World Cup Knockout Stage: Re-Thinking Round of 16 Picks
Well two weeks have passed and we now have the round of 16 set. We have also seen all the teams play three games apiece; that's enough time to know if teams advanced on just overall talent or because of cohesive, hard teamwork. Factor in what teams may be missing key players due to either injury or suspension (Uruguay), and we find ourselves in a position of realizing some teams may not quite have what is needed to get past this round.
Three of the teams I had predicted didn't advance out of group play-- some due to a surprise team emerging, some due fairly horrible team play. Italy entered group play as a potential favorite to contend, but completely fell apart after beating England in their opener. That match was held in the Amazon city of Manaus where humidity reached levels of 85-90%. The drained Italians seemed to have dead legs in their loss to Costa Rica. In their final match, they were shutout and lost to Uruguay-- officially getting themselves eliminated.
Spain laid monstrous eggs against the Netherlands and Chile, being eliminated before coming back to defeat Australia. As for Russia in Group H, the Russians were only able to muster ties against teams that should have inferior to them. To make things worse, they gave up a late goal against Belgium. In the end, two points was nowhere near enough for Russia to make it out of group play.
Now on to the Round of 16, and who will be able to advance to the quarterfinals. I know that each round has been predicted by myself already, but, after watching all the selections play, it is easy to see some aren't playing as a team-- they just happen to be very talented individually, which carried through inferior competition.
Let's break down each match-up, and pick who will advance to the next round:
Brazil vs Chile- The hosts didn't play convincing football during group play. They luckily escaped Croatia in the opener and dominated Cameroon in the closer, but their best game was the second match that ended in 0-0 draw against Mexico. While they didn't seem to play as a team for most of the tournament, Brazil played most cohesively-- in spurts albeit-- versus Mexico. Chile took care of business against Australia, though not easily, before they completely dominated defending World Cup champion Spain. Though already qualified into the knockout stage, they had a chance to win the group but laid an egg against Cup favorites Netherlands. While they haven't impressed, Brazil still has enough talent to advance to the next round. Brazil over Chile, 3-1.
Colombia vs Uruguay- Colombia dominated a group they were supposed to dominate. Easily beating every opponent to win their group. Uruguay lost their open match against Costa Rica while playing without their best player Luis Suarez. In the next two matches, with Suarez back in the lineup, Uruguay was able to beat both England and Italy to advance out of group. However, because Suarez also bit an Italian defender, Uruguay now has to play the rest of the World Cup without him. I still see Uruguay getting by Colombia only because Colombia had too easy a group where they didn't need to be at there best-- or have their best. Now they enter group play without their best player, Radamel Falcao, who has been out after tearing his knee four months ago. Uruguay gets by 2-1 in extra time.
France vs Nigeria- Benzema has led a red-hot French side into the knockout phase of the World Cup, and find themselves facing a Nigerian selection that in any other group would have no chance of advancing. Benzema also showed that France will be just fine without Ribery. France advances 3-0.
Germany vs Algeria- The Germans began play with a blast, dismantling Portugal 4-0. Then they were stunned in drawing with Ghana before closing out with a tough 1-0 win over the United States. Algeria played tough in a 2-1 loss to Belgium, came guns blazing in 4-2 win over the Republic of Korea, then played tough in a 1-1 draw with Russia that got them into the round of 16. Unfortunately for the Algerians, they are heavily overmatched against the Germans. Germany moves on 4-1.
Netherlands vs Mexico- If there is a team that has played cohesive, creative football it is the Netherlands. They schooled Spain 5-1, beat a game Australia 3-2, and shut out Chile-- without Robin Van Persie. La Oranj has looked like the best team in the tournament, and could just be the team most likely to win the World Cup this year. Mexico, after just barely qualifying for the World Cup, has play tough and very gritty football on the pitch. Guillermo Ochoa has been lights out in goal, and everyone on the attack has had their great share of chances to score in each game. Mexico has played well enough to pull off the upset, but no team is hotter than the Netherlands right now. In the end, the scoring punch provided by Arjen Robben and Van Persie will be too much for El Tri to overcome. Netherlands 3-2.
Costa Rica vs Greece- No one at all expected Costa Rica to make it to this round, much less win the group. Instead they were the best team in a group that had three former World Cup champs. Greece ended up as the second best team in a very underwhelming group. CONCACAF has now qualified three squads, and Costa Rica has the best of the three. The Greeks haven't looked that great, but were still able to get into the knockout stage. Costa Rica moves on with a 3-1 victory.
Argentina vs Switzerland- Argentina is loaded offensively, but have some weaknesses in their defense. Switzerland may have qualified for the tournament rather easily but were destroyed by France in their second group match. While Argentina can seemingly score at will, they struggled a bit in a group that they should have dominated. Switzerland haven't been particularly impressive either. Argentina moves on with a late Lionel Messi goal, 1-0.
Belgium vs United States- Belgium is absolutely loaded with great individual talent, but, after three matches, they have shown no real ability to play together as a team for 90 minutes. While I may have picked them to make it to the semifinals, the Belgians haven't looked like a team quite ready to make that jump anymore. The United States has played excellent, gritty team football for all three games. They jumped out to an early lead, then held off an onslaught by Ghana before they won late. The U.S. came back from an early defensive mistake to dominate Portugal and take the lead before another mistake cost them the victory. They then played great football against a loaded German squad, before giving up a second half goal off a rebound from Thomas Mueller. Belgium has great talent, and could have what it takes to make a run but they unable to play as a team. Going against my original pick, USA 2-1 over Belgium.