Day 17 of the 2014 World Cup continued the tournament's penchant for late-game drama, as it took a two-goal comeback in one match and penalty kicks in the other to decide which of the four teams in action would go on to play another day.
Wesley Sneijder and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scored two late goals to give the Netherlands a thrilling, come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Mexico in the day's first match.
Mexico and the Netherlands were in an attacking mood from the very beginning of the match, but neither side could break through in the first 45 minutes.
El Tri notched the first goal with a sumptuous strike from Giovani Dos Santos in the 48th minute. ESPN FC has the clip:
The Netherlands moved to a more attack-minded 4-3-3 formation, but they couldn't beat keeper Guillermo Ochoa until Sneijder finally broke through with a thumping shot in the 88th minute.
Arjen Robben quickly followed Sneijder's goal with a dangerous run into the box that drew a late challenge from Rafael Marquez and earned the Netherlands a penalty.
Huntelaar, a late substitute for Robin van Persie, buried the penalty kick in stoppage time, and the Dutch held on for the shocking victory. ESPN FC has the highlight of the winning moment:
After 120 minutes of play, with the score tied at 1-1, 10-man Costa Rica finally defeated Greece 5-3 on penalty kicks to reach the quarterfinals for the first time in the nation's history.
Costa Rica and Greece didn't look up to the task of following the thrilling Netherlands-Mexico game. The first 45 minutes were dull, with neither team able to make key passes in the final third.
It's telling that the most notable highlight of the first 45 minutes was a point-blank save of a Dimitrios Salpingidis volley by Costa Rica keeper Keylor Navas. Bleacher Report UK has the highlight of the incredible kick save:
Salpingidis' chance was just one of two shots on target for Greece after the first half of play. Costa Rica didn't put a single shot on frame, as Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz looked particularly out of sync.
Los Ticos took a 1-0 lead just after the restart thanks to Ruiz's slow strike from just outside the box.
Costa Rica played much better after the goal but went down to 10 men after Oscar Duarte received a second yellow card for a reckless challenge in the 66th minute.
Greece continued their run of scoring at the death, as Sokratis Papastathopoulos hit an equalizer just seconds into stoppage time to tie the game at 1-1, temporarily dashing Costa Rica's quarterfinal hopes.
The game eventually went to penalty kicks, and a brilliant Navas save made the difference, as Costa Rica buried all five of their shots to win the match and continue their fairytale run in this tournament.
Here is the updated round-of-16 schedule, complete with predictions for the remaining matches in the round.
|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)|
An interactive bracket can be found at FIFA.com.
Preview, Predictions for Day 18
France vs. Nigeria
France have been one of the strongest teams from top to bottom in this tournament and will look to continue their form against Nigeria.
Olivier Giroud and Karim Benzema have alternated as the focal point of France's attack, with the latter's willingness to move out wide when Giroud comes on, giving France the ability to throw multiple looks at their opponents.
Morgan Schneiderlin and Paul Pogba have been excellent midfield linchpins for France; Schneiderlin was particularly effective against Ecuador, as noted by Squawka Football:
PASS MAP: Morgan Schneiderlin looks at home in a France shirt. 93% pass accuracy, 1 chance created, 1 interception. pic.twitter.com/DTPxXI5dff— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 25, 2014
Les Bleus haven't been slouches on defense either, giving up just two goals in the group stages.
Ahmed Musa will look to spearhead the attack for Nigeria; he was fearless going toe-to-toe with Lionel Messi in the Argentina match.
The issue for Nigeria won't be athleticism or tactics but the creative skill of their midfield. John Obi Mikel is excellent at maintaining possession but doesn't have a knack for the killer pass. Victor Moses is a quality player, but he has been hot and cold in this tournament so far.
Musa and Peter Odemwingie should be able to challenge French defenders Raphael Varane and Bacary Sagna with their combination play and pace.
However, it could be one of the lesser-known players that spurs on the Super Eagles as coach Stephen Keshi has a knack for unearthing talent, writes The Telegraph's Colin Udoh:
Keshi bravely bucked that trend. Going into the Nations Cup in 2013, he opted for an inexperienced but talented lot, imbued them with self-belief and tossed them into the thick of battle.
Fegor Ogude was the starting midfielder at the time, but when Efe Ambrose was sent off in the very first game, a tactical reshuffle saw Keshi throw on Ogenyi Onazi. He has since become a mainstay.
The inexperienced players may come through against teams like Bosnia-Herzegovina, but it likely won't be enough to flummox France. Expect plenty of goals in this one, as France should come out firing early and maintain a comfortable margin over Nigeria until the final whistle.
Prediction: France 4-2 Nigeria
Germany vs. Algeria
Algeria will be looking to right a previous World Cup wrong in their match against Germany on Monday. Via The Associated Press (h/t USA Today):
Algeria beat Germany 2-0 at home in a friendly in 1964 and won 2-1 in the opener for both teams at the 1982 World Cup in Spain.
However, in their third group game in '82 in Gijon, Germany scored in the 10th minute and for the next 80 minutes the Germans and the Austrians pushed the ball around without any real effort to score since that result allowed both to advance at the expense of Algeria.
Midfielders Yacine Brahimi and Sofiane Feghouli have been the brightest stars for Algeria in this tournament. Brahimi's relentless energy serves as a perfect complement to Feghouli's pace down the right side.
ESPN FC's Maher Mezahi noted Brahimi's indefatigable spirit in the group stages:
Brahimi played 77 minutes and ran 10.4 kms. By the time he was subbed off he had run more than anyone on the pitch.— Maher Mezahi (@MezahiMaher) June 23, 2014
Players like Brahimi might not have the name recognition of Germany's Mesut Ozil or Thomas Mueller, but that doesn't mean coach Joachim Low will underestimate his African opposition.
Low said, via the Press Association (h/t The Guardian):
If anybody thinks or believes – and I think this is a feeling among the general public – that Algeria are easy opponents and that we can already start thinking of the next round, then they’re making a huge mistake.
Which team playing on Day 18 has the best chance of winning the World Cup?
Low will have to combine his tactical acumen with a motivational approach to keep his players focused before this match. Die Mannschaft might have appeared a bit toothless in their 1-0 victory over the United States, but it should be noted that the Stars and Stripes needed quite a few inch-perfect tackles to prevent them from scoring.
If Algerian defenders are able to hold off the likes of Mueller and Ozil until the dying minutes, Low can always bring on Miroslav Klose to steal a goal at the end.
Algeria have played remarkably well just to get to this point, but they won't be able to stymie Germany in this contest.
Prediction: Germany 3-1