In an unpredictable tournament from start to finish, England and Brazil both eased into the knockout stages, but then fell at the quarter-finals, while Morocco and Croatia defied the odds to make the semi-finals.
After four weeks of unforgettable action, Sportsmail has put together a report card for the teams that advanced to the last 16.
Group finish: 2nd Final result: Last-16 exit against Holland
USA went to Qatar with a young squad knowing that they had an excellent chance of getting out of a group containing England, Wales and Iran.
They started strongly against Wales but faded badly and must have been a little disappointed to only finish with a 1-1 draw.
Their next performance against England was arguably their best of the tournament. The Americans frustrated the Three Lions, restricting them to very few chances, and came close to nicking all three points themselves when Christian Pulisic hit the bar. They left with a creditable draw, meaning it was all to play for against Iran.
One goal was all that was needed to settle that game, with Pulisic popping up to net the winner, setting up a last-16 clash with Holland.
USA came up short against Holland in the last 16 after finishing second in their group
It appeared there was a chance of an upset given how Holland had looked some way short of their best in their group matches, but USA struggled to get to grips with Louis van Gaal’s 3-4-1-2 formation.
Holland were far more clinical with their finishing, and ended up deserved 3-1 winners.
USA’s midfield looks a particular area of strength as they prepare to co-host the World Cup in 2026, with Yunus Musah, Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie all impressing in Qatar.
If they can find a striker to ease some of the pressure on Pulisic, they may be able to get a step or two further next time around.
Group finish: 2nd Final result: Last-16 exit against Argentina
Australia had only previously made it out of the group stage once back in 2006. Having been placed in a group with France and Denmark, it looked unlikely that they would reach the knockout rounds.
But you can never write off an Australian sports team. The Socceroos were outclassed by France in their opening game as they lost 4-1, but they bounced back brilliantly to grind out a 1-0 win against Tunisia.
Four days later, they did the same again, soaking up the pressure against Denmark before hitting them on the counter through Mathew Leckie to secure another 1-0 victory.
So what was Australia’s reward for making the round of 16? A meeting with Lionel Messi’s Argentina.
Mathew Leckie’s solo effort against Denmark ensured Australia made it out of their group
The little maestro was somewhere near his imperious best, scoring the opening goal before Julian Alvarez added a second after half-time.
Enzo Fernandez’s own goal got Australia back into the game, and they nearly got a late equaliser through Garang Kuol but his shot was kept out by Emiliano Martinez.
Despite their elimination, it was undoubtedly a successful tournament for Australia – the best in their history in terms of points accrued.
Having needed penalties to make it to Qatar in the first place, Graham Arnold’s team did their country proud.
Group Finish: 2nd Final result: Last-16 exit against France
When you think of Poland, one name springs to mind straight away: Robert Lewandowski.
Surely this would be the tournament where he finally scored his first World Cup goal. He had the perfect opportunity in Poland’s first game when he won a penalty, but his spot-kick was kept out by Guillermo Ochoa, and the match finished goalless.
Poland then faced Saudi Arabia fresh off the back of their stunning win against Argentina.
Piotr Zielinski put Poland in front, and Lewandowski finally got his moment late on as he capitalised on a defensive error to double his side’s lead.
A draw against Argentina would have been enough to send Poland through, but they never looked like getting a result as they delivered an incredibly negative performance and ended up losing 2-0.
Robert Lewandowski scored his first World Cup goals, but Poland were knocked out by France
At one stage it looked like they might only go through by virtue of picking up fewer bookings than Mexico, but they eventually moved into the last 16 on goal difference.
Having failed to finish top of their group, they were left with the daunting task of playing France.
Kylian Mbappe continued his outstanding form, setting up Olivier Giroud’s opener before scoring twice himself in the second half. Robert Lewandowski’s re-taken penalty was a mere consolation as France eased to a 3-1 win.
Poland have some talented players, but must show more adventure next time.
Reaching the last 16 was their ceiling, but they will be disappointed with the majority of their performances in Qatar, and they are not getting the most out of Lewandowski by leaving him so isolated up top.
Group finish: 2nd Final result: Last-16 exit against England
Senegal were dealt a major blow before their tournament had even started when Sadio Mane was ruled out through injury.
His absence was felt in their first game as they looked toothless in attack and then conceded two late goals to lose to Holland.
Their next game was a must-win one against tournament hosts Qatar, and they got the job done with relative ease.
They still needed to beat Ecuador in their last group match, though. The African champions raised their game when it mattered most, with captain Kalidou Koulibaly netting the winner to put his team into the knockout rounds.
Kalidou Koulibaly scored the goal that got Senegal out of the group at the expense of Ecuador
Senegal’s run in Qatar was brought to an end by England at the last-16 stage
Unfortunately for Senegal, Idrissa Gana Gueye was booked in that match, leaving him suspended for their last-16 tie with England.
Senegal had a couple of early chances against Gareth Southgate’s side but they failed to take them, and were punished when Jordan Henderson and Harry Kane struck just before half time. Bukayo Saka added a third after the break to seal Senegal’s fate.
Senegal only showed their true potential in their clash with Ecuador, but they must be wondering how different things could have been if Mane was available.
Group finish: 1st Final result: Last-16 exit against Croatia
When the World Cup draw was made and Japan were placed in the same group as Spain and Germany, thing weren’t looking promising.
But underestimate Japan at your peril. They went behind against Germany, but battled back and scored two late goals to secure a famous win.
Their easiest fixture on paper was Costa Rica, but they inexplicably managed to lose the game, wasting several opportunities before Keysher Fuller scored the only goal nine minutes from time.
It looked like Japan had blown it, especially when they were trailing at half time against Spain. But once again, their fighting spirit kept them in the contest, and goals from Ritsu Doan and Ao Tanaka turned the game on its head.
Japan defied the odds to beat Germany and Spain to finish top of Group E
Tanaka’s goal needed to be checked to see whether the ball had gone out out play, but VAR ruled that it had just stayed in and the goal stood. Incredibly, Japan had managed to top their group, beating Germany and Spain in the process.
Next up was 2018 finalists Croatia, and Japan took the game to their European opponents, going in front through Daizen Maeda.
Croatia hit back, though, with Ivan Perisic levelling matters, and it all went down to penalties.
Japan were beaten on penalties by Croatia as they narrowly missed out on a quarter-final spot
Unlike the previous 120 minutes, this was hardly a contest as Japan scored just one of their four spot-kicks.
Despite their wonderful group-stage campaign, there will be a feeling of ‘what if’ for Japan following their elimination. They were knocked out in the last-16 by Belgium after being two goals up, and they were very close to taking that next step this time as well.
Most of their players are plying their trade in Europe nowadays, gaining more and more experience. Japan are building a technically-gifted team that is just a slice of luck away from getting into the latter stages of a major tournament.
Group finish: 2nd Final result: Last-16 exit against Brazil
South Korea’s opening game stalemate with Uruguay will not live long in the memory. The less said about that the better.
But their second match against Ghana was far more entertaining. Having started well, South Korea found themselves two goals down at half-time after conceding twice in 10 minutes.
They refused to give in, though, with Cho Gue-sung scoring twice to bring his side level, only for Mohammed Kudus to score his second of the game to seal a 3-2 win for Ghana.
This left South Korea needing to beat Portugal in their final group match to have any hope of qualifying for the knockout stages.
South Korea were outclassed by Brazil as they exited at the last-16 stage in Qatar
That result looked unlikely when they went behind early, but they came firing back once more, and Hwang Hee-chan’s 91st-minute winner sent his side through to the last 16.
There they met Brazil, and manager Paulo Bento decided to go toe-to-toe with the five-time winners. Bad move.
Brazil ran riot in the first half, scoring four unanswered goals. South Korea did gain some respectability by pulling a goal back but they were well beaten.
Making it out of the group was an achievement, but trying to take on Brazil at their own game was a mistake, and one that they will need to learn from if they are to further in four years’ time.
Group finish: 2nd Final result: Last-16 exit against Morocco
Has a team ever had a better start to a tournament than a 7-0 win? That’s exactly what Spain managed to do when they swept aside Costa Rica.
At that point they looked like genuine contenders, but they were held to a 1-1 draw by Germany, offering a first clue that they were not going to have things all their own way in Qatar.
Then came Japan. Spain dominated possession but didn’t do enough with it, and they were punished as Japan scored twice in three minutes at the start of the second half to pull off an impressive 2-1 win.
That result meant Spain finished second in Group E and avoided Croatia in the last-16, instead being pitted against Morocco. Was that a fortunate draw? Not at all.
Spain lost in the last-16 for the second World cup on the trot, and Luis Enrique was sacked
Going up against a well-organised defence, it was a familiar tale for Spain. Pass, pass, pass, now what?
Clear-cut chances were few and far between, and the game went to penalties. Morocco scored all three, Spain missed all three. Game over.
So what are Spain missing? A prolific goalscorer for one. Alvaro Morata scored three goals in his four appearances, but is he really the striker to take Spain to World Cup glory?
Then there’s the issue of passing for passing’s sake. Spain passed the ball around at the back and in midfield without hurting Morocco who simply stayed in their shape and kept things tight.
Spain’s style of play has become predictable and easy to play against. Tweaks are needed if they are to bring back the golden days of 2008-2012.
Group finish: 2nd Final result: Last-16 exit against Portugal
Murat Yakin proudly declared before the tournament that he was managing ‘the best Switzerland national team that has ever existed’, and his side started well when they edged past Cameroon 1-0.
Switzerland then held their own against Brazil, only to be undone by a late Casemiro strike that flew into the top corner.
Needing a point against Serbia, Switzerland went one better, coming from 2-1 down to win 3-2, as Xherdan Shaqiri found the net at a World Cup once again.
This secured Yakin’s men a last-16 tie with Portugal, and having beaten France at the same stage of last year’s Euros, an upset looked possible.
Switzerland were thrashed by Portugal as they went out with a whimper at the last-16 stage
That is until the game started. The gulf in class between the two sides quickly became apparent as Cristiano Ronaldo’s replacement Goncalo Ramos helped himself to a hat-trick, while Pepe, Raphael Guerreiro and Rafael Leao all got on the scoresheet in a 6-1 rout.
Navigating their way through a tricky-looking group was commendable, but Switzerland delivered a truly abysmal performance against Portugal, and will have left Qatar disappointed.
With names like Granit Xhaka and Manuel Akanji in their squad, plus the impressive Breel Embolo, Switzerland have a solid spine to their team, but a lack of star quality means that getting past the first knockout round is always going to be a challenge for them.
Group finish: 1st Final result: Quarter-final exit against Croatia
Brazil enter every World Cup expecting to win it. Anything less is a failure.
They rarely sparkled in their opening two matches, but 2-0 and 1-0 wins against Serbia and Switzerland respectively were good enough to book their place in the last-16 with a game to spare. They also didn’t face a shot on target in either match.
Tite’s team suffered a surprise 1-0 defeat against Cameroon in their final group match but it was a much-changed line-up so there did not appear to be any need to panic.
Then Brazil clicked into gear as they moved into the knockout stages. Neymar returned from injury to score, and Vinicius Jr, Richarlison and Lucas Paqueta also found the net as Brazil thrashed South Korea. There was dancing on the pitch as Brazil cemented their place as tournament favourites.
Brazil’s players showed off their dance moves as they dominated South Korea
Brazil had looked almost unstoppable against South Korea, but things were very different when they faced Croatia.
The South American side were constantly outnumbered in the middle of the pitch after Tite named a very attacking starting XI, and the manager’s substitutions failed to work as well.
The game went to extra-time and Brazil looked to have got themselves out of trouble when Neymar put them ahead, but Croatia equalised with three minutes remaining through Bruno Petkovic.
It all ended in tears for Neymar as Brazil were knocked out by Croatia in the quarter-finals
Penalties were needed to separate the two teams, and when Marquinhos’s spot-kick came back off the post, Brazil’s dream was over for another four years.
Neymar was left in tears afterwards having not taken a penalty (he was lined up to take the fifth one).
Will he still be around in 2026? There is no guarantee that he will be, and there are several other players in the current squad that will be well into their thirties by then.
Tite has moved on having guided the team to back-to-back quarter-finals. Brazil have not made the final since they last won the World Cup 20 years ago, and their loss against Croatia will take some time to get over.
Group finish: 1st Final result: Quarter-final exit against Argentina
Holland didn’t even make the World Cup in Russia so were determined to make their mark this time around.
With Louis van Gaal back at the helm they made a stuttering start against Senegal before two late goals gave them a 2-0 win.
They weren’t any better against Ecuador, throwing away an early lead as they were held to a 1-1 draw.
A straightforward 2-0 victory over Qatar sealed top spot in Group A, but Holland were some way off their best and needed to improve in the last-16.
They duly did, using the likes of Memphis Depay, Denzel Dumfries and Cody Gakpo effectively on the counter-attack to record a 3-1 win against USA.
This set up a clash with Argentina in a rematch of their 2014 semi-final. What followed was a chaotic game with 15 yellow cards and a red card.
Holland were beaten on penalties by Argentina in a chaotic quarter-final clash
Argentina went two goals up through Nahuel Molina and Lionel Messi, only for Wout Weghorst to pop up with a late brace to send the game to extra-time. His second goal in the 100th minute was scarcely believable, as he latched onto a short free-kick and fired home from inside the area.
Neither team found the net in extra-time, meaning penalties were required. Virgil van Dijk and Steven Berghuis had their efforts saved by Emiliano Martinez as Argentina won again, just like eight years earlier.
The two teams continued to clash even after the final whistle, with Martinez and Messi both giving scathing verdicts on the referee and their Dutch opponents.
It was not the end that Van Gaal would have envisaged for his managerial career, but he got the most out of a limited Dutch side and came desperately close to getting them into the semi-finals.
Group finish: 1st Final result: Quarter-final exit against Morocco
Having needed the play-offs to make it to Qatar, Portugal looked to be gathering momentum ahead of the tournament, and they got past Ghana and Uruguay in their opening two games.
However, things started to go wrong in their final group match. Having gone 1-0 up early on, they conceded twice to lose 2-1 to South Korea, and Cristiano Ronaldo reacted angrily to being substituted in the second half.
Having hardly sparkled in the group stages, fans were left wondering whether the unthinkable could happen and he would be dropped for a combination of his reaction to being substituted and his lack of form.
Fernando Santos made the big call ahead of the last-16 match with Switzerland to bench his captain, bring in Goncalo Ramos to replace him.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal came up short as they suffered a shock loss against Morocco
The change worked as Ramos bagged a hat-trick and Portugal ran out 6-1 against their hapless opponents, but the attention continued to centre around Ronaldo.
Would he come back in for the next game? No. Santos went with an unchanged line-up against Morocco, only this time it failed to pay off as Portugal failed to break down a stubborn Moroccan defence and lost to a Youssef En-Nesyri header.
Ronaldo came off the bench in the second half but was unable to turn the game in his side’s favour, and quickly left the pitch in tears at the final whistle.
Ronaldo looks to have ended his World Cup career without a goal in the knockout stages, and after promising so much against Switzerland, Portugal ultimately blew it when a semi-final spot was there for the taking.
The team have a bright future with young stars like Joao Felix, Rafael Leao and Ramos in their ranks, but that will be little consolation right now.
Group finish: 1st Final result: Quarter-final exit against France
After a disastrous Nations League campaign, England needed a positive start to get the nation on-side. They got it as they thrashed Iran 6-2, with Bukayo Saka netting a brace.
Gareth Southgate’s men were brought back down to earth in their second outing, drawing 0-0 with USA in a drab affair with very few chances.
Wales were up next, and after another timid first half display, England found their rhythm after the break, with Marcus Rashford scoring twice either side of a Phil Foden tap-in.
England dominated Wales as they eased through the group stages in Qatar
England were starting to build some momentum, and they registered a routine last-16 win against Senegal, as Jordan Henderson and Saka scored, while captain Harry Kane also opened his account for the tournament.
This all set up a mouthwatering showdown with France in the quarter-finals. Aurelien Tchouameni put France ahead, although Saka appeared to be fouled in the build-up.
England hit back through a Kane penalty, but Olivier Giroud restored France’s advantage. Kane was given another chance to pull his level when England were awarded another penalty, but his effort flew over the bar, leaving the striker devastated.
Harry Kane’s missed penalty proved costly as the Three Lions went out in the quarter-finals
Many expected England to only get to the quarter-finals this time around when making their pre-tournament predictions, but there was serious hope that this was the time to make that next step.
Instead it was more disappointment for the Three Lions. Saka, Foden and Jude Bellingham will lead the next generation looking to end 56 years of hurt, and it has now been confirmed that Gareth Southgate will continue in the dugout until Euro 2024.
Group finish: 1st Final result: Semi-final defeat by France – fourth place
Morocco created history in Qatar. Having been placed in a group with Belgium and Croatia, no one expected them to make the knockout rounds, but they did, and with something to spare.
After a drab goalless draw with Croatia to start their tournament, Morocco delighted their fans with a shock 2-0 win against Belgium. They then completed their group with a 2-1 victory against Canada.
Their reward for making the last-16 was a meeting with Spain, and after keeping their European opponents at bay for 120 minutes, Morocco triumphed on penalties.
Morocco’s win against Portugal led to Sofiane Boufal dancing on the pitch with his mother
They weren’t done there as they went on to pull off another upset by beating Portugal 1-0 in the quarter-finals to become the first African nation to make the semi-finals of a World Cup.
They needed to beat France to make the final, but they came up short as they fell to a 2-0 defeat, and their play-off with Croatia proved to be a game too far as they lost 2-1 to finish fourth.
Morocco certainly gave their fans a tournament to remember, though, and they may wonder if they could have gone all the way had they been a little more fortunate with injuries.
Morocco just missed out on third place but still had an outstanding tournament
Walid Regragui has done a fine job having only been appointed shortly before the World Cup got underway, and built Morocco’s success on defensive solidity.
If they can keep things tight at the back, then with the likes of Sofyan Amrabat and Hakim Ziyech in attack they have every chance of having more success and proving that their run in Qatar was no fluke.
Group finish: 2nd Final result: Semi-final defeat by Argentina – third place
Croatia were outstanding in Russia four years ago as they made the final before losing to France. Not many expected them to go as far this time around with a slightly ageing squad.
They hardly looked like world-beaters in their first outing against Morocco – a dire 0-0 draw, but showed their class as they eased past Canada 4-1 in their second match.
This meant that they only required a draw in their final group game against Belgium to progress, but they had to ride their luck as Romelu Lukaku missed several chances to knock them out.
Having sneaked into the last-16, they came up against an in-form Japan side that had just beaten Germany and Spain. Croatia fell behind, but a fine Ivan Perisic header forced penalties, and Dominik Livakovic saved three spot-kicks to send his side through.
Croatia finished third to back up their runners-up finish in Russia four years ago
Having edged past Japan, Croatia were expected to be dumped out by pre-tournament favourites Brazil, and it looked like they were heading for the exit door when Neymar put Brazil ahead in extra time.
Once again, Croatia refused to give in, and Bruno Petkovic took the game to penalties. Once again, Croatia came out on top in the shootout.
Another South American side awaited in the last-four, but this time Croatia were no match for Argentina as they delivered a disappointing display and lost 3-0.
Zlatko Dalic’s side bounced back well, though, seeing off Morocco in the third-place play-off to claim the bronze medal.
Qatar looks to have been Luka Modric’s swansong on the international stage and he will take some replacing, but Josko Gvardiol has emerged as a huge talent at the back.
Croatia have never properly replaced Mario Mandzukic up front, but if they can find a reliable goalscorer they could punch above their weight again in 2026.
Group finish: 1st Final result: Lost to Argentina on penalties in the final
France came agonisingly close to winning consecutive World Cups. The build-up to the tournament was littered with injury setbacks as Karim Benzema, Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante were all ruled out.
Yet France still eased through their group, seeing off Australia and Denmark to seal top spot with a game to spare. Their defeat against Tunisia was hardly anything to worry about as Didier Deschamps put out a much-changed line-up.
Poland weren’t expected to cause Poland many problems, and they didn’t as Kylian Mbappe scored twice and registered an assist in a 3-1 win for Les Bleus.
A much sterner test came in the quarter-finals as France took on England. France twice went in front, but had to endure a nervy finish as Harry Kane brought England level with a penalty and then missed another spot-kick that would have taken the game to extra-time.
Kylian Mbappe had an excellent tournament, scoring eight goals to win the Golden Boot
France ultimately came up short in the final after losing on penalties to Argentina
Having overcome that scare, France faced surprise package Morocco in the last-four. An early Theo Hernandez goal settled any nerves, and Randal Kolo Muani sealed France’s place in the final with a late second goal.
France’s preparations for the final were hampered by a sickness bug going through the camp that left a number of players unwell just days before the game.
This appeared to show in the first half of the final as they went two goals behind before the break.
Yet they showed tremendous spirit to battle back, with Mbappe scoring twice to ensure that extra time was needed.
After Messi and Mbappe traded goals in the additional 30 minutes, it all came down to penalties, and France fell short as Kingsley Coman and Aurelien Tchouameni missed from the spot.
France overcame plenty of adversity in Qatar and can be very proud of their efforts. Deschamps has built an excellent squad, and they are very likely to be one of the favourites in Euro 2024 and at the next World Cup.
Group finish: 1st Final result: Winners
Argentina could hardly have got off to a worse start in Qatar after losing to Saudi Arabia in one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. At the time they looked some way off being future world champions. Even getting out of the group looked like it would be difficult.
But, inspired by Lionel Messi, Argentina showed their mettle, beating Mexico and Poland to finish top of Group C.
They faced an unfancied Australia side in the round of 16, but once again it wasn’t straightforward.
After moving into a two-goal lead, Argentina were pegged back and needed a late Emiliano Martinez save to hand them a nervy 2-1 win.
Lionel Messi finally got his hands on the World Cup, and was also given the Golden Ball award
Things would get even more tense when they took on Holland in the last-eight. Argentina went two goals in front again, but in a tetchy encounter which saw 15 yellow cards and a red card, Holland hit back to force extra-time.
The team couldn’t be separated, and penalties were needed. Martinez made two saves as Argentina just about kept their World Cup dream alive.
It was far more plain sailing in the semi-finals as Argentina breezed past Croatia 3-0, leaving them and Messi just one game away from history.
The them of throwing away a lead continued in the final as Argentina took a two-goal advantage into the break, but Kylian Mbappe scored twice late on to force extra-time.
Messi and Mbappe also found the net in extra time, meaning penalties were needed, and Martinez was the hero once again as he kept out Kingsley Coman’s penalty.
From a disastrous opening game defeat to the ultimate glory, Argentina went through all the emotions, and eventually Messi and co came out on top.