Predicting the World Cup Round of 16 Fixtures
The 2014 World Cup has so far delivered on its promise to be one of the best international tournaments ever, with numerous upsets and high-scoring games. The first knockout round has thrown up some fascinating matches, with plenty of room to upset the odds.
Here's our predictions for how the round of 16 may play out.
Brazil vs. Chile
Arguably the hardest to call of all the knockout round matches, the first game pits the hosts Brazil against their South American neighbours Chile.
Brazil entered the tournament as early favourites, however they’ve had things far from their own way. A highly controversial win in their opener against Croatia was followed by a frustrating draw with Mexico, before they finally appeared to find their rhythm with a 4-1 victory over a poor Cameroon side.
However, Chile are likely to provide arguably their sternest test yet. One of the reasons this World Cup was so eagerly anticipated was the lack of a clear favourite, which many saw as opening the door to a number of dark horses. Of those, Chile have performed the best, comprehensively knocking holders Spain out and comfortably beating Australia.
If Brazil play to the level they’re capable of, they should have too much for Chile. However, it’s very tough to write off Jorge Sampaoli’s team, particularly if Brazil find themselves toiling under the weight of expectation again.
Colombia vs. Uruguay
Uruguay’s last match qualification from Group D should have been cause for celebration, yet once again Luis Suarez stole the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Now without their banned talisman, La Celeste must struggle on—and the prognosis isn’t good.
Uruguay looked little short of atrocious in their first match, a 3-1 loss to Costa Rica, which they played without the Liverpool striker. Their victory over England was an improvement, but it was a game that could have gone either way, particularly had Suarez not featured—he scored both goals with Uruguay’s only two efforts on target.
Colombia, on the other hand, have looked imperious, winning all three of their group games and scoring nine goals in the process. In an interesting contrast to Uruguay, Colombia appear to have come to terms with the loss of their star man, Radamel Falcao. If the form book holds true, there’s only one winner here.
Netherlands vs. Mexico
The Dutch produced one of the performances of the tournament in their opening match, demolishing Spain 5-1 and emphatically answering the questions surrounding La Roja’s ability to retain football’s greatest prize.
With both Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie at their prolific best, the Netherlands have scored ten goals and look potent enough to find the net at will. However, their defence has looked slightly suspect, with Aston Villa’s Ron Vlaar in particular often walking the tightrope of last-ditch defending.
Standing between them and a quarter-final berth is Mexico, who qualified for the tournament by virtue of a play-off victory over New Zealand. While few gave them a chance in their group given the strength of Brazil and Croatia, they’ve defended stoically, conceding just one goal and holding Brazil to a goalless draw. However, the explosive Dutch attack should have too much for El Tri.
Costa Rica vs. Greece
Costa Rica have been without doubt the biggest surprise of this World Cup. Few gave them any chance of picking up a point from a group containing three former World Cup winners, let alone winning it. However wins against Uruguay and Italy and a draw against England where they never needed to get out of second gear have established them as something of a wild card in the knockout stage.
Relying like so many sides in the tournament on rapid counter-attacks, the Central Americans have combined this approach with a tireless work ethic.
In their way are Greece, into the knockout stage for the first time in their history. Their successful navigation of the group stage was a surprise given their 3-0 humbling at the hands of Colombia in their first game, but they came good when it mattered.
Scoring has been Greece's Achilles' heel, but against Ivory Coast they managed two and struck the woodwork twice. With their momentum building, coupled with Costa Rica's lack of experience, the Europeans look to be slight favourites.
Nigeria vs. France
Nigeria are arguably the weakest team in the knockout stages, having qualified largely by virtue of Iran and Bosnia’s shortcomings. Ahmed Musa’s brace in the spirited 3-2 loss to Argentina masked their lack of firepower in front of goal, and while they kept two clean sheets, the first time they came up against a truly world class front line they looked shaky.
Unfortunately, for the only African side to reach the second stage of the competition, their opponents France have proven to have just such an attack. The pre-tournament loss of Franck Ribery cast major doubts over France’s chances, but they have proven their doubters wrong in emphatic fashion. Karim Benzema in particular has been in superb form.
Historically, France's worst enemy has been themselves, with the last World Cup descending into farce for Les Bleus. However this time around, with disruptive influences like Samir Nasri excluded from the squad and a much better working relationship between players and coach, France look a different team entirely.
This could well prove to be the most one-sided tie of the round.
Germany vs. Algeria
Algeria are another team that few would have backed at the start of the tournament, but their 1-1 draw with Russia saw them qualify alongside Belgium. Unfortunately for the North Africans, who find themselves in the knockout round for the first time in the country’s history, they’re coming up against a German team who are living up to their pre-tournament expectations.
Algeria’s game has been based around high tempo pressing. While this has succeeded in forcing errors from the teams in their group, Germany are notoriously unflappable in possession, and will have no problem soaking up any pressure before launching counter attacks.
As spirited as Algeria have been, it’s hard to see past Germany for this one.
Argentina vs. Switzerland
The Swiss came into the World Cup with high expectations; they'd qualified well, were ranked sixth in the world by FIFA and in Ottmar Hitzfeld they had one of the most experienced international coaches on the planet.
However, they were largely disappointing in their first two games, struggling past a relatively mediocre Ecuador side courtesy of a last minute goal before being demolished 5-2 by a rampant France. Their comprehensive 3-0 win over Honduras (who failed to earn a single point) will have settled the nerves somewhat, but there were some who expected the Swiss to be a little more convincing.
Their opponents Argentina are similar in the sense that they have perhaps failed to live up to their lofty billing. They did win all their group matches, but all by a one goal margin, which was surprising given they boast the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain up front.
It will be an interesting match-up, but given the ease that the French penetrated the Swiss defence, you’d have to back the Argentinians. That said, their own defensive frailties and the form of Xherdan Shaqiri mean this could well prove to be a high scoring affair.
Belgium vs. USA
Belgium were another side that came into the tournament with big expectations thanks to their bevy of international stars, led by Vincent Kompany and Eden Hazard. While three wins from three certainly looks impressive on paper, all three were by a one goal margin, with the team relying on their strong defence.
None of the performances screamed confidence, and while many would have backed them to come out on top in this fixture before the World Cup began, now there are question marks. If Hazard is able to play at the level he’s capable of, he will be critical to their chances.
The US, under the seasoned guidance of Jurgen Klinsmann, have looked strong, and were immensely unlucky to draw with Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in their second group game. While Belgium have the individual talent, the US have excellent team chemistry and the momentum to spring an upset.