For the first time ever, all eight group winners progressed through to the World Cup quarter-finals, but this year's tournament has yet to see major favourites distinguish themselves.
Brazil, Argentina, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Costa Rica and Belgium were all run close by their previous opponents, while Colombia were the only round-of-16 winners to appear completely confident of progressing.
What does the next set of matches hold in store for each side? Who can expect to go home? Let's take a look at the updated bracket before determining projections for each team in a tournament that continues to impress.
|World Cup 2014: Quarter-Final Predictions|
Brazil vs. Colombia
Friday's quarter-final ties start with a real treat when hosts Brazil take on Jose Pekerman's impressive Colombian side. Expect this to be every bit as competitive as the Samba Boys' penalty win over Chile, but once more, it's Brazil who are likely to edge out their South American rivals.
Colombia play with great freedom and expression. Pekerman's team filter their possession through the wings—whether that's initiated by the full-backs or further upfield by the wingers—and have been happy to leave themselves exposed at the back in full knowledge that counterattacks can be tracked by the likes of Juan Cuadrado, Pablo Armero and Juan Zuniga.
Brazil have the capacity to exploit this, with Neymar and Hulk bursting into life.
Granted, Colombia will fancy themselves to hit Luiz Felipe Scolari's side on the break, but Mario Yepes and Cristian Zapata won't be able to handle Brazil's quick movement of the ball if they become isolated. Los Cafeteros' defence doesn't play "backs to the wall" football as well as Chile and can be expected to concede. Expect the home nation to edge another continental rival out of the competition.
France vs. Germany
Proceedings will be equally tight during the all-European affair between France and Germany. Didier Deschamps' team have undoubtedly impressed more readily than the Germans, but that's a signal to be wary.
With the likes of Thomas Mueller, Mario Gotze and Bastian Schweinsteiger slowly cranking up their form, Les Bleus need to tighten a midfield area that is powerful, pacy, yet disorganised in games that have become stretched.
Germany will be praying on the return of Mats Hummels, as without him Per Mertesacker's lack of pace leaves chasms of space for the opposition, as noted by Jonathan Harding of DW Sports during Germany's previous tie with Algeria:
Karim Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena can exploit this weakness if the Dortmund defender doesn't return, but expect improved German efficiency in front of goal to decide the tie.
Netherlands vs. Costa Rica
Less difficult to predict is the Netherlands' tie with Costa Rica. Unfortunately, this looks to be the fixture where Jorge Luis Pinto's team come unstuck after a terrific tournament.
Oscar Duarte is ruled out after receiving a red card in the CONCACAF's side's narrow escape against Greece, but don't expect this one to provide Keylor Navas the opportunity to save his team during penalties once more.
Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie and now Wesley Sneijder are match-winners for the Dutch (never mind Klaas-Jan Huntelaar). Robben's dribbling skills will likely rip through a Costa Rican defence that likes to move quickly as a unit, providing plenty of gaps for those who can create an inch of space.
Should Costa Rica produce a heroic lead, they still have to overcome the substitutions of Louis van Gaal, who continues to win matches with his tactical tweaks from the bench.
Argentina vs. Belgium
The Netherlands will move on to face one of Argentina or Belgium. Both nations are far from their best—despite moments of inspiration from each—but Belgium's willingness to play positive attacking football will see Alejandro Sabella's side provided more room to get their passing game moving.
Lionel Messi was marked out of the game against Switzerland. He is likely to drop deeper against Vincent Kompany and Daniel van Buyten, receiving possession centrally and distributing out to Angel Di Maria and Ezequiel Lavezzi, as he did for the winner during the last tie.
With Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens offering little defensive cover, Argentina have the power to punish in a more confident style than we've seen so far.
|World Cup 2014: Semi-Final Predictions|
|Brazil||1-1 (Brazil win on penalties)||Germany|
Brazil vs. Germany
Things will only get closer from here. Brazil are yet to produce a truly memorable performance throughout the tournament, but they continue to progress. In a potential semi-final against Germany, we predict they will do exactly the same once more.
Scolari's side have shown a more balanced game than we witnessed at last year's Confederations Cup and depend on Luiz Gustavo to maintain control in the centre. Oscar is likely to double up alongside his teammate against the Germans, who will aim to dictate play with short, sharp passes between Schweinsteiger, Gotze and Toni Kroos.
Even so, Brazil have the more explosive firepower (if you subtract Fred from the equation).
This semi would surely be a measured affair, one in which risks aren't taken until they are truly needed. Brazil have held their nerve already this competition, and after another hard-fought match they should be considered favourites to advance on penalties.
Germany continue to play underwhelming football, a struggle that will come unstuck in the latter stages.
Argentina vs. Netherlands
Argentina will then face the task of securing a dream final against their bitter rivals, but after plenty of expectation they will be outfought by Van Gaal's Dutch squad.
The Oranje have proven themselves to be one of the tournament's most versatile outfits, switching formations multiple times during encounters as the coach slowly works out a way to snatch victory.
Sabella's squad is limited, while he isn't getting the best out of individuals such as Lavezzi, Gonzalo Higuain and Javier Mascherano. The whole world wants a Brazil vs. Argentina final, but on current form, the Albiceleste will fall to the Dutch side's numerous creative options.
|World Cup 2014: Final Prediction|
|Brazil||1-1 (Netherlands win on pens.)||Netherlands|
Brazil vs. Netherlands
A final showdown between Brazil and the Netherlands throws up an interesting contrast: the World Cup's most successful team against the best to have never won it. In a tournament that has continued to surprise, we can expect that to change. Just.
Brazil have dealt with the pressure of expectation so far but are yet to come up against a team that offers an explosive attacking force that matches up to the quality of their own.
Robben's relentless pace has the potential to scare the hosts into a less ambitious offering, isolating Neymar up top while the defence look to halt the Netherlands' most incisive threat.
Rather dramatically, we predict moments of inspiration from the aforementioned Neymar and Robben to make the final 1-1 after extra time. With the pressure on, a composed Dutch side have the capacity to break local hearts by winning on penalties.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!