Just when you thought your pulse could return to its normal rate after the thrilling group stage in Brazil, the round of 16 kicked off.
Saturday saw Brazil sneak past Chile on penalties before Colombia disposed of Uruguay to book their respective places in the quarter-finals, and two more mouth-watering ties are on the way on Sunday.
Netherlands and Mexico kick things off in Fortaleza, in a tie that’s expected to go down to the wire, before the round of 16’s surprise packages, Costa Rica and Greece, meet in Recife.
Day 18 promises to be another World Cup 2014 day to remember, but has there really been a day to forget yet? Here we take a look at the match odds for each game and analyse how the ties could play out.
|Netherlands vs. Mexico||Estadio Castelao, Fortaleza||5 p.m. BST/12 p.m. ET||Netherlands: 27-25, Draw: 5-2, Mexico: 3-1||1-1|
|Costa Rica vs. Greece||Arena Pernambuco, Recife||9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET||Costa Rica: 3-2, Draw: 2-2, Greece: 23-10||2-0|
Netherlands vs. Mexico
Though the Netherlands breezed through Group B with three wins out of three, they’ll have their work cut out making it four against the Mexicans—a side that teams underestimate at their peril.
Manager Miguel Herrera has forged the Mexicans into a formidable unit and the fact that they’ve conceded just one goal in the tournament so far speaks volumes.
Combine their stubborn defence with a lethal attacking line and you have a team destined for greatness at the World Cup, though their last five tournaments have ended at the round of 16.
However, Mexico have more than enough class to end that run on Sunday, and winger Andres Guardado says that his side are more determined than ever to reach the quarter-finals, per FIFA.com:
We’ve already played three difficult games, particularly against Brazil—another one of the favourites. But we’re not going to lower our expectations—we're still hoping to make Mexican football history. We’re going to go toe-to-toe [with the Netherlands], we’re going to make their life difficult and prove to them that Mexico are no pushovers. We’ll be gunning for a place in the next round, that’s what we all really want.
Guardado has been one of Mexico’s standout performers in Brazil so far and found the net against Croatia in their final Group A match to end a personal goal drought, per WhoScored.com:
Andrés Guardado: Has scored his first goal for club or country since May 2013 (vs Rayo Vallecano) #mex— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) June 23, 2014
While Guardado has been impressive, he’s not the only one, as there have been phenomenal performances all over the pitch for Mexico.
The most notable performer of all is Hector Herrera, whose displays in central midfield have earned him endless praise, including some from Rio Ferdinand:
If I'm a manager right now&needed a midfielder who isn't going to cost a bomb Mexico's Herrera would be top of the shopping list! Impressive— Rio Ferdinand (@rioferdy5) June 23, 2014
Herrera will be in charge of dictating the tempo of the game against the Dutch and could have a crucial say on proceedings with a gritty match expected.
However, he’ll have his work cut out against Netherlands, who boast two of the tournament’s top scorers in their ranks, Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie.
Robben, in particular, has been nothing short of sensational at the World Cup so far, scoring three goals and finding his best form on the big stage.
Naturally, the plaudits have been coming in thick and fast for the Bayern Munich star, who Mexico desperately need to keep quiet to stand any chance of progression.
The best player of the World Cup group stage is Arjen Robben. He's been utterly outstanding!— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) June 23, 2014
On paper, this tie looks like being one-sided in favour of the Dutch, but that’s far from the case when Mexico are involved.
Just two days into the round of 16, we could see another match go all the way to penalties, as there’s just no separating these sides.
Prediction: Netherlands 1-1 Mexico
Costa Rica vs. Greece
The Costa Ricans defied all the odds to reach the last 16 of the World Cup, but that rather sums up exactly what the tournament has been about: shocks.
Two wins and a draw against Uruguay, Italy and England respectively saw them top Group D and set up a favourable clash against the Greeks in the round of 16.
History beckons for Jorge Luis Pinto’s side, and the manager said that his players must “think big” ahead of their clash with Greece but remained full of praise for Fernando Santos’ men, per FIFA.com:
We have to think realistically, but we have to think big. But first things first. Let's concentrate on Greece first and try to win that. Perhaps they didn't do well against Colombia (they lost 3-0), and against Cote d'Ivoire they only got the victory in the final minutes, but they will come onto the pitch aggressively and technically they're very good. They don't have many shortcomings. They can also play a very complex counter-attacking game.
Greece are famous for sneaking their noses in front and hanging on for the victory, but Costa Rica proved over the group stage that they can easily handle such a threat.
Pinto’s men are yet to concede a goal from open play, keeping clean sheets against the fearsome opposition of Italy and England and impressed many with their attacking style of play, including Kaka, per Eurosport’s Reda Maher:
Though breaking down Greece is quite a task at times, having the likes of Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell to call upon should see Costa Rica handle it with minimal fuss.
However, the Greeks aren’t to be underestimated, and despite sneaking into the knockout stage by the skin of their teeth, they’re there for a reason.
Santos will set his side up looking to withstand the Costa Rica pressure and catch them on the counter-attack, and as Euro 2004 taught us, anything is possible when Greece are involved.
That being said, Costa Rica’s no-nonsense approach to defending means that Greece will have a hard time finding a way past the men from Central America.
For Costa Rica, though, it seems that their exciting journey is set to continue into the last eight, where you’d be unwise to bet against them defying the odds once again.
Prediction: Costa Rica 2-0 Greece