The group stage’s done and the final countdown’s jumped forward half the World Cup journey.
With only 16 teams left, it’s no longer a matter of just who gets lucky but also who’s genuinely better than their opponent.
Here’s a look at the possible outcomes:
France vs. Argentina
France have had a relatively manageable group, coming out unbeaten in three matches. However their first real test will come against a far stronger opposition. They have been shaky at times, but overall have come together as a team. Argentina has had a nerve wrecking group stage, managing only one win and have yet to find a balance in accommodating their wealth of attacking talent in a working formation.
Key Battles: Varane and Umtiti vs. Kun Aguero and Higuain
Pogba and Kante vs. Messi and Di Maria
Giroud and Griezmann vs. Mascherano and Otamendi
The French team has a talented and balanced squad working as a team. The Argentinians have yet to find a working formation to fit their best players together. Expect an entertaining 90 minutes, 2-1 to France!
Uruguay vs. Portugal
Uruguay started the group stage with three wins in three games, however their perfect record doesn’t tell an accurate story. Disorganized at the start, but they seemed to have picked up their form. Portugal at times have looked like a one man team, however you never discount a team which Ronaldo is playing for.
Key Battles: Godin vs. Ronaldo
Suarez and Cavani vs. Fonte and Pepe
Uruguay has enough talent in their squad to break down the Portuguese defence, and are sturdy enough at the back to withstand their attack. I just don’t see Ronaldo carrying Portugal past this stage, however i do expect him to score at least one goal. 3-1 to Uruguay!
Brazil vs. Mexico
Tournament favourites Brazil are currently unbeaten with two games won. They have not won a single game convincingly to ease their fans, but will look to sharpen their tactics for the upcoming match. Mexico on the other hand has been playing very effective counter attacking football and may use that to their advantage against the Seleção. Remember that win against Germany?
Key Battles: T. Silva and Marcelo vs H. Lozano and J. Hernandez
Well there just aren’t that many battles i would classify as “key”, mainly because the individual talent in the brazilian squad will see them dominate this match. As long as the Brazil squad stay focused, they should not face any problems overcoming their North American counterparts. I’d expect Brazil to bang in the goals in this game, 3-0 to Brazil!
Belgium vs. Japan
Underdogs Belgium have been excellent so far in the competition. They’ve won three matches with confidence and are not looking to slow down. Japan on the other hand qualified via a FIFA fair play technicality.
Key Battles: De Bruyne vs. Kagawa
Again, another match with no notable key battles. The likes of Hazard, De Bruyne and Lukaku will be able to tear down the Japanese defense. There won’t be much they could do to stop them, short of committing fouls. Japan will most likely sit back and hope they salvage a draw from the incoming onslaught. 3-0 to Belgium!
Spain vs. Russia
Spain topped their group with two draws and a win. Not very impressive for the once World Champions, they’ve also let in five goals along the way. Russia on the other hand have won two games, scored eight goals and conceded four – a much healthier proportion of goals let in.
Key Battles: Ramos and Pique vs. Cheryshev
That’s right, the Russian star will most certainly have a hard time against two World Class defenders. The Spanish squad will bring the fight to Russia on their home ground and will make it past them. La Roja has enough quality to see them though this game, barring any schoolboy mistakes (I’m looking at you De Gea). Russia will not back down without a fight on their own turf but the Spanish armada will ultimately prevail. 3-1 to Spain!
Croatia vs Denmark
Dark horse Croatia gallop in to the next round with a perfect record in the group stages. Seven goals in three games, and only conceding once – three of which goals were put past Argentina. Denmark has been brave in defense and has taken their chances going forward. They will need to be on top of their game to match their opponents this round.
Key Battles: Modric vs Eriksen
It’s going to be a tough battle for the scandinavian side. They must be resolute in defending against a free flowing attack conducted by Modric with support from Perisic and Rakitic. If they dig deep, the game might extend in to extra time, but chances are the Croatians will put them to the sword before that happens. 2-0 to Croatia!
Sweden vs. Switzerland
It’s been a fairytale for Sweden so far this World Cup. Top of their group, whilst Germany languishes at last place. Their character and attitude to be attributed for their advancement in the tournament. Switzerland has looked threatening this tournament going forward, however their back line could be doing better. Five goals scored, and four goals conceded in three games, they need to find a way to close those gaps behind.
Key Battles Lindelof vs. Shaqiri
The Swedish have had an excellent showing so far in the tournament, but there is a high chance they will be sent packing home after this game. The Swiss attack like clockwork, moving forward with purpose and penetration. I’m not expecting too many surprises from this match, 1-0 to Switzerland!
Colombia vs England
Expectedly topping their group, Colombia has had a decent run of games. Two wins, five goals and two goals conceded. They have still yet to look like a polished unit. England similarly has done well in the group stage, yet they have still not formed a distinguishable style of play. They look promising going forward, but how well will they fare against some South American flair?
Key Battles Falcao vs. Stones
James and Cuadrado vs. Henderson and Dele
This match will be unpredictable. Both sides look convincing, with minor cracks that can be exploited. If the English forwards can pace past the Colombians and finish efficiently, they should have this game in the bag. However lets not discount the fact that El Tigre is ever ready to pounce. Give Falcao half a chance, and he’ll make sure you regret it. 2-2, with England going on to win in Extra-Time!