World Cup 2018: Look ahead to the last 16

With the group stages having come to a close, the line-up and fixtures for the knockout phase of the 2018 World Cup is now decided; with Germany being the biggest team to miss out. This marks the 4th time in the last 5 World Cups where the defending champions have been knocked out in the Group Stages. While some of the other marquee teams failed to top their groups, they made it through to the next stages of the tournament to set up some tantalizing fixtures. 

The Round of 16 Fixture:

·         France Vs. Argentina

·         Uruguay Vs. Portugal

·         Spain Vs. Russia

·         Croatia Vs. Denmark

·         Brazil Vs. Mexico

·         Belgium Vs Japan

·         Sweden Vs. Switzerland

·         Colombia Vs. England

The odds of all the teams that have progressed to the knockout stages with the best chance to win the 2018 World Cup:

·         Brazil: 3-1

·         Spain: 4-1

·         Belgium: 13-2

·         France: 8-1

·         England: 8-1

·         Croatia: 12-1

·         Argentina: 12-1

·         Uruguay: 20-1

·         Portugal: 25-1

·         Colombia: 30-1

·         Mexico: 30-1

·         Switzerland: 40-1

·         Russia: 60-1

·         Sweden: 80-1

·         Denmark: 80-1

·         Japan: 250-1

 

France vs. Argentina

Facing off in the first game of the knockout phase, one of the two tournament favorites will see their campaign come to an end. Argentina’s hopes solely rest on the shoulders of Lionel Messi. He was able to open up his goal scoring tally against Nigeria but has been poor according to his standards so far. Despite this, La Albiceleste shrugged off their slow start to the World Cup to make it past their opponents in Group D. Jorge Sampaoli has some of the best winger and forwards in his arsenal though he has failed so far the find the right group of players to surround Messi with.

France has a packed squad with one of the most impressive 1-11 across any of the teams but despite having the likes of Griezmann, Pogba, and Mbappe; they are to hit their strides. Their defense has only leaked in one goal in the tournament though they have yet to show dominance in the final third and their ability to score goals.  

Les Blues are certainly the more talented and stronger team but Argentina will have the best player on the field, Lionel Messi. They need to be wary of the threat that he possess and Deschamps needs to find his best XI to minimize the impact Messi has on the game and maximize their goal scoring potential.

Predicted Score: France 2 – 1 Argentina

 

Uruguay vs. Portugal

Is Uruguay the Portugal of South America or Portugal the Uruguay of Europe? Who even knows? Both teams play by defending deep in their own third and score on the counter by getting the behind defenders. Neither team is known for playing with possession. This is likely to be the most boring game of the knockout stage of the World Cup.  

Uruguay is one of three teams to advance past the group stages with a 100% record as they won Group A. They are also the only side who have yet to concede a goal so far. They have one the best center back pairings with Jimenez and Godin, the perfect combination of experience and youth. They also have one of the best strike partnerships with Cavani and Suarez though both players have not been at their best in this tournament. That being said, both players along with their competent midfield and are going to test Portugal’s aging defense.

Portugal – rather Cristiano Ronaldo – played their part in the most memorable game of the group stages, opening Group B with a 3-3 draw with Spain. They failed to convince the footballing world in their win against Morocco and found themselves lucky to not lose in their final group game against Iran. Ronaldo’s four goals is the main reason they made it past the group stages though he will need to replicate this form against Uruguay and beyond should they progress.

Portugal have been in a similar situation before. They were poor through their opening games but got the job done when it mattered most to ultimately win the Euro title. Uruguay have looked solid though they have yet to be tested and Portugal’s fighting spirit is something interesting to watch.

Predicted Score: Portugal 2 – 1 Uruguay in Extra Time. (1-1 at fulltime)

Spain vs. Russia

La Roja topped Group B though the sacking of Julen Lopetegui just 48 hours before the start of their World Cup campaign has certainly taken its toll on the Spanish National Team. In all three of their group games, Spain looked vulnerable in the back so it was less than surprising to have conceded only five in 3 games; three against Portugal and two against Morocco.

ESPN’s David Cartlidge best sums up his view on Spain: “Every bit of vibrancy, versatility, and end product that Lopetegui found had seemingly disintegrated. The Spain players managed the off-field situation but on it they’re incapable of doing so. They need a leader.”

To contrast this, the host nation surprised football fans alike in their group games having looked dull in the run-up to the World Cup. 

Regardless of Spain’s problems, they should and do have enough to comfortably beat Russia. They looked like a formidable side when they beat Saudi Arabia and Egypt but in their first real test of the tournament against Uruguay. They played with 10 men for close to an hour though they were 2-0 down for most of that period. They will find it difficult to keep Spain out from their box though I would not be surprised if Russia managed to get a goal past David De Gea.

Predicted Score: Spain 3 – 1 Russia   

 

Croatia vs. Demark 

Like Uruguay, Croatia come in having won all of their three group games; including a shock win against Argentina. They hammered Messi and his side 3-0 and dominated the Argentinians on all fronts. In hindsight, this was not much of an upset given how well coached and how talented this side is. Their best players either have played or are currently core pieces amongst the most elite teams in Europe.  

Denmark bagged the runner-up spot in Group C on the back of beating Peru with draws against Australia and France to seal the deal. Christian Eriksen is their only star player and Denmark will go as far as the Number 10 can take them.

Denmark are well organized defensively but Croatia have the quality – particular in their midfield – to break down Denmark. Luka Modric has been the key to the Croatian success though he has had the support of his teammates. While they will be tested by Denmark, they should progress with the last eight with relative ease.

Predicted Score: Croatia 2 – 0 Denmark.

 

 

Brazil vs. Mexico

After dispatching Serbia 2-0, Brazil were able to secure their spot in the knockout stages of this tournament having previously beaten Costa Rica with the above scoreline and drew 1-1 against Switzerland. In each of their games, Brazil has grown and their style of play has improved. Philippe Coutinho has proved to be the key player for the Selecao; scoring the long goal against the Swiss, breaking the deadlock against Costa Rica and setting up Paulinho in their final group game. Against Serbia, both Coutinho and Neymar Jr. showed flashes of brilliance with Casemiro, Thiago Silva and Miranda providing a solid defensive foundation. Neymar has struggles to show his best so far, and has often been wasteful is possession. In this tournament alone, he is leading all players in numbers of times an individual player has lost possession (essentially turnovers) with 84 in three group games.

Mexico are deadly on the counter and have established themselves a team capable of defending for long stretches. Their triple of threat of Lozano, Chicharito, and Bela has been devastating and are likely to find themselves in space behind Spanish lines. They are not to be underestimated. That being said, El Tri are like the Washington Wizards. Their effort and attitude on the floor is entirely dependent on the opponents they face. Against Germany, a far superior opponent, Mexico played the greatest game in their history. When facing Sweden, they looked average at best.

The Selecao are favorites to win it all despite their struggles in the group stages. It is likely to be a close game with Mexico having a favorable history against their Round of 16 opponents. Winning is hardly beyond El Tri, though the South American juggernauts come in as favorites and should make it to the last 8.

Predicted Score: Brazil 2 – 1 Mexico    

Belgium vs Japan  

Belgium wrapped up the group stages as the top scoring teams of the tournament. They topped Group G over England in a rather derivative game – except for a wonder strike from Adnan Januzaj. They started the tournament as sixth favorites the World Cup, and the once dark horses have positioned themselves perfectly to progress deep in this tournament. They have one of the best attacking threats of the tournament though they are yet to be tested defensively.

Japan squeezed passes Senegal to finish second in Group H on fair play - by receiving less cards than Senegal. This is not the most convincing manner to make it to the last 16 of the World Cup but the fact that they were able to progress ahead of Poland and Senegal is no small feat. Japan do have a compact side that is more and capable of absorbing pressure for long stretches though they are likely to find Belgium’s attacking threat too overwhelming.

Japan were fortunate to get past the group stages and barring an act of God, this is as far as they will progress. They best they can do is hold Belgium back from completely routing them and they simply lack the firepower to even test Belgium’s defenders.    

Predicted Score: Belgium 3 – 0 Japan

 

Sweden vs Switzerland

This might be the most boring game of the last 16 after Uruguay vs. Portugal. Neither said has convinced fans that they are capable to contending with the best teams though they have put up some impressive performances.

Sweden bounced back from the heartbreaking last minute loss to Germany to dismantle Mexico in a 3-0 victory to top Group F. They are a well-coached side capable of defending for long stretches and have the physical prowess to bully teams on set pieces. Despite this they do not have a player who can create a goal scoring opportunity on their own.  

Switzerland on the other hand had a heroic performance in their opener against Brazil. They defended with all their might and exploited Brazil’s weaknesses to their fullest. They came behind to snatch a favorable result in a 1-1 draw. Ultimately, they finished as the runner-up of Group E and showed the spirit that has always made them a must match team in previous tournaments.

This is hard match to call as neither side is likely to create chances. Both sides have shown fight to overcome the odds against sides that are much more talented than theirs. Sweden do have they edge as they are a side that plays as unit unlike Switzerland who are more prone to playing in a hap hazard manner. Switzerland do possess the pace to get behind Swedish lines though the Scandinavian side can counter that with their physical advantage and side.

Predicted Score: Sweden 1 – 0 Switzerland 

Colombia vs England

Colombia made it to the knockouts despite while being the only side of the last 16 to lose their opening game. They were their true selves against both Poland and Senegal to put them through as the top team in Group G. They are riding off the moment from their last campaign 4 years ago thought their talisman, James Rodriguez, has have injury concerns that have plagued him since the start of the tournament. That being said, they are spearheaded by Radamel Falcao who missed the last World Cup due with injury and he is looking to lead his side from the front against an England side that is yet to be tested.

England scored 8 in their opening two games of the tournament and are on a mission to distinguish themselves from previous England sides. While they did lose to Belgium, Gareth Southgate fielded his bench players in their closing group game to rest his best for the challenges they will face against Colombia. This will be the first game that this young England squad faces that test their side. Harry Kane and his side will be tested on all fronts.

Colombia will go as far as James Rodriguez’s calf will take them. Against Poland he was their best player as he single handedly dismantled their midfield and defense. With his calf forcing him to be replaced in the first half of their last group game, all eye are on James to recover in time for England as he his country’s only creative force.  

Predicted Score: Colombia 1 – 2 England  

 

      

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