From this point on, it is win or go home.
The World Cup enters the knockout stage today, with the first two of eight round-of-16 matches that conclude Tuesday, with the U.S. and Belgium matching up at 4 p.m., for a spot in the quarterfinals. There have been some surprises along the way, both in the teams that have returned home, and some that have advanced out of their respective groups.
Let’s take a look at the eight matches in this round, and see which teams should move on into the quarterfinals.
Group winners from B, D, F, and H are on one side of the bracket, along with runners-up from A, C, E, and G, while group winners from A, C, E, and G, along with runners-up from B, D, F, and H are on the other side of bracket
Brazil (1st, A) vs. Chile (2nd, B) noon, Estádio Mineirão, Belo Horizonte.
What a way to kick off the knockout matches. Brazil and Chile tied 2-2 last time they played, and this has the potential to be another classic. Neymar has led the Selecao with four goals, but Chile had a dominating 2-0 win over defending champion Spain, and Arturo Vidal is closer to 100 percent than he was two weeks ago. There will be goals in this one. 4-2 Brazil.
Colombia (1st, C) vs. Uruguay (2nd, D) 4 p.m., Estádio Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro.
Another all-South American clash. Colombia is flying into the round-of-16, with three wins and nine points. James Rodriguez is a superstar, and with him firing on all cylinders, Colombia has not missed Radamel Falcao. Uruguay will be without suspended striker Luis Suarez, and he will be a big hole to fill. Uruguay will need to score o keep up with Colombia, but from where will the goals come?
Netherlands (1st, B) vs. Mexico (2nd, A) noon, Estádio Castelão, Fortaleza.
The Dutch have been very impressive. They won all three matches in the group stage, and got a chance to rest some players in the third match. Robin van Persie missed that match through a yellow card suspension, but the week off may have done him well. Mexico, one of a record three CONCACAF teams in the knockout round, is led by keeper Guillermo Ochoa. The Mexicans had some timely goals as well. The Director thinks this is the most evenly matched game in the round, but I think Netherlands, led by Arjen Robben, van Persie, and Memphis Depay, will advance by a score of 3-1.
Costa Rica (1st, D) vs. Greece (2nd, C) 4 p.m., Arena Pernambuco, Recife.
If you picked these two teams to play in this round, then please, pick my lottery numbers for tonight. Costa Rica finished unbeaten in a group with England, Italy, and Uruguay. Greece scored one goal from open play, and somehow finished second. Another CONCACAF side, Costa Rica are solid on defense, and have just enough offense to give the Greeks a problem. Should be low scoring. 1-0 Costa Rica, in added extra time.
France (1st, E) vs. Nigeria (2nd, F) noon Estádio Nacional de Brasilia, Brasília.
France cruised through its first two matches, before Didier Deschamps rested the squad for the Ecuador game. Hopefully for Les Bleus, it can get back to their form of the first two matches, when they scored eight times. Nigeria needed a few breaks from the referee to advance, but it is here now. Nigeria scored twice against the average Argentina defense, but it now comes up against a much stronger unit.
Germany (1st, G) vs. Algeria (2nd, H) 4 p.m., Estádio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre.
Germany won its group without playing its best. It will have to ratchet up the play to make a long run. Thomas Muller is at the top of the goal scoring chart for the second World Cup in a row, and can score in bunches. Algeria is in the round-of-16 for the first time, and fully deserves the opportunity, after three solid matches in the group stage. A great story could become even better with a win here, but Germany is too strong for the Desert Foxes. 2-0 Germany.
Argentina (1st, F) vs. Switzerland (2nd, E) noon, Arena Corinthians, São Paulo.
Argentina has looked average at time, while Lionel Messi has been anything but. Tied atop the scoring with four goals, Messi has been spectacular, putting to bed the thought that he does not show up in the blue and white Argentina shirt. Defense is still suspect, and the Swiss, led by Xherdan Shaqiri, can exploit the back four. There should be goals in this match. Argentina 3-2.
Belgium (1st, H) vs. United States (2nd, G) 4 p.m., Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador.
Belgium won all three matches, but it did not look special. Marc Wilmots made seven changes in the last match, which Belgium won playing with 10 men. Eden Hazard has had moments of brilliance, but they have been few and far between, just like his team. The Americans advanced despite winning only one match, led by Tim Howard in the goal and Clint Dempsey at striker. Midfield has been a major issue, other than Jermaine Jones. Belgium 2-1.
After this round, there will only be a week and a half, and eight teams, left in the tournament. Let us hope that these matches are as exciting as the group stage matches were.
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