The World Cup's knockout stages are on a unique level in sports when it comes to drama and excitement, and the 2014 edition has so far lived up to its billing. Favourites not even making it, penalty shootouts, dark horses defying the odds by qualifying—we've seen it all.
The full fixture schedule is set up to deliver even more drama. A full section of South American teams means only one of four can make it to the semi-finals, while one of Greece and Costa Rica will make lucky punters even happier by advancing to the quarter-final stages.
Brazil and Colombia have already made it so far, but one of the two will be packing their bags on Friday. The hosts were grand favourites coming into the tournament, but Colombia have surprised everyone by playing perhaps the best football we've seen so far.
France and Germany face off against two African sides in the other section of the bracket, and with both being heavy favourites in their round-of-16 ties, there's a strong possibility one of these European heavyweights will be facing Brazil or Colombia in the semi-finals.
The Whitehouse Address is already looking past the round of 16, though no one should overlook Algeria or Nigeria, who will both thrive in the role of underdogs:
The Netherlands, Mexico, Costa Rica and Greece make up the third section of the bracket, and most pundits will agree that one of these four will have the easiest path to the semi-finals, with the Dutch being favourites.
Neither Costa Rica nor Greece were expected to make it out of the group stage, and with nothing left to lose, both teams will be playing devoid of pressure the rest of the way.
El Tri field one of the best defences remaining in the tournament, and they will test the 2010 finalists when they meet on Sunday. Wins over Croatia and Cameroon were impressive, but the way they held the mighty Brazilians at bay is what really caught people's attention.
And then there's the final section, featuring favourites Argentina, Switzerland, Belgium and the USA. The Argentine squad are oozing with potential, but so far, their performances haven't lived up to the lofty expectations.
The same can be said for Belgium, who have used an excellent defence and strong finishes to matches to collect the maximum of points in the group stages.
Both teams are talented and would make for an exciting quarter-final matchup, but Switzerland and the USA have every chance of pulling a momentous upset when they take on their respective opponents.
Jurgen Klinsmann sounded very confident ahead of his team's clash with Belgium, via beIN Sports:
We have enough confidence now going into this game – a very special one, a knockout game – to say we are able to beat them. But we all know we have to go to our extreme and get 100 per cent in each player to make this happen. (Belgium are one) of the secret favourites in this World Cup because of the players, individual players, that they have.
We have absolutely no fear at all. We feel like we are in a position now to challenge (them). We believe we have built a foundation in our team that we are able to beat them.
Switzerland and the USA both have solid defences, lots of talent in midfield and the mental fortitude to overcome adversity. They're battle tested and ready for anything, so Argentina and Belgium had better be warned.
Brazil, Germany, the Netherlands and Argentina are the favourites to make it all the way to the semi-finals, but if there's one thing we've learned from this World Cup, it's that fans should expect the unexpected.
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