We are halfway towards filling out who will make the final eight of the World Cup. Unfortunately for spectators on the home continent, there is only one African team remaining, as the Ivory Coast were unable to climb their tall mountain. Still though, there are some interesting story lines for these four games, including two more players who are certain to receive huge paychecks after this World Cup
Netherlands vs. Slovakia
The Netherlands aren't exactly playing "Dutch style" football, winning by low margins with less passing efficiency and more solid defensive work and grit. Still, they were able to grab all nine points out of a group which proved to be far more competitive than initially thought and are a team full of superstars in the midfield including, but not limited to Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Rafeal Van Der Vaart. Arguably, their best player has been Eljero Elia who's presence on the Wing has been a major spark plug off the bench.
Slovakia is probably the most surprisingly team still alive in this tournament after overcoming all the odds and defeating defending champion Italy, 3-2. A lack of pressure on the squad allowed for the the Slovaks to go for it all against the Italians and make it into the round of 16. Head Coach Vladimir Weiss made the difficult decision of benching his son in the final game and similar difficult decisions will need to be made against a strong Dutch side.
Slovakia is lucky to be in the position that it is in, and the Dutch have not even hit their stride yet. The stars on the Netherlands are just far too much for the eastern Europe side and this is a blowout in the making.
Final Result: Netherlands 4 Slovakia 0
Brazil vs. Chile
Pundits argued that Brazil entered this tournament without the talent and flair of teams past, leaving out superstars Alexandre Pato and Ronaldinho who surely would have added pace and skill to their side. But still, I do not have the space to write all the stars on this team (I mean Dani Alves comes off the bench, seriously) and they certainly look like a beautiful Brazilian style to me.
After a pedestrian performance against North Korea, Brazil undressed an Ivory Coast defense to the point where the scoreline should have been much greater than the 3-1 final result. The finale against Portugal was very disappointing however, as the Portuguese played an all out prevent defense against Brazil forcing a boring 0-0 draw. Overall, I would say the pundits were more right than I was and Brazil might be primed for an upset later.
Has there been anyone more productive than Alexis Alejandro Sanchez in this World Cup? "El Nino Maravilla" as he is known has set up every attack of a Chilean side always threatening, and far more deserving of their one goal per game output.
Chile played very well against Honduras, and took advantage of the opportunities given to them against Switzerland. Arguably their best output from this World Cup was shown in their final game, scoring a goal after being a man down against Spain which put pressure on the Swiss to score two.
Chile would be a great upset pick in any other game, but there are just far too many talents on this Brazilian squad for Chile to compete with. Chile has the young pieces in place to make a run at the World Cup in Brazil in 2014, so this experience could come in handy against maybe playing the home side in only four years time.
Final Result: Brazil 2 Chile 0
Paraguay vs. Japan
Anyone that has followed South American qualifying for this World Cup is not surprised with how well Paraguay are playing. Defeating both Brazil and Argentina as well as drawing Maradona's side in Buenos Aires meant this team was going to be threatening in this World Cup.
After a 1-1 tie with the world champions Italy, Paraguay demolished the Slovakians before putting on the brakes against an upstart New Zealand squad. Interestingly enough, this has been without their best player, Roque Sante Cruz, who is really hitting stride like he should. He is now more about a compact defensive effort that has stifled his opponents.
On second look, there has been someone more impressive than Sanchez in South Africa. CSKA Moscow's Keisuke Honda has certainly grabbed the spotlight of this World Cup, scoring two sublime goals for Japan while directly setting up a third and causing the fake to set up the other direct Free Kick goal.
Japan has shown us three different styles in this World Cup — a gritty defensive effort to hold off an athletic Cameroon side, an inspired midfield effort which contained the talented Netherlands to a 1-0 loss, and an amazing attacking display against the Danes.
Teams that can adapt quickly in tournaments frequently can cause major upsets. Keisuke Honda and the Japanese side are not blinded by the bright lights in South Africa and have grabbed their opportunity and run with it. Paraguay seem up for it so far in this World Cup, but this Japanese side is better than anyone they have faced in South Africa, including an old Italian side. This is an upset in the making.
Final Result Paraguay 1 Japan 2
Spain vs. Portugal
The tournament favorites did not have a great start to this World Cup. A surprise loss to the Swiss meant the backs of the Spanish were against the wall. This meant they had two win both of their last two games and even hope for some help. Still, the best team ended up winning the group and find themselves in a very winnable portion of the bracket.
David Villa (pictured) has picked up all the slack for Fernando Torres, scoring three goals and being the focal-point of almost every attack for the Spanish. Furthermore, with a play maker like Xavi behind him, the side do not lack efficiency and can carve up any team with a pinpoint pass.
Portugal is lucky to be in the current situation they are. They did not play well against a much more talented Ivory Coast side, and North Korea can make anyone look like a great team. However, the defensive grit against the talented B-squad of Brazil showed that Portugal can certainly grind out a result against a better team. Still, they simply do not have the talent outside of Christiano Ronaldo to score goals against the better side.
The battle of the Iberian Peninsula is sure to get a lot of coverage as an even rivalry, but really these teams are in far different positions. Spain has a team which could produce a world all-star team at every position on the field and Portugal lives and dies by one player. Spain are set to carve this team up and will win by more than a single goal.
Final Result: Spain 2 Portugal 0
This final sixteen will certainly be entertaining, and I look forward to hearing what you think about all eight of my predictions. After this round, I will post my predictions of who will left standing in the final 4 of the World cup.
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