because of what Spain did,” Portuguese Coach Fernando Santos, “but because of their own merit.”

Portugal, a 6-1 winner over Switzerland in the round of 16, is seeking its first semifinal appearance since 2006. Santos, though, would prefer his team temper its excitement.

“When we are very excited, very euphoric, we go beyond what we should do,” he said. “Football is not fun. You have to play, you have to run, but having too much fun is not appropriate. It might cause problems and make things more complicated.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.