The World Cup is down to its final eight teams, and with one exception — Morocco — they are about what most experts would have predicted to be amongst the quarterfinalists. That sadly does not include the U.S. Men’s National Team, which made it to the knockout round of 16 before falling to a very good Netherlands team, 3-1. We had a pretty good run, America, although we should expect more in 2026.
The Final Eight
Let’s first look at which teams are left. Powerhouses France and Brazil pretty much cruised to the quarterfinals, and the two previous World Cup champs remain the favorites to take home the cup this time as well. Rounding out the quarterfinalists are the surprise Morocco team, which dispatched one of the favorites Spain in a penalty kick shootout; Portugal, which saw Ronaldo start on the bench in their knockout round game against the Swiss (while his replacement scored a hat trick, so kudos to the coach for that call); Argentina, with an aging Lionel Messi looking for his first World Cup championship; England, with a plethora of talent and perhaps the pseudo-dark horse favorites to win it all; the Netherlands, which systematically dismantled the U.S. team in the knockout round; and Croatia, which should never be counted out, although they must get through a surging Brazil to continue on.
With the exception of Morocco, the last remaining African team in the quarterfinals, the remaining eight are global football powerhouses from Europe and South America, the two continents to dominate the Cup since its inception. Argentina will face off against the Netherlands. France and England will battle it out in what could be the best quarterfinal round game. Croatia will look to stymie Brazil’s blazing offense (and might just do so), and Portugal will look to cruise past Morocco, although that game could also see an upset if Morocco’s so far impenetrable defense can hold up.
Many fans would love to see a Ronaldo versus Messi final, although I would not put my money on that outcome. The oddsmakers would probably predict a France vs. Brazil final, however, I would not be shocked to see an England vs. Croatia final game. The latter would be a rematch of the semi-final from the 2018 World Cup (in which Croatia beat England, 2-1). Anything can happen. That is part of what makes the World Cup so compelling.
Speaking of compelling, the tournament has had a wealth of such moments so far. Japan’s run of games — defeating Germany and Spain — before being knocked out showed the team is no fluke, and is an emerging power in world soccer. Saudi Arabia shocked Argentina by defeating them in the group stage. Morocco’s goalkeeper stopped all three of Spain’s penalty kicks to take the team to the quarterfinals. Poland’s legendary striker Robert Lewandowski scored his first and second World Cup goals. Ronaldo scored in his fifth World Cup, making him the first male player to accomplish that feat. And France’s Kylian Mbappe has shown that he might just be the heir to Messi and Ronaldo as the world’s best player with his now second stellar World Cup performance (so far).
What about the Americans?
The U.S. team also had a compelling performance and showed that they are a force for the future, and especially for the 2026 World Cup. The tournament will be held in the United States (as well as in Canada and Mexico) in 2026, which means that the U.S. team does not have to compete to qualify for the tournament (as Qatar’s team did not, as host, for this go around). The American team can thus focus on actually making it farther than the knockout round.
That round was the minimum expectation for the U.S. team this time, and they achieved it, but more will be expected in 2026. That is in part due to the World Cup being hosted in the States (making all of the games home games for the Americans), and in part, because the U.S. team is young and most of those who started this cup will be in their prime for the next. That does not mean the lineup will not change — and indeed, it probably should as different players hit their stride, or don’t, over the next three-and-a-half years. But the core of talent is there for the United States team to do very well in 2026.
That core includes the midfield trio of Yunus Musah, Weston McKennie, and Tyler Adams, the latter of whom served as team captain and had a breakout performance on the world stage in Qatar. American star Christian Pulisic will also still be in his prime in 2026, as well as younger potential-laden players like Brenden Aaronson and Giovanni Reyna. Nor does that include all of the young players just starting out in Europe who could also make a name for themselves and prove to be stars on a 2026 roster. The future is bright for American soccer.
Who will coach the US team?
The biggest question that the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) must answer going forward is, will Gregg Berhalter remain the coach? The conventional wisdom is that he will be replaced after a transition period lasting a year or so, such that a new skipper can take over the team and move them forward. Berhalter is currently in talks with the USSF about his future, and it is not a given that he will be replaced in the short term, but I, for one, would be shocked if he is still the coach in 2026. The team needs a fresh start and a coach who can squeeze every bit of (especially offensive) potential out of the players. Keep an eye on European coaches with tournament-winning pedigrees as potential prospects to replace Berhalter going forward.
The glory of the Cup
The esoteric ins and outs of building the team for 2026 is ultimately a conversation for after this World Cup ends. For now, we should all focus on the remaining games, as the final eight teams look to clinch their place in soccer history as first-time or repeat winners of a World Cup: Brazil has won five, Argentina two, France two, England one, and the other four teams have never won a World Cup. This fan would love to see a new team hoist the trophy this year, although I would find it hard to bet my own money on a team that is not France or Brazil. That said, this is the World Cup, and anything can happen. Buckle up and enjoy the rest of the ride before the long wait for 2026 begins.