And then there were 16.
While a few teams that expected to reach the knockout stage—the United States and England come to mind—didn't escape the group portion, a stacked field is set to do battle for the right to win this year's U-20 World Cup.
Will a formidable Spain side once again top the field? Can France recover from a mediocre group campaign and ride their talent to the final? Will dangerous teams like Colombia, Portugal, Croatia and Uruguay go on a deep tournament run? Or will an upstart like Iraq crash the party?
Questions—so many questions. Let's preview the round of 16 and beyond at this year's U-20 World Cup.
|37||Tuesday, July 2||11 a.m. ET||Spain vs. Mexico|
|38||Tuesday, July 2||11 a.m. ET||Greece vs. Uzbekistan|
|39||Tuesday, July 2||2 p.m. ET||Nigeria vs. Uruguay|
|40||Tuesday, July 2||2 p.m. ET||France vs. Turkey|
|41||Wednesday, July 3||11 a.m. ET||Portugal vs. Ghana|
|42||Wednesday, July 3||11 a.m. ET||Croatia vs. Chile|
|43||Wednesday, July 3||2 p.m. ET||Colombia vs. Korea Republic|
|44||Wednesday, July 3||2 p.m. ET||Iraq vs. Paraguay|
All games will be streamed on WatchESPN. Also, four of the above games will be televised on ESPNU, though the matchups for the televised games have not yet been released by ESPN. For the full viewing schedule, check out WatchESPN.
Bracket (via FIFA.com)
Hey, here's a shocker—Spain should be favored to advance right to the final. Shocking, I know. The crafty Spaniards navigated the Group of Death with little difficulty, winning all three contests and allowing just two goals in the process.
Still, the most intriguing game of the round of 16 will be Spain facing Mexico. El Tri may have only earned three points in the group stage, but they're talented enough to give Spain headaches.
Awaiting the winner of that game will be either Uruguay or Nigeria. Truly, if Spain ends up winning this tournament, they will have earned it traversing a very difficult path.
Both Colombia and Portugal will fancy their chances to reach the semifinals after finishing with seven points in the group stage. Neither team drew particularly easy sections, and while both will be favored in their opening games, a potential matchup against Paraguay or Iraq could be tricky for Colombia, while Croatia or Chile could both test Portugal.
France as well should be favored to reach the semifinals, even if hosts Turkey will put up a spirited fight and Greece could be awaiting in the quarterfinals. With Paul Pogba available again after missing the final group game after compiling two yellow cards, France should reach the final four.
Still, you have to keep an eye on the upstarts. Iraq surprised more than a few folks winning Group E, and they have a very real chance of moving past Paraguay, while Greece, Croatia and Uruguay are more than capable of pulling off an upset or two and reaching the semifinals.
Which team will win this tournament?
I like Spain, Colombia, Portugal and France to advance to the semifinals. Spain will handle a dangerous Colombia side (because that's what they do), while France will sneak past Portugal in what should be a real cracker of a match.
In the final, Spain will knock off France for the second time in this tournament, reminding everyone that Spain's future is just as bright as their recent past has been.