B/R Experts' World Cup Predictions: Plotting the Bracket
The World Cup has reached the end of the group stage and Bleacher Report's experts have made their predictions on how they think the knockout phase will pan out, all the way up to the final at the Maracana.
Check out the following slides to see how they feel the bracket will play out and if there will be one or two surprises along the way.
By my count, we have seven excellent teams left in the competition and a few very, very unpredictable outfits who could yet spoil the party.
Picking a winner at this point is near-impossible, but I'm willing to back Colombia, who look exceptionally strong and offered the most convincing performances during the group stage.
I can see them beating my pre-tournament pick Brazil in the quarterfinal, negotiating a tricky semifinal against Germany and shocking the world in the final against Argentina.
The Netherlands shouldn't be ignored, but 2014 is not the year a European team finally wins the World Cup on South/Central American soil.
I'm picking two major shocks in the round of 16. I think the USA are strong enough to beat Belgium, who haven't really impressed me thus far. They're less than the sum of their parts; the USA are the opposite.
I'm also going for Switzerland to pull off a monumental upset against Argentina, who I think have weaknesses at the back. Greece will scrap past Costa Rica, with the Dutch easing past Mexico.
In the quarters, Brazil-Colombia will go all the way to penalties, with the hosts taking it. Netherlands will be too strong for Greece, with France pulling off a huge win against Germany thanks to the inspired Karim Benzema. Switzerland's miracle run continues with victory against the USA.
The Swiss will finally be broken by the Dutch in the semis, with France falling to Brazil in a repeat of the 1998 World Cup final. That leaves the Netherlands and Brazil to compete in the most attractive of 2014 finals, which I expect Brazil to win with a flourish.
Once your nation has dropped out, many people look to pick a second favourite. Being the hosts, being the favourites and being Brazil, with all the romanticism and history that comes with it, lots of people are probably going to head that way.
Judging by performances so far, though, lots of people are going to be disappointed. Chile have it in them to beat Brazil, though it really could go either way, but so far Brazil don’t look like having enough to break down Colombia—or at least, not more often than Colombia could break Brazil down.
Before the tournament started people were wondering if European sides wouldn’t fare too well; in part that has been the case, but the most impressive sides so far overall have been European and three of them, France or Germany on one side of the draw and Netherlands on the other, suddenly look to have a clear route to the final.
It won’t happen for two nations though and you’ve got to think Argentina, with the attacking ability available to them, could click into gear with fairly straightforward matches to come. To win it in Brazil, Argentina will hope it is “written in the stars” or whatever—but that doesn’t really mean anything at all.
France have looked the better side, have great depth in their squad, look an extremely together outfit and they’re playing the best offensive football at the finals. Keep that up and they could celebrate another World Cup win.
The Brazil-Argentina final is the obvious conclusion—and perhaps the one every neutral is clamouring for—but football has a funny way of denying you what you want. Partly because they have a tougher route, but mainly just to be a bit contrary, I fear Brazil will slip up somewhere along the way; possibly against Chile (who have pushed them close in a couple of recent meetings), but most likely in the quarter-finals against Colombia.
In the other part of that draw I can see both European sides progressing, and I just think France have shown more pace and power in midfield than Germany so far and might just overrun them in that area, assuming they come into the game in the same form they showed during the group stages. Their attacking strength may then be enough to overturn Colombia, who look a bit suspect at the back, delivering them to the final in surprise fashion.
On the other side of the draw I can see the US edging out Belgium in extra-time or even on penalties, but Argentina should romp into the semi-finals whoever they face. Netherlands, similarly, should have too much for Nigeria and Costa Rica (or Greece), but surely they will not be able to stop Lionel Messi returning to the Maracana, where his tournament started.
Finals are always hard to predict, but Argentina might just nick a close one. Even if it is against Brazil (let's face it, it's probably going to be against Brazil).
When it began, this was the World Cup of utter unpredictability. Goals flowed. Attacking play reigned. Pedigree counted for little. Comebacks became almost expected. Costa Rica, of all teams, won their group ahead of three former World Cup winners, while more fancied sides like Spain, England and Italy all went home early.
Toward the end of the group stage, another pattern started to emerge. Whether or not their teams were playing well, the big stars were beginning to dominate. After the group stage, there are no bigger stars left in the tournament than Neymar and Lionel Messi.
It's possible that this World Cup could come down to which superstar performs better on the big stage. Brazil have the advantage of playing at home, but I'm going with Messi and Argentina.
Just before the end of the group stage, we started to see the brilliant, unstoppable Messi we've all come to appreciate in recent years. If Messi plays like Messi can, he's good enough to carry Argentina to the title.