With the round of 16 halfway through, the 2014 World Cup is getting closer to decreasing the list of contenders to just eight as we approach the quarterfinals.
But there are still eight teams that will vie for four spots on Monday and Tuesday, with Groups E, F, G and H sending their top two finishers into some enticing knockout-round matches.
Three round-robin matches in the group stage meant there was plenty to play for all along, but now, simply everything is on the line for these nations. A win and they're into the quarterfinals; a loss and they're catching the next flight out of Brazil.
Let's break down how the World Cup bracket looks entering Day 19, with two knockout matches on tap.
|Round of 16 Fixtures + Results|
|Sat., June 28||Brazil 1-1 (3-2 pen.) Chile||-||-|
|Sat., June 28||Colombia 2-0 Uruguay||-||-|
|Sun., June 29||Netherlands 2-1 Mexico||-||-|
|Sun., June 29||Costa Rica 1-1 (5-3) Greece||-||-|
|Mon., June 30||France vs. Nigeria||12 p.m.||ESPN|
|Mon., June 30||Germany vs. Algeria||4 p.m.||ESPN|
|Tues., July 1||Argentina vs. Switzerland||12 p.m.||ESPN|
|Tues., July 1||Belgium vs. United States||4 p.m.||ESPN|
Highlighted matches have not yet been played
Full Bracket: An interactive, updated bracket can be found at FIFA.com.
Day 19 Matches
France vs. Nigeria
Through three matches in Brazil, France look like a shell of their old selves that sputtered out of the 2010 World Cup. And that's a very good thing for the French.
After a woeful performance in South Africa, France have been one of the most convincing teams thus far in Brazil. Their 8-0 drubbing of Jamaica in their final friendly was no fluke; they went on to outscore their opponents 8-2 in the group stage, which included a scoreless draw.
But up next in the knockout stage could be their toughest opponent yet. Nigeria only won one of their three group-stage matches, but it came against Bosnia-Herzegovina, and they mightily tested Argentina in a 3-2 loss.
However, France believe they're ready:
There were plenty of question marks surrounding the French entering this World Cup, with Franck Ribery out and some of the team's best players struggling with international form. But none have been more impactful than Karim Benzema.
The Real Madrid striker scored twice in France's World Cup opener, once more in their 5-2 win over Switzerland and has a real shot at winning the Golden Boot should France continue to advance.
Squawka Football noted his recent dominance:
France's chances of getting past Nigeria revolve around much more than Benzema, however. Unless the French attack runs wild and scores at will, they'll also need to shut down a potent Nigerian attack.
Ahmed Musa is a big reason why. The Nigerian scored twice against Argentina, and not only were those two of the only three goals Argentina gave up all group stage, but it also put him level in the record books, as per ESPN Stats & Information:
Both teams have potent attacks that have a number of key contributors and one premium goalscorer. That will require the back lines to stay alert and be quick to cut out any penetration.
The potential for quarterfinal intrigue will remain high regardless of which side comes out on top. Should France advance like they're expected—Odds Shark has them at 1-2 favorites—they could end up meeting old rival Germany in the quarters.
But if Nigeria pull the upset, there remains a chance it could be an all-African showdown should Algeria find a way to upset Die Mannschaft.
Germany vs. Algeria
As expected, the Germans got through Group G on top, winning the Group of Death. But not as expected, their round-of-16 opponent could give them trouble despite hailing from a weak Group H.
Algeria advanced to face Germany after an exciting group stage. They led Belgium before the favorites came back and topped them in the first match, topped South Korea convincingly 4-2 and scored a late goal to draw Russia and get into the round of 16 for the first time in the nation's history.
They're filled with confidence after advancing and think anything is possible against the Germans:
Although Algeria have just 10-1 odds of advancing past the Germans, per Odds Shark, one of the top World Cup favorites is not taking their opponent lightly. Germany head coach Joachim Low had the following to say to Goal.com's Mark Doyle:
'Knockout games have a magic about them,' he told reporters on Saturday. 'We'll be full of confidence, but it would be a big mistake to think it will be easy.
'We've delivered so far. We're essentially happy, but we know that we can play better.'
Germany might be coming off three matches in the Group of Death, but Algeria are also battle-tested and faced adversity to get out of their group. It would be foolish at best to write them off, which it doesn't appear that the Germans are doing.
Algeria can score goals in bunches as shown in their South Korea affair, but netting goals will be easier said than done against Germany's stout defense that has two clean sheets thus far.
Still, there's no reason to completely count out the heavy underdogs.
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