Day 17 of the 2014 World Cup featured two duels between South American rivals, and some of the best players in the tournament turned in fine performances to lead their respective teams to victory.
After 120 minutes of soccer couldn't determine a winner between Brazil and Chile, the host nation had to resort to penalty kicks to finally dispatch Chile and save its World Cup title dreams.
Brazil's David Luiz scored the game's first goal in the 18th minute of play. Chile's high-pressure style netted them an equalizer via the wonderful Alexis Sanchez in the 32nd minute. The score remained deadlocked at 1-1 for the remainder of the match.
Brazil eventually won 3-2 on penalties. Luiz, Marcelo and Neymar converted their kicks, while Julio Cesar came up big with saves on Chile's first two penalty kicks. Chile's Gonzalo Jara missed the team's fifth penalty kick, the ball striking the goal post, bouncing away from danger and ending his team's World Cup run.
Here is the winning moment, courtesy of ESPNFC:
The final penalty. Just watch » http://t.co/wRGjQpe2lL— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 28, 2014
Neymar—in addition to taking the winning penalty—was a strong attacking threat throughout the match, as per ESPN Stats & Info:
In the day's second match, Uruguay, without star striker Luis Suarez, were no match for a swashbuckling Colombian team.
James Rodriguez continued his brilliant World Cup form by scoring both goals for Colombia in its decisive 2-0 victory. He staked his claim for the goal of the tournament with an incredible volley in the first half. Enjoy the goal, via ESPNFC:
James Rodriguez's wonderstrike -- watch and be amazed » http://t.co/dQnOw9minQ— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 28, 2014
Rodriguez wasn't done, as he took the lead for the Golden Boot with a simple finish from just outside the six-yard box in the 50th minute of play.
Opta Jean pointed out just how ruthlessly efficient Rodriguez has been in this World Cup:
Here is the updated schedule and my predictions for the remaining round of 16 matches, as well as a preview of the matches to take place on Day 18.
|June 29||Netherlands vs. Mexico||12 p.m.||ESPN||NED 3-1 MEX|
|June 29||Costa Rica vs. Greece||4 p.m.||ESPN||CRA 1-0 GRE|
|June 30||France vs. Nigeria||12 p.m.||ESPN||FRA 4-2 NGA|
|June 30||Germany vs. Algeria||4 p.m.||ESPN||GER 3-1 ALG|
|July 1||Argentina vs. Switzerland||12 p.m.||ESPN||ARG 2-1 SUI|
|July 1||Belgium vs. United States||4 p.m.||ESPN||USA 2-2 BEL (USA win 4-3 penalties)|
The updated bracket for the World Cup can be found at FIFA.com.
Day 18 Preview, Predictions
Netherlands vs. Mexico
Netherlands has been one of the most fearsome attacking teams in the tournament, led by star players Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie. They put up 10 goals during the group stage, more than any other team in Brazil.
England legend Gary Lineker called Robben the best player of the group stages:
The best player of the World Cup group stage is Arjen Robben. He's been utterly outstanding!— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) June 23, 2014
Defense was supposed to be an issue for the Dutch in this tournament, but players like Daley Blind, Ron Vlaar and Bruno Martins Indi have been steadfast while providing excellent passes out of the back in buildup play. The Dutch have given up just three goals in three matches so far.
Mexico has its own weapons on defense. El Tri can generate attack from the back through Rafael Marquez. Squawka Football notes his excellent goal-scoring record at the World Cup:
Marquez will be public enemy No. 1 for the Dutch on set pieces; they can't afford to lose track of him in the box and allow him to use his aerial prowess to create havoc.
Dutch coach Louis Van Gaal has been tactically brilliant in this tournament; the team's 5-3-2 is a departure from the Netherlands' usual 4-3-3, but it has given the team great flexibility switching from defense to blistering counterattacks.
Former Danish footballer Frank Arnesen praised Van Gaal after the team's 5-1 demolition of Spain, via The Guardian's Stuart James:
I think it’s very, very brave of Van Gaal, because this is the holy system of the Dutch. To play with 5-3-2, which is really a defensive, counterattacking system, is unbelievable. He has shown that he has balls, and that he knows what he is doing, because they won 5-1.
Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa has been brilliant so far, but the defenders in front of him won't be able to keep up with the Netherlands' pace. The Oranje should come out of this with a fairly comfortable victory.
Prediction: Netherlands 3-1 Mexico
Costa Rica vs. Greece
Costa Ricans have to be ecstatic about their team's chances in this World Cup. Expected to finish at the bottom of a group featuring England, Uruguay and Italy, Costa Rica topped them all and now will take on a Greece side that has done little to distinguish themselves in this tournament.
Joel Campbell has been particularly stellar for Costa Rica. His vision, speed and strong shot have made him a constant threat for the upstart CONCACAF side.
Opta Joe pointed out his ability to bring the worst out of would-be defenders:
7 - Joel Campbell was fouled seven times against Uruguay - more often than any other player in the World Cup so far. Bruised.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) June 16, 2014
Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto has done an excellent job of organizing his team's defense; they were able to stymie Italy by putting pressure on Pirlo and prevented Uruguay from scoring from the run of play during the group stages.
Greece did just enough to beat Ivory Coast to earn a place in the knockout rounds; they will likely focus on their staunch defense to counter the likes of Campbell and Bryan Ruiz.
The team may not be playing well as a whole, but that doesn't stop captain Giorgos Karagounis from believing in his teammates.
We were the better team in the last match,” Karagounis said, via The Guardian's Paul Wilson. “Something in the heart of the Greeks makes us play against the odds.”
Greece won't be able to penetrate Costa Rica's back line in this one. For all their speed and attacking talent, Los Ticos will have trouble against Greece's defense as well, but they should be able to conjure up the goal they need to move on to the quarterfinals.
Prediction: Costa Rica 1-0 Greece