World Cup 2018 Predictions: Updated Final Picks Before Saturday's Knockout Play

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistJune 30, 2018

(COMBO) This combination of pictures created on June 28, 2018 shows Uruguay's forward Luis Suarez (top) in Ekaterinburg on June 14, 2018, and Portugal's forward Cristiano Ronaldo in Moscow on June 20, 2018. - The European champions, Portugal, will face Uruguay in Sochi on June 30, for a place in the quarter-finals after finishing as runners-up behind Spain in Group B. (Photos by JORGE GUERRERO and Francisco LEONG / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADS        (Photo credit should read JORGE GUERRERO,FRANCISCO LEONG/AFP/Getty Images)

France and Argentina will face off in the first knockout fixture of the 2018 FIFA World Cup on Saturday, with pressure on both teams to put any group-stage disappointments behind them.

Les Bleus topped Group C despite showcasing some lacklustre form and scoring only three times in three games, while Jorge Sampaoli's Argentina only scraped through after rescuing a late 2-1 win over Nigeria.

Attention then turns to the Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi, Russia, where Group A winners Uruguay will take on Portugal in the hope that they can maintain their fiery start to the competition.

La Celeste are yet to concede in Russia but will have to deny Cristiano Ronaldo as the unstoppable force looks to budge the immovable object.

Read on for a breakdown of Saturday's schedule and a preview of the matches to come, along with predictions for the World Cup round-of-16 bracket.


Saturday's Schedule

France vs. Argentina, 5 p.m. local time/3 p.m. BST/10 a.m. ET

Uruguay vs. Portugal, 9 p.m. local time/7 p.m. BST/2 p.m. ET


Round-of-16 Fixtures (Picks)

Saturday, June 30

France vs. Argentina (France)

Uruguay vs. Portugal (Portugal)

Sunday, July 1

Spain vs. Russia (Spain)

Croatia vs. Denmark (Croatia)

Monday, July 2

Brazil vs. Mexico (Brazil)

Belgium vs. Japan (Belgium)

Tuesday, July 3

Sweden vs. Switzerland (Sweden)

Colombia vs. England (England)


Saturday Preview

Portugal and Uruguay have enjoyed different roads to the round of 16 and are opposites in a number of ways, making for an enticing contest when the two meet in Sochi on Saturday.

Fernando Santos' men have kept only one clean sheet, while Uruguay have kept three—they're the only team to do so. And while La Celeste rely on the sum of their parts, the Selecao are leaning heavily on Cristiano Ronaldo thus far, via Fox Soccer (U.S. only):

FOX Soccer @FOXSoccer

The second round of 16 matchup on Saturday is Uruguay and Portugal. Can Ronaldo carry his team into the quarterfinals? https://t.co/a1P5h36waS

Luis Suarez has scored twice in Russia, while Edinson Cavani and defender Jose Gimenez each have one apiece (along with one own-goal in Uruguay's favour), but this is a big step up for Oscar Tabarez and company.

As pointed out by ITV Football, Uruguay finished the group stage as one of only three teams who failed to drop a point, although one would argue Group A looked rather simple alongside Russia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia:

ITV Football @itvfootball

Contenders? Belgium, Uruguay and Croatia are the only teams to have won all their Group stage games in the 2018 @FIFAWorldCup #WorldCup #BEL #CRO #URU https://t.co/fevRkQkpx4

What's more, Portuguese football expert Jan Hagen reported on Friday that Santos looks likely to have a full squad to pick from after midfielder William Carvalho made his way back into training:

Jan Hagen @PortuBall

Portugal completed their final training session this morning ahead of tomorrow's Round of 16 clash with Uruguay. William was back on the pitch running, while the rest of the squad trained normally. A Seleção flies out to Sochi this afternoon. https://t.co/k9GnsCGFHK

Though the teams look quite fairly matched on paper, Ronaldo's game-winning ability is an almost invaluable resource, with Uruguay liable to be shocked by the upgrade in opposition.

The same wouldn't be said of Argentina, who have already faced difficult opposition at this World Cup after finishing second to Croatia in Group D—although they risk a Saturday exit nonetheless against a talented French lineup.

Jorge Sampaoli's control over his squad was weakened substantially in the group stage. A draw against Iceland preceded a 3-0 defeat to Croatia that South American expert Tim Vickery told Sky Sports News had led to the players taking control of the shot-calling.

The clash at the Kazan Arena will be a close, owing to the fact Les Bleus haven't really inspired confidence. But it's the Europeans who look to have the advantage if this goes to penalties, per football writer Roy Nemer:

Roy Nemer @RoyNemer

Argentina team practice penalty kicks at the end of training. Did you know Argentina have had to go to penalty kicks at least once in each of their last 4 tournaments? In their last 5, 2 wins, 3 losses. Full list inside. https://t.co/3aFY9h7epS

Didier Deschamps may have problems in selection and piecing together his best XI, but nothing as bad as the morale issues in the Argentina camp.

Lionel Messi's influence took effect when he scored his first goal of the World Cup in the 2-1 win over Nigeria, but a team with France's quality should be able to quell him long enough to prove their seniority.