This year’s winter World Cup in Qatar promises to be like no other, given its Middle Eastern setting and the unusual time of year it is taking place.
The domestic season will soon be drawing to a close, with the prestigious tournament running between November 20 and December 18 in the first-ever winter edition of the World Cup.
But what are the likely match-ups fans can expect to see once the round of 16 arrives? Here, Sportsmail provides you with a guide to the knockouts and who could play who once we’ve just started opening our advent calendars.
ROUND OF 16
1. Winners of Group A vs Runners-up of Group B
Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan; Saturday, December 3 – kick-off 3pm
Holland will fancy their chances of beating African champions Senegal to top spot in Group A but it’s anyone’s guess who their opponents will be in the first knockout stage. With England favourites to finish top, either the USA or Wales are likely to stand in the way of Louis van Gaal’s men and the quarter-finals.
Prediction: Holland vs Wales
2. Winners of Group C vs Runners-up of Group D
Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan; Saturday, December 3 – kick-off 7pm
Copa American winners Argentina are expected to get through Group C without issue, although Poland and Mexico will be no walkovers. That being said, Lionel Messi and Co will likely meet Denmark in the round of 16 and hope France finish top of Group D to avoid meeting the reigning champions so early on.
Prediction: Argentina vs Denmark
4. Winners of Group D vs Runners-up of Group C
Al Thumama Stadium, Doha; Sunday, December 4 – kick-off 3pm
The aforementioned France are favourites to top Group D and set up a likely meeting against either Mexico or Poland. It’s a favourable draw for the French but they will be wary of Robert Lewandowski if it’s the European side they get for their first knockout game of the tournament.
Prediction: France vs Poland
3. Winners of Group B vs Runners-up of Group A
Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor; Sunday, December 4 – kick-off 7pm
Gareth Southgate’s England are the bookies’ favourites to top Group B but the Three Lions’ could come up against a familiar Senegal superstar if Holland top Group A. Sadio Mane will be leading the line for the AFCON champions and will be desperate to cause an upset in Al Khor.
Prediction: England vs Senegal
5. Winners of Group E vs Runners-up of Group F
Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah; Monday, December 5 – kick-off 3pm
Group E – dubbed this tournament’s ‘group of death’ – will see Spain and Germany lock horns for a spot in the last-16, while Japan and Costa Rica will look to make life difficult for the two European giants. However, finishing top or runners-up may not make too much difference considering Belgium and Croatia will await from Group F.
Prediction: Spain vs Croatia
6. Winners of Group G vs Runners-up of Group H
Stadium 974, Doha; Monday, December 5 – kick-off 7pm
Brazil are heavy favourites to emerge as the winners of Group G but could face a tougher task in the knockouts, with CONMEBOL foes Uruguay and South Korea potential opponents in the last-16.
Prediction: Brazil vs Uruguay
7. Winners of Group F vs Runners-up of Group E
Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan; Tuesday, December 6 – kick-off 3pm
Group F is another tough call to determine who will come out on top by the end of November. Belgium and Croatia are favourites to reach the last-16, with Roberto Martinez’s side likely to edge Luka Modric and Co to top spot. However, whoever finishes top will face either Spain or Germany from Group E.
Prediction: Belgium vs Germany
8. Winners of Group H vs Runners-up of Group G
Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail; Tuesday, December 6 – kick-off 7pm
While Uruguay are no slouches in Group H, many will have Portugal as their pick to finish in top spot once the group stages are all said and done. It’s anyone’s guess who they’ll face from Group G, given that Serbia, Switzerland and Cameroon are all decent enough in their own right to reach the knockout stages.
Prediction: Portugal vs Switzerland
10. Winners of 5 vs Winners of 6
Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan; Friday, December 9 – kick-off 3pm
Now this is where it gets tougher. It’s hard to separate a likely meeting between Spain and Croatia but Luis Enrique’s men are tipped to just edge it and reach the last four. That would set up a clash with the winner of a predicted last-16 clash between Brazil and Uruguay.
Prediction: Spain vs Brazil
9. Winners of 1 vs Winners of 2
Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail; Friday, December 9 – kick-off 7pm
Holland, should they top their group, have an easier last-16 stage than most, given the strength of Group B. With a predicted match-up with Wales, they would again be favourites to advance. However, the quarter-finals will offer a new level of challenge, with Argentina and Denmark being tipped for this stage.
Prediction: Holland vs Argentina
12. Winners of 7 vs Winners of 8
Al Thumama Stadium, Doha; Saturday, December 10 – kick-off 3pm
A tasty matchup in the last-16 between Belgium and Germany will see the tournament lose a European powerhouse, with both nations among the favourites to win the whole thing. Portugal, meanwhile, would fancy themselves to get past Switzerland should it play out that way.
Prediction: Belgium vs Portugal
11. Winners of 3 vs Winners of 4
Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor; Saturday, December 10 – kick-off 7pm
It will be another tough task for England to reach the last-eight of a major tournament but they’ve shown in recent years that they are so close to ending 56 years of hurt. However, if they want to prove that they are ready to become champions of the world, they will likely have to beat the reigning champions France on their way to the final.
Prediction: England vs France
Winners of 9 vs Winners of 10
Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail; Tuesday, December 13 – kick-off 7pm
After predicting Holland to face Argentina in quarter-finals, it would be difficult to pick who would make the final four. But it must be done and with it being Lionel Messi’s final World Cup, the little magician will be on a mission to finally win the big one for Argentina. But what lies in wait is an absolute dream encounter for the neutral with Brazil predicted to advance – setting up a semi-final showdown between two of football’s fiercest rivals.
Prediction: Argentina vs Brazil
Winners of 11 vs Winners of 12
Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor; Wednesday, December 14 – kick-off 7pm
If history is anything to go by, England have the edge over France over the 31 times they’ve met, winning 17 of those encounters while the French only have nine victories. However, with Kylian Mbappe and Karim Benzema leading a star-studded Les Bleus side in Qatar, it could spell another World Cup semi-final exit for Southgate’s Three Lions. The winner of Portugal’s quarter-final meeting with Belgium will then have to beat France for a spot in the final at the Lusail Iconic Stadium on December 18.
Prediction: France vs Portugal
Third place play-off
Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan; Saturday, December 17 – kick-off 3pm
The third place play-off is usually a match no team cares for after experiencing heartbreak of not reaching the final just days before. Pride is on the line – and a bronze medal – but enthusiasm will have certainly dwindled. However, with the potential encounter of Messi vs Ronaldo, you can certainly expect the match to attract huge numbers.
Prediction: Argentina vs Portugal
The World Cup final
Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail; Sunday, December 18 – kick-off 3pm
Now, I’m no Paul the Octopus but should all these predictions turn out to be true, we’ve got one hell of a final in Lusail. Reigning world champions France will be looking to become the third nation in history to retain the trophy, following Italy and their potential opponents on December 18, Brazil. But after experiencing heartbreak in previous tournaments, Neymar and Co will be aiming to add a sixth star above their crest, taking them two clear of Germany and the Italians as the most successful World Cup in history.
Prediction: France vs Brazil