World Cup 2018: Round of 16 Recap - Heavyweights get outrun and the English penalty curse is broken

The Last 16 of the World Cup picked up from where the Group Stages left off to leave the like of Argentina, Spain, and Portugal to pack their bags. In the opening days of play, the traditional giants of the game struggled but only Germany faltered when it mattered most. The Round of 16 took care of some of the other Goliath's of the World Football.  

June 30: France 4 - 3 Argentina, Uruguay 2 - 1 Portugal  

The proceedings of the knockout stages kicked off with a high profile clash with France facing Lionel Messi and the disappointment that is this Argentinian side. The game ended with both team scoring a combined seven goals; with a brace coming to Kylian Mbappe who used the biggest platform in sports to let the Football World to know that a new sheriff is in town. He has begun to establish himself as one of the best young players in the world and France showed shades of their much publicized potential. Sergio Aguero came on as a late substitute to score in stoppage time off an excellent cross from Messi though this was too little too late. Mascherano retired immediately after their loss and all eyes are on Messi to see if he will retire from the international game for the second - and possibly - final time. 

Uruguay are the Atletico Madrid of the International football - a tournament team that is greater than the sum of their parts who defend first and are likely to win 1-0. Though today, they powered to a 2-1 win to beat Portugal. The former World Champions came charging out out of the gates and dominated the European Champions from the opening whistle. The Cavani - Suarez partnership is now starting to look imposing, with both players scoring a goal each. The two best players of the past decade, and possible of all time, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi were knocked out of the first day of the knockout phase. Both players have scored well over a thousand goals between them as professionals though neither have scored passed the Group Stages of the World Cup.   


July 1: Spain 1 - 1 Russia (3-4 pens), Croatia 1 - 1 Denmark (3-2 pens) 

And then came the demise of Spain. The match itself was amongst the most boring of the tournament. The grit of Russia's defence and Akinfeev's magical performance in the penalty shootouts propelled the host nation to the unlikeliest of quarterfinals. Spain completed over a thousand passes - a first in the World Cup - though only eleven of them were directed into the box. Iniesta retired from the international stage as his career for La Roja ended in heartbreak. The firing to Lopetegui certainly did play it's part in a disconcerting Spanish campaign. They were always vulnerable defensively and their style of play, that was the gold standard for many years had it flaws exposed.   

Croatia and Denmark scored in the opening five minutes of their rubber. This was the only moments of exciting as as the remaining 115 minutes of football was drab at best until the penalty shootout. The sole chance that either team created outside the first five minutes came from a penalty that would have sealed the game. The normally composed Luka Modric put out a tame effort that was saved by Kasper Schmeichel, who made no mistake in his exceptional save. The missed penalty resulted in a duel between Schmeichel and his Croatian counterpart, Danijel Subasic. The two goalkeepers made five saves between them and showcased a display of excellence between the sticks. Subasic made three - to tie a goalkeeping record in World Cup penalty shootouts - and third save was the difference between the two teams. Croatia won 3-2 on penalties and this Golden Generation of Croatian football advances to the quaterfinals.  

July 2: Brazil 2 - 0 Mexico, Belgium 3 - 2 Japan

It was El Quinto Partido or bust for El Tri. For the seventh straight World Cup, they were able to make it past the group stages to lose in the Round of 16. Despite their failures, Mexico can revel in their highs and put up a valiant effort against the likes of Germany and Brazil. At a time when the giants of football were toppled, Brazil smoothly sailed passed Mexico to a straightforward 2-0 win. Neymar showed the two most talked about facets of his game. He was excellent with his killer passes and meandering runs. He was pivotal in the creation of Brazil's first to ultimately score their first. This was complemented by his over-the-top antics in a feeble attempts to draw fouls. Thankfully, his Oscar-worthy acting was overshadowed by Brazil's win and one of the most memorable knockout games in World Cup history. 

The first 45 minutes of the match between Belgium and Japan appeared to be sterile, the performances of the second half trumped that. Japan took a stunning 2-0 lead in the opening minutes of the second half with goals coming from a calm Genki Haraguchi finish and a screamer from Takashi Inui. Belgium looked like the next domino to fall in a tournament dominated by upsets. Jan Vertonghen - who had a torrid game till now - put Belgium back in the game with an utterly ridiculous header. Marouane Fellaini came fresh off a contract extension with Manchester United as a substitute and levelled the game off a corner. Within a space of 20 minutes, Belgium went from having their bags packed to now being in the driving seat. Japan's style of play was responsible for their 2-0 lead and ultimately their 3-2 loss. Japan committed too many of their players forward were caught out off the break by the brilliance of Belgium. In a matter of seconds the ball went from the hands of Courtois, to Kevin De Bruyne and was slotted into the back of the net by Nacer Chadli - the unlikeliest of goalscorers. Romelu Lukaku heavily impacted the final goal with his off the ball movement that created space for the likes of De Bruyne and Chadli to capitalize on. His touch was the last of the game and sent his side into the quarterfinals to face Brazil.  

July 3: Sweden 1 - 0 Switzerland, Colombia 1 - 1 England (3-4 pens)  

No game could compete with Belgium vs. Japan and the opening tie of the final day of the Round of 16 was clearly not a spectacle. It was a dull game, with a lucky deflection being the difference between the two European sides. What was worth marvelling has been Sweden's run. Nobody gave them a chance to make it past qualifying, and they edged past Netherlands and Italy to find themselves in a group that consisted of Mexico and Germany. Once again, noody gave them a chance to make it out of the group and the Swede's somehow managed to top the group. Now, they are through to the last eight for the first time since 1994. 

The last 16 came to an end in an unruly rubber between England and Colombia. Mark Geiger became the story of the game despite doing everything in his power to be anything but that. He handed out eight cards, six of which went to Colombia though none of which were Red Cards. Harry Kane gave England the lead by converting a penalty and it looked like they were in cruise control to face Sweden. In truly remarkable fashion, Yerry Mina headed in the equaliser in the dying minutes of stoppage time. Neither side was able to break the tie in the 30 minutes of extra time to take it to a dreaded penalty shootout for England fans. The Three Lion's failures in penalty shootouts are well documented and draw comparisons to a boat trying to stay afloat in a storm with a massive hole in its hull. This time around, this boat was much, much steadier. Jordan Henderson was the only Englishman to not score as David Ospina made a world class save. His efforts were in vain as Mateus Uribe hit the post and Jordan Pickford saved Carlos Bacca's effort. Eric Dier converted England's final penalty to England were through to the next stages where they will face Sweden. This was the first time that they had managed to come out of a World Cup Penalty shootout as winners.  




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