The group stage is now finally done with and we move into the best part of the tournament, the knockout stage where it is sudden death. If there was a lot of drama on the last days each group played, get ready for the knockout stage which I guaranteed to be even more dramatic. With that being said, let’s take a look at the matchups in the Round of 16.
Uruguay vs Portugal
Both teams were expected to get out of the group stage, but there is a lot of fire power here between the two squads. Cristiano Ronaldo has been having one incredible tournament already as he has scored four goals including a hat trick against Spain. Uruguay boasts two very good players in Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani as the two of them have scored three goals including two from Suarez. This could be a lot of fun to watch.
James Rowe: Uruguay. Honestly, it could go either way, but I am just going with my gut here.
Thomas Martin: Uruguay. Ronaldo is excellent, but I think the team as a whole looked a little lacking. I’m perfectly prepared to be wrong here.
Tali Raphael: Uruguay. Uruguay has a very intelligent defense with Godin and Gimenez, and should be enough to hold off Ronaldo in a world class encounter.
John Illg: Portugal in an ugly, scrappy, unpleasant contest. Both sides prefer to play on the counter and are more comfortable defensively. Both rely on singular individuals to provide moments of genius up front. I have more faith in the Portuguese midfield than Uruguay’s both for setting the tempo and for supporting their star men and even though Uruguay’s defense is excellent, they will falter under too much pressure.
France vs Argentina
France had a very strong performance in the group stage while Argentina was on the brink of elimination until a late goal saw them squeak by. Now Argentina has a chance to redeem themselves against a very good French squad. Lionel Messi will need to put his country on his back if he wants to win this World Cup, but France is a deep and balanced team which could make things difficult.
James: France. Argentina barely went through to the knockout stage and they don’t seem to have any chemistry going for them. France is just the better team in my opinion.
Thomas: I think France pulls it out. Despite the god, Messi, Argentina has not looked great.
Tali: Argentina. I think Argentina has the making of a team that can scrape through, especially against a France side that has looked lackluster again with Didier Deschamps.
John: Argentina has an interesting formation attempting to get the most of out Messi that kinda sorta worked by the last group game, although their combination of high press and relatively slow and unimpressive defenders still is giving far too many opportunities to teams on the counter. And France, though not particularly well coached themselves, possess an array of the world’s finest players both in one on one situations and in taking advantage of poorly played high defensive lines. I think France wins by a large margin that overstates their ability to proceed further in the competition.
Brazil vs Mexico
Mexico came out strong in the group stage as they upset Germany and beat a solid South Korea team before losing to Sweden. Led by Javier Hernandez and Hirving Lozano, this might be the strongest Mexican team in recent years. Their reward? Brazil, a nation that has won the World Cup five times and are another favorite to win the World Cup. They also have one of the best forwards in the sport in Neymar who can single handedly decide a match.
James: Brazil. I think this will be a close one, but you can never doubt Brazil.
Thomas: Mexico manage to keep the dream alive and use this to hold a number over the heads of Brazil forever… Almost like “Dos a Cero,” but not as cool.
Tali: Brazil. Brazil has not looked particularly good thus far, but it would be very typical of Mexico to fall at the second round. But Marcelo is key for Brazil’s plans going forward. However continuous has been so dominant in midfield he may be able to provide enough service to get the key goal on his own.
John: Brazil. Mexico look quite a lot like the same team from the 2014 World Cup now that we have a proper understanding of just how shocking Germany’s positional organization has become. They are a decent counterattacking team that defends reasonably well and constructs some opportunities in this way, only to waste them. That would be enough against a couple of teams in the knockout rounds, but not against Brazil. Coutinho is playing too well right now to let that happen and will be the best player on the pitch.
Japan vs Belgium
Japan is the first nation to advance to the knockout stage based on the number of yellow cards as the rest of other tie-breaking scenarios were even with Senegal. Japan is a good team though as they boast talented players in Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda. There was a lot of doubt in Belgium as they did not have a good showing coming into the World Cup, but they were very strong in the group stage. They are led by star forward Romelu Lukaku who has already scored four goals this World Cup.
James: Belgium. They have too much fire power and Japan will have a tough time defending that.
Thomas: Belgium. They looked good in all of their matches, so I expect them to just overpower Japan.
Tali: Belgium. Belgium have too much firepower for Japan, with Lukaku, de Bruyne, and Hazard all together. Inui, Kagawa, Okazaki, and Honda should all be dealt with by the formidable backline of Alderweireld and Vertonghen.
John: Belgium. Japan have been rather lackluster and lucky, while Belgium are playing well and have an arsenal of talent at their disposal. I think this scoreline could look pretty ugly.
Spain vs Russia
Russia came out swinging in the group stage in their first match with Saudi Arabia as they scored five goals and then scored three in their next contest with Egypt. Despite losing their final match of the group against Uruguay, the team boasts a very good goalkeeper in Igor Akifeev, plus they have gotten five goals from Artem Dzyuba (two) and Denis Cheryshev (three). They will face off against Spain who is arguably the most balanced nation in the whole field. Diego Costa has been outstanding for Spain as he scored three goals in the group stage.
James: Spain. Russia might be better than expected, but Spain is the better side.
Thomas: Spain will win, but Russia will come away with a moral victory.
Tali: Spain. Because Spain is better at every single position on the pitch.
John: Spain. And I think there’ll be a fair few goals by both sides.
Croatia vs Denmark
Croatia has been a surprise this World Cup as they won all their matches in the group stage. They are led by Luka Modric who has scored two goals in this tournament as well as Ivan Rakitic (one goal). Denmark squeaked out of the group stage as their 1-0 victory over Peru proved to be all that was needed to move on after drawing with Australia and France. They only scored two goals in the entire group stage thus far, but one of them was from their best player Christian Eriksen.
James: Croatia. I don’t buy Denmark being a good side and Croatia looks to be a lot stronger than anticipated. They should beat Denmark easily.
Thomas: Denmark. They are boring. They are consistent. They will win.
Tali: Croatia. The move to have Brozovic protecting Rakitic and Modric has been a master stroke, allowing the midfield creators to dominate. I see that trend continuing against a Danish midfield with a decided lack of defensive fortitude.
John: Croatia. I don’t think that they are a real threat to win the cup. They are still lacking up front and won’t be able to physically bully many of the teams that remain as badly as they did the teams in their group. But they are a class above Denmark, both in terms of the quality of their squad and in terms of their coaching and cohesiveness.
Sweden vs Switzerland
No Zlatan Ibrahimovic? No problem as Sweden had a strong campaign in the group stage including a 3-0 victory against Mexico that knocked out the defending champion Germany. They got two goals from Andreas Granqvist as he was a big reason why they advanced. They will face off against a very good Switzerland side that has two great players in Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri who each scored a goal in this tournament.
James: Switzerland. I just feel like they have the better squad here as they have more fire power.
Thomas: Sweden. They have looked good despite all of the setbacks.
Tali: Switzerland. Shaqiri and Embolo will be hard to counter with their pace for an aging and tired Swedish back line. Also Manuel Akanji has been very solid for Switzerland this far this tournament, another victory for the youth movement at Dortmund.
John: Switzerland, though I think this is among the most balanced matches of this round.
Colombia vs England
Colombia’s chances of moving on were on the brink on the last day, but were able to move on. A big concern is whether James Rodriguez will be back as he was injured in the last match of the group stage. If he is good to go, it would be huge for Colombia. England on the other hand had a strong showing in the group stage. They are led by young forward Harry Kane who has already scored five goals (including a hat trick) in the World Cup and looks to add to that statistic.
James: England. I just think England is the better squad as they are more balanced and have more fire power. Harry Kane is just unbelievable to watch. Without James Rodriguez, Colombia lacks a lot and probably will struggle. They better hope he plays.
Thomas: England look to have a dream cup, so I think they win. The match, that is. Not the whole thing. Let’s not get crazy.
Tali: England. Only because I don’t see James (Rodriguez) being a large part of this game. England has the pace to keep with Cuadrado, and enough attacking prowess with Kane involved to beat Yerry Mina and David Ospina, who has been effective but brittle throughout the tournament.
John: England. The loss of full strength James (Rodriguez) is a dagger blow to Colombia’s chances of mounting a coherent offensive threat and England, though occasionally muddled in terms of chance creation from open play, is extremely dangerous from set pieces. With three centerbacks and Kane, they have a lot of height at these situations, and they work their most dangerous aerial players as they open well by using intelligent runs to draw away defenders from the key area.