The business end of the 2014 World Cup has arrived. Group-stage action is out of the way, and the tension is ratcheted up as the first knockout round approaches.
The last 16 teams will be cut to eight, as loss signals elimination for the remainder of the tournament. Plenty of the big guns remain—Germany, Argentina, Brazil, Netherlands—while the likes of Costa Rica, Algeria and Greece are somewhat surprisingly still in the competition after terrific group-stage performances.
The knockout rounds are where quality has to show through, and with Brazil facing Chile in the first last-16 game on Saturday, the hosts know now is the time to produce.
Read on for full predictions for the round of 16 at this year's World Cup.
|June 28||5 p.m./Noon||Brazil vs. Chile||2-1|
|June 28||9 p.m./4 p.m.||Colombia vs. Uruguay||2-0|
|June 29||5 p.m./Noon||Netherlands vs. Mexico||3-1|
|June 29||9 p.m./4 p.m.||Costa Rica vs. Greece||2-1 AET|
|June 30||5 p.m./Noon||France vs. Nigeria||2-0|
|June 30||9 p.m./4 p.m.||Germany vs. Algeria||3-0|
|July 1||5 p.m./Noon||Argentina vs. Switzerland||3-1|
|July 1||9 p.m./4 p.m.||Belgium vs. USA||1-1 (USA on pens)|
Hosts to Advance
Brazil have not necessarily looked their best throughout the tournament, especially in their 3-1 opening win over Croatia, which saw them heavily favoured by the referee.
However, they seem to be getting into their rhythm, and a 4-1 thrashing of Cameroon in their final group game signalled a marked improvement from Luiz Felipe Scolari's side.
The African side were abject, per BBC's Farayi Mungazi:
Chile will present their toughest test yet—they downed Spain 2-0 in the group stage—but as long as talisman Neymar performs, Brazil should advance.
Colombia have been one of the form teams so far, winning 100 per cent of their group games, a feat only matched by the Netherlands, Argentina and Belgium.
Uruguay will likely be rocked after the Suarez debacle and are a far less threatening team without him. They were well beaten by Costa Rica in their opening game, also without Suarez, so little will be expected of them against this dangerous Colombian outfit.
The Dutch have been a real force so far in this tournament. Their 5-1 destruction of Spain in the Group B opener was one of the most surprising and impressive performances ever in a World Cup.
The pairing of Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie has been lethal and should prove too much for the Mexicans, but they will have to work hard to get past the impressive Guillermo Ochoa in goal, per BBC Sport:
Probably the most surprising last-16 tie of all is Greece against Costa Rica, neither of whom were expected to make it this far. The Costa Ricans looked the better side in the group stage, conceding just once, and they will be a mighty difficult challenge for the European side.
Joel Campbell continues to catch the eye up front, and, when it comes down to it, Costa Rica's more varied attack should edge what threatens to be an extremely tight fixture.
Belgium to Fall to USA
The much-fancied Belgians lived up to their billing by winning all three of their opening group games. However, the stats are somewhat misleading, as they laboured to wins over Algeria, Russia and South Korea.
Don't think the USA have *that* much to fear in Belgium. Obviously still underdogs, but a winnable tie. #usmnt— Graham Ruthven (@grahamruthven) June 26, 2014
In the USA, they come up against a well-drilled and organised side who made it out of a hugely challenging group that included Germany, Ghana and Portugal.
Belgium will struggle to break down the USA, and the Americans have a constant goal threat in Clint Dempsey.
None of the USA's matches have been settled by more than the odd goal, which means extra time and penalties could be on the cards. The USA look to have the bottle to reach the quarter-finals.
Algeria's World Cup road likely ends when they face a far superior German side, although the North African outfit have been exemplary in a historic campaign, per Sport360:
Switzerland have already failed against top opposition in the tournament—they lost 5-2 to France—and will need to improve when they come up against Argentina.
Their best bet is likely a staunch defensive display set up to hit Argentina on the break, but with Lionel Messi to contend with, the Swiss could well be undone.
Finally, France take on Nigeria knowing they should prevail if they can put in the kind of display they did against the Swiss and Honduras.
Didier Deschamps' side's final performance in a 0-0 draw with Ecuador was underwhelming, but it was all they needed to top the group. The likes of Karim Benzema, Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann should prove too much for the Nigerian defence.
Thus, looking ahead, Brazil and Colombia potentially clash for an all-South American quarter-final, while France against Germany is also a thrilling prospect for the last eight.
Poor performances will be punished now that the World Cup has reached the knockout stages, and by Tuesday, only eight teams will remain. Expect quality to prevail as the likes of Brazil and Argentina attempt to live up to their pre-tournament billing as favourites.