After yesterday's South American affair, Sunday's 2014 World Cup action will see two European teams take on members of CONCACAF, with the Netherlands facing off against Mexico and Greece playing Costa Rica in the round of 16.
Seeing the Dutch and Mexican sides advance to the knockout stages is hardly surprising, but few fans would have expected to see both Greece and Costa Rica still playing past the group stage.
At least one of these two underdogs will make it to the quarter-finals, a remarkable feat for both nations. And with Greece's solid back line and Costa Rica's opportunistic brand of football, there no reason not to believe in their chances to advance even further.
Let's have a look at some predictions for each of these matches, as well as full projections for the final scores.
The Netherlands Will Struggle With the Label of "Favourites."
Fans can praise the duo of Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben all they want, but the real architect behind the team's success is Louis van Gaal. Moving to a 5-3-2 system after Kevin Strootman went down with an injury was daring, and the immediate results during preparations weren't pretty.
Van Gaal stuck with it, however, and once the 2014 World Cup kicked off, the Dutch shone. Nevermind the fact Dutch football purists don't like seeing reaction football—the Netherlands are in the knockout stages, just two years after going winless at Euro 2012.
The future Manchester United coach doesn't care about style at this point—he cares about winning. He knows his team's strengths and weaknesses, and as he told reporters, he acts accordingly, per The Guardian's Owen Gibson:
You have to allow your squad to play according to the qualities they have. If I had tried to play 4-3-3 we would have been overrun by them. It’s all about winning. I want to win. I’m going to pick a system that will help me win. I believe that you have to create a strategy to win. The proof is in the pudding. It is nice for a coach to see it confirmed in the results. My group and my staff always want to score one goal more than the opponent.
The Dutch 5-3-2 formation is a defensive one, and in possession, the team has struggled. It's no coincidence their least convincing performance came against Australia. The Socceroos had no intention of using a high line against the Dutch, and a lack of space hurt them.
Mexico aren't going to press forward, either. El Tri are at their best when they can put players behind the ball and break quickly, similarly to the Dutch. But as underdogs, the onus won't be on them to make the match interesting.
The Netherlands have a good team, but they aren't built as an offensive juggernaut that wills its way to a victory. Against an organised Mexican squad, the Dutch will struggle in the role of favourites.
Projected Score: Netherlands 2-1 Mexico
The Path to the Semi-Finals Will Be Wide Open for Winners of Costa Rica v Greece
Who doesn't like a proper Cinderella run? I mean, apart from a number of analysts who would rather see the top teams battling it out, like ESPN FC's Miguel Delaney:
Delaney is referring to the great performances from teams like South Korea and Turkey in 2002, with both teams surprisingly making it to the semi-finals. Two years later, the Greeks would stun the world by winning Euro 2004 with a defensive, reaction football-based system teams simply didn't have an answer for.
Every tournament needs at least one team like this—a comparative football dwarf sticking it to the top nations. Fans love it, and it adds an element of unpredictability you just can't script.
The good news for Costa Rica and Greece is their World Cup bid doesn't necessarily have to end in the quarter-finals. The winner of this match will play the winner of the Netherlands v Mexico, and as detailed above, neither team is really comfortable in the role of favourites.
As far as upsets go, a quarter-final match against one of Mexico or the Netherlands is probably the best matchup an underdog could hope for. Of Course the Dutch and El Tri are more talented—that's the whole point.
Italy, Uruguay, England, Japan and Ivory Coast were also more talented. But they all had one thing in common—they were favourites, and they couldn't get it done.
Will one of Costa Rica or Greece make it all the way to the semi-finals? Maybe, maybe not. Do they have an excellent chance to make it that far? Absolutely, and casual fans of the sport couldn't be happier.
Projected Score: Costa Rica 0-0 Greece, match to be decided in extra time.
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