The 2014 World Cup is truly something else, and there's still one more round to go in the group stage.
Six teams have already advanced to the round of 16, while another five have had their hopes dashed.
|Netherlands (Group B)||Cameroon (Group A)|
|Chile (Group B)||Australia (Group B)|
|Colombia (Group C)||Spain (Group B)|
|Costa Rica (Group D)||England (Group D)|
|Argentina (Group F)||Bosnia-Herzegovina (Group F)|
|Belgium (Group H)|
That means another 10 spots are up for grabs over the next four days, and with few countries out of it completely, the fight for those 10 places will go right down to the final minute.
Predictions for Round of 16
It would almost take a concerted effort from Brazil to lose to Cameroon. The Indomitable Lions have been one of the worst teams at the World Cup. The hosts should get the win and remain top of Group A.
As expected, Croatia and Mexico will meet to determine the second-place finisher in the group.
The Vatreni have looked good in the World Cup so far. The 3-1 scoreline between them and Brazil is a bit deceiving, and with Mario Mandzukic back in the squad, they ripped apart Cameroon.
El Tri, on the other hand, labored somewhat against Cameroon in their opener and then needed Guillermo Ochoa to stand on his head in order to draw against Brazil.
Mexico will likely play for the draw, which would be good enough to see them through.
Between their midfield trio of Mateo Kovacic, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, as well as the presence of Mandzukic up top, Croatia should be able to unlock the organized Mexico defense and advance to the knockout stages.
First Place: Brazil
Second Place: Croatia
The only drama left in Group B is figuring out whether Chile or the Netherlands will finish on top. A draw between the two would mean the Dutch finish first and the Chileans second on goal differential.
Daley Blind may be the key figure in this match. Bruno Martins Indi will be absent after suffering a concussion against Australia, per Dutch football journalist Elko Born:
Bruno Martins Indi will miss the Netherlands' group match against Chile. It's still unclear whether he'll be fit in time for the round of 16— Elko Born (@Elko_B) June 19, 2014
Louis van Gaal may be forced to opt for a flat back four, which would likely mean Blind playing at left-back. That's a scary proposition for the Netherlands because the Ajax defender can sometimes get caught too far forward, leaving the flank exposed.
The prospect of Alexis Sanchez and Mauricio Isla bombing down the right should be enough to keep Van Gaal up at night.
As good as the Dutch have been, questions remain about their defense. Chile will make the most of their space down the right and secure all three points on Monday.
First Place: Chile
Second Place: Netherlands
Colombia are already through after their wins over Greece and Ivory Coast. Los Cafeteros have Japan in their final group-stage match and should secure a win there to remain top of Group C.
Greece vs. Ivory Coast will likely determine who is joining Colombia in the round of 16.
The key for Les Elephants will be getting the first goal. Once the Greeks concede, they're toast, as evidenced by their 3-0 loss to Colombia.
Some will want to see Didier Drogba get the start, but the star striker should continue being utilized as an impact sub in the second half. His strength on the ball will be vital in capitalizing upon what will be a tired Greece defense late in the match.
First Place: Colombia
Second Place: Ivory Coast
As everybody knows by now, Costa Rica are through to the knockout stages for the first time since 1990 and only the second time in the country's history, per ESPN Stats and Info:
Costa Rica advances to the round of 16 for the 2nd time (1990). England out in the group stage for the first time since 1958. #WorldCup— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 20, 2014
Los Ticos have a tough fixture with England to close out the group, but a draw would suffice. As long as they get that point, they'll sit atop Group D.
Choosing between Uruguay and Italy is extremely tough to do.
The Azzurri arguably have the more complete team, but they looked bereft of ideas against Costa Rica. They tried to beat Los Ticos over the top, but Mario Balotelli got caught offside time and again.
Although Uruguay have a shaky defense, they also have Luis Suarez. The Liverpool forward makes La Celeste a completely different team. Suarez can drop deeper in the attack, which allows Edinson Cavani to play in a more comfortable, advanced position.
You could make a case for either side to prevail.
More than likely, the Italian midfield will wear Uruguay down over the course of the match. Cesare Prandelli will also have learned from the loss to Costa Rica and will provide Balotelli with more support in the attack.
First Place: Costa Rica
Second Place: Italy
Nobody is stopping France right now. Les Bleus are looking one of the best teams in Brazil at the moment. Their third goal against Switzerland was a masterclass in counter-attacking football. They went from defense to offense in a matter of seconds.
Although Enner Valencia is on a rich vein of form, Ecuador will struggle against the French back four. Les Bleus gave up two goals to Switzerland once the game was already over but have otherwise been solid defensively.
The Swiss have a bit of a lifeline by playing Honduras, who have had little interest in playing actual football, in their final match of the group stage. A win against Los Catrachos and a loss from Ecuador will put Switzerland through.
First Place: France
Second Place: Switzerland
You'd expect Argentina to take all three points against Nigeria. Some may look at the win against Iran in a negative light for La Albiceleste. However, they did well to beat what was a defensively organized opponent. Ask Italy how hard that can be to do.
Even if Nigeria lose, Iran will still need a draw.
Bosnia-Herzegovina could go one of two ways. Either they've already gone home mentally after having their hopes of advancing dashed, or they'll want to leave Brazil with their heads held high.
Count on the latter, as the Dragons have too much talent to exit the World Cup with only a whimper.
First Place: Argentina
Second Place: Nigeria
That Cristiano Ronaldo guy isn't too bad. He goes missing for 94 minutes and 30 seconds, but with one swing of his right boot he kept Portugal alive in the World Cup and denied the United States the opportunity of advancing.
Germany is pretty much through, though, unless they really choke it away against the United States on Thursday.
Some American supporters are no doubt half-jokingly arguing that Germany and the U.S. should engage in some good old-fashioned collusion to ensure both teams' survival.
The door isn't completely shut for the Americans. Ghana need to make up a difference of two goals in order to overtake the U.S., while Portugal are staring at a five-goal difference between themselves and the States.
First Place: Germany
Second Place: United States
Call it stubbornness, but I still think there's something to this Russia side we haven't seen yet. They're extremely tough to break down defensively when their goalkeeper isn't dropping the ball in their own net, while Aleksandr Kokorin is better than he's played so far.
Fabio Capello won't be taking any chances against Algeria, especially after the Fennec Foxes tore apart South Korea. He'll bunker in and hope to steal a goal.
Algeria aren't likely to take many chances themselves, as they can hold out for a draw and still advance.
Perhaps it's blind faith in a bad team, but Russia will earn a hard-fought 1-0 win against the Foxes and take second in Group H.
First Place: Belgium
Second Place: Russia