Costa Rica is the focal point of the 2014 World Cup, as expected.
Alright, that's a slight (gross) exaggeration, but the festivities in Brazil have been anything but predictable as things head into the knockout stage.
Sixteen teams remain, but gone are the likes of England, Italy, Portugal and defending champions Spain. In are sides such as Costa Rica, Greece and more.
As one can expect, the teams left in the fray have thrown the odds into an upheaval. Anything goes, and those who made a risky bet on an underdog before the tournament began are surely thrilled at the potential payout.
Here is the Round of 16 schedule, updated odds and more.
|June 28||5 p.m./Noon||Brazil vs. Chile||Brazil 2, Chile 1|
|June 28||9 p.m./4 p.m.||Colombia vs. Uruguay||Colombia 2, Uruguay 1|
|June 29||5 p.m./Noon||Netherlands vs. Mexico||Netherlands 4, Mexico 2|
|June 29||9 p.m./4 p.m.||Costa Rica vs. Greece||Costa Rica 3, Greece 1|
|June 30||5 p.m./Noon||France vs. Nigeria||France 4, Nigeria 3|
|June 30||9 p.m./4 p.m.||Germany vs. Algeria||Germany 1, Algeria 0|
|July 1||5 p.m./Noon||Argentina vs. Switzerland||Argentina 2, Switzerland 0|
|July 1||9 p.m./4 p.m.||Belgium vs. USA||USA 1, Belgium 0|
Note: Odds courtesy of Vegas Insider.
Underrated Matchups to Watch
France vs Nigeria
Often hailed as an outsider to win it all, and a punchline just a few years ago, coach Didier Deschamps has France in a position to make a deep run.
After a combined 8-2 score in wins over Honduras and Switzerland, Deschamps made six changes to the side against Ecuador. The result was a scoreless draw, but, more importantly, he ensured his team is fresh with survival on the line.
France will need all of the firepower it can get against Nigeria and Ahmed Musa, who became the first Nigerian player to ever score two goals in the same World Cup game during his team's 3-2 loss to Argentina, as captured by BBC Sport:
The rest of fullbacks Mathieu Debuchy and Patrice Evra will do much to counter Musa on paper, but his ability to move around Argentina's alignment speaks well to his overall form.
By all accounts, this match should offer plenty of scoring. But Deschamps offers that it is simply nice to be in on the action in front of fans with so many other major countries already back home, as captured by The Associated Press, via Fox News:
Some big teams have gone out but we're still here. It's been a quality World Cup and you needed to be at your best to qualify. It's great that our fans are euphoric. There were more than 10,000 of them (at the Maracana stadium on Wednesday). People need to feel this support, this fervor. They want to encourage the team.
As long as France can resume its past form while on fresh legs, Deschamps and Co. should be able to keep the ball rolling.
Prediction: France 4, Nigeria 3
Costa Rica vs. Greece
Like everyone thought, Costa Rica is through Group D, which consisted of Uruguay, Italy and England.
Tom Marshall of ESPN put it best:
Who had Costa Rica vs. Greece in their Round of 16 World Cup bracket? Winner of that plays winner of Mexico vs. Netherlands in quarters.— Tom Marshall (@mexicoworldcup) June 24, 2014
Coach Jorge Luis Pinto had his side playing at a fast clip through the first two matches, a 3-1 win over Uruguay followed by a 1-0 win over Italy. They then tied England, but had clearly taken the foot off the pedal against a side already eliminated.
Pinto spoke recently about expectations and why his side's performance is not a surprise to those involved, per James Young of Sports Illustrated:
Which team wins?
“We expected to win the World Cup,” he said, when asked if he had felt optimistic before the tournament. “Everybody thinks they are going to win the World Cup at the start. Then after the Italy game, our confidence started to grow.”
The path was much more difficult for coach Fernando Santos' club, but the expectations were surely the same despite their "sleeper" status. A bad 3-0 loss to Colombia was followed by a draw with Japan, only to see the side turn things around late with a 2-1 triumph over Ivory Coast.
The difference when these two sides meet? Costa Rica have converted scoring opportunities while led by energetic stars such as Cristian Gamboa. To add to that, they have conceded just one goal so far. Meanwhile, Greece struggled with scoring throughout and needed a late surge to make it to this point.
With nothing to suggest the Greek squad has turned a corner, expect Costa Rica to keep the miracle run alive.
Prediction: Costa Rica 3, Greece 1