The drama of the World Cup 2014’s group stage barely gave us a moment to pause for breath over the last two weeks, and while the groups are now all settled, the heart-stopping excitement is set to continue in the round of 16.
Brazil has served up a tournament like no other so far, with shock results, controversy both on and off the pitch and, of course, fantastic football.
Crunch time of the World Cup is now upon us, and with eight huge fixtures on the way from Saturday to Tuesday, we take a look at which teams have what it takes to continue their World Cup dream and take an in-depth look at two nations that could go the distance.
|June 28||Brazil vs. Chile||Brazil 1-2 Chile||BBC One/ABC|
|June 28||Colombia vs. Uruguay||Colombia 3-1 Uruguay||ITV1/ABC|
|June 29||Netherlands vs. Mexico||Netherlands 1-0 Mexico||ITV1/ESPN|
|June 29||Costa Rica vs. Greece||Costa Rica 2-1 Greece||ITV1/ESPN|
|June 30||France vs. Nigeria||France 3-2 Nigeria||BBC One/ESPN|
|June 30||Germany vs. Algeria||Germany 2-0 Algeria||ITV1/Univision|
|July 1||Argentina vs. Switzerland||Argentina 2-1 Switzerland||BBC One/Univision|
|July 1||Belgium vs. USA||Belgium 1-2 USA||BBC One/Univision|
Colombia Not to be Underestimated
Many people have been surprised by the brilliance of Colombia so far in Brazil, but they really shouldn’t be, as manager Jose Pekerman has put together a quite formidable squad.
Three wins from three in Group C, including convincing victories against Greece and Japan, has put Colombia within a game of their best-ever performance at a World Cup, and the praise has been coming in thick and fast—including from Gary Lineker:
Colombia are a delight to watch.— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) June 19, 2014
Standing in their way of reaching the quarter-finals for the first time in their history are Uruguay, who will be without their star man, Luis Suarez, in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday.
Suarez’s tournament came to an end after FIFA issued him a four-month ban from football following an alleged bite on Giorgio Chiellini, per BBC Sport, and it’s clear that the Uruguayans will miss their hitman.
In their opening 3-1 loss to Costa Rica, Uruguay looked incredibly flat without the Liverpool striker up front, and they simply ran out of ideas. When he returned against England, though, it was clear just how much he contributes to Uruguay’s cause.
With two goals and a performance that caused shockwaves in the tournament, it looked like Suarez was going to reverse his bad boy image in Brazil, but his madness put him right back to square one.
Which nation will progress to the World Cup 2014 quarter-finals?
Colombia will be rubbing their hands at the prospect of facing a Suarez-less Uruguay, though they would have the class in their outfit to get past the Uruguayans even if there were 11 of him on the pitch.
James Rodriguez has arguably been the sensation of the tournament so far, finding the net in each of Colombia’s group matches, and being a hot favourite among fans—per The Sun–Football:
Your player of the tournament so far looks like it's James Rodriguez – just registering more votes than Arjen Robben pic.twitter.com/82OCqh5Pws— The Sun - Football (@TheSunFootball) June 25, 2014
He’s also been pretty popular with his teammates, understandably, and striker Jackson Martinez told Colombian newspaper El Tiempo that he’s very impressed with the Monaco man—per FIFA.com:
“It's impressive to see how James has improved. I knew him from FC Porto and I see that now in France he has matured so much. The talent he has is something that cannot be questioned. He is having a great tournament.”
With Rodriguez in form and the players around him equally impressive, Colombia are looking good to reach the quarter-finals and continue their outstanding form as we approach the tournament’s climax in Brazil.
Prediction: Colombia 3-1 Uruguay
USA to be World Cup Surprise Package
Though the daunting task of facing Belgium awaits the USA in the round of 16, the Americans’ group stage proved that they’re more than ready for the challenge.
Deemed the “group of death” by many, the USA navigated through Group G in style and deservedly booked their place in the knockout stage as runners-up to Germany.
A win, a draw and a loss doesn’t look fantastic on paper, but it’s the way that Jurgen Klinsmann’s side went about their business against world-class opposition that will have given USA fans cause for optimism.
An attacking style with a solid defensive line gives any team a chance of success, and USA have just that, with Clint Dempsey being their stand-out performer of the group stage.
Dempsey has rolled back the years in Brazil, scoring two of the USA’s four goals with strong performances to boot. The 31-year-old now has Belgium firmly in his sights, a team that are yet to get going in Brazil.
So much was promised of Belgium before the tournament got underway, and though they managed three group-stage victories out of three, they would have come unstuck against better opposition.
The USA are that better opposition, and while they don’t harbour the star-studded outfit that the Belgians do, they’re one of the most determined units at the World Cup.
Legend of the U.S. game, DaMarcus Beasley echoed such a sentiment while talking with FIFA.com, saying that his side are more prepared than ever to mount a charge for the trophy:
Now that we’re in to the knockout rounds it’s one and done. We want to take it to the next level now. You’re getting a lot of weird results in this Cup. Anything can happen. We have depth now that we didn’t have before. We like to keep the ball. We have players in Europe and playing in big clubs.
Beasley will be in charge of keeping Belgium’s impressive front line quiet, but they haven’t exactly been at their loudest so far.
Marc Wilmots’ men have scored just four tournament goals in Brazil, scraping to narrow victories against their Group H counterparts in the process.
Though they’re a team to be feared, Klinsmann will set his side up to ignore the hype and just play the kind of football that’s already gotten them this far.
If the USA manage to break down the Belgians with their fluid playing style and find some goals, Wilmots’ side could be in trouble in Salvador.
It looks like it's coming down to a battle of the defences in the final round of 16 match of the tournament, and while the USA may not be better off in terms of personnel, they’re a much better unit.
All they need to do is find their way to goal and keep their roller-coaster World Cup going.
Prediction: Belgium 1-2 USA