The 2014 World Cup group stages saw drama, controversy and a ton of goals. Following just a single day of rest, fans all over the globe can strap themselves in for the main event—the knockout stages.
It's the best thing in sports, with the 16 remaining nations going into every match knowing it can be their last. You either win, or you go home. Four victories is all you need to lift the World Cup trophy at the legendary Maracana stadium, but those four wins will be hard to come by.
Saturday's fixtures will be an all-South American affair, as hosts Brazil will play rivals Chile in the afternoon before Uruguay and Colombia face off in the evening. Let's have a look at some predictions for each of the two fixtures that will kick off the round of 16.
History Won't Mean A Thing When Chile And Brazil Meet
Hollywood couldn't have scripted it any better. Hosts Brazil have the pressure of an entire nation desperate for a World Cup win on their shoulders—Chile have been knocked out of the World Cup every time they've met Brazil in the past.
Yes, the Chileans will be extra motivated when they take on Brazil. Yes, the Brazilians know losing simply isn't an option. And no, it won't mean anything once the official blows the opening whistle.
Both of these teams are just too good to let historical tendencies influence what they do on the pitch. This isn't the same old Chilean team suffering from little-brother syndrome—with stars such as Arturo Vidal, Alexis Sanchez and Mauricio Isla, they have the talent to compete with any team in the world.
And they know it. That's the vital part. Chile have been wildly impressive during the World Cup so far, choosing to rest key players against the Netherlands in their final group stage fixture.
The Brazilians know it, too. As shared by Selecao Brasileira, star striker Neymar told reporters he had full confidence in his team, but he also admitted Chile have a very good team:
Neymar: "We are aware that Chile are a strong side but I can tell you that Brazil will enter the game with full confidence in our capacity."— Seleção Brasileira (@BrazilStats) June 24, 2014
Neymar: "Brazil is on the right track and keeps improving. Chile will be a hard game. There are no easy games anymore, at this high level."— Seleção Brasileira (@BrazilStats) June 23, 2014
Neither team can afford to focus on the history of these two teams, and more importantly—neither can allow that history to play any part in this fixture. Chile have to get over their Brazil complex—Brazil need to realise and accept the pressure to perform will be there in every match, no matter the opponents.
Losing Luis Suarez Can Be Uruguay's Downfall But Also Their Biggest Weapon
It seems impossible to even think losing one of the top strikers in the world to a lengthy suspension could somehow help a team, but in some cases, it can.
Via SportsCenter, Suarez has played his final minutes of the 2014 World Cup:
BREAKING: FIFA has suspended Luis Suárez for nine games and four months overall, including club matches. pic.twitter.com/9MASLNwssH— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 26, 2014
Some teams crumble when faced with adversity, but others rally and thrive. In 2006, the Italians were hit with one of the biggest match-fixing scandals the sport had seen in years, Calciopoli. No one gave two cents about the Azzurri's chances during the World Cup except for the players themselves.
The Italians used Calciopoli as fuel to grow as a team, and they put together one of their most dominant World Cup performances in history, conceding just twice on their way to a fourth title.
Uruguay's response to Suarez's ban has been one of total dismay, to the point the team is even considering not playing, per Vicky Davila (h/t to Rafael Hernandez):
Uruguay Representative claims the federation is considering not playing vs Colombia because of the Suárez ban. [@vickydavilalafm]— Rafael Hernández (@RafaelH117) June 26, 2014
There are two directions La Celeste can go from here: Fold, get hammered by an in-form Colombia team and go home blaming the world for your early exit, or use the anger over what you feel is an unfair punishment and put it to good use.
Football is about more than 22 guys kicking a ball. It's about passion, emotion and the will to win. Uruguay have a chance to turn this incident into something positive—whether they do or not will decide how their match against Colombia plays out.