The Fifa World Cup group stages have now been concluded and the real fun begins. These are the do-or-die knockout fixtures that will separate the potential champions from the pretenders.
Here are my predictions for the eight knockout games – and who will probably advance to the Quarterfinals.
Brazil v Chile
Expect the South American prodigy Neymar to shine again for Brazil here. He has been an absolute sensation so far, almost single-handedly taking the hosts to the knockout rounds.
I think that Chile won’t have a chance against Neymar and company. Sure, they may have won their first two games to squeeze through their group. But these were against an uninspiring Spainish side and an Australian team whom nobody had expected anything from. History also isn’t on Chile’s side, as they have not beaten the Selecao in more than ten years.
The Brazilians will not disappoint, not in the Round of 16, anyway. Neymar and co. will continue to dance their Samba magic – to set the Fifa World Cup alive, for the Selecao.
Netherlands v Mexico
The Dutch have been completely awesome and phenomenal and have most certainly been one of the best attacking teams of the tournament, so far. Sure, they let in a couple of goals against Australia, but one of these was Socceroo Tim Cahill’s Goal of the Tournament. Come on, not many goalkeepers could have saved that one.
Mexico, on the other hand, has a very strong and stubborn defence that successfully managed to stop Neymar and company. But I don’t think they will be able to match up against the merciless Dutch attacking side, especially with Holland’s talismanic Flying Dutchman Robin Van Persie returning after a one-game suspension. Expect the Oranje to edge this game.
Columbia v Uruguay
With the news about Suarez’s lengthy ban following his bite on Italy’s Georgio Chiellini filtering through, I don’t see Uruguay having much chance of progressing further in this tournament.
Much as we all love to hate football’s bad-boy, he has been very influential for Uruguay thus far. Did you see how phenomenal he was, when he had scored those goals to knock the English out of the tournament? Without him, there is a slim chance of Uruguay making the quarter final against the Columbians.
Costa Rica v Greece
Prediction: Costa Rica
Two teams who were thought to be there purely to make up the numbers, are now up against each other in a do-or-die clash.
But the Ticos have played really exceptional football with their wins against much stronger opposition, Italy and Uruguay – to top the group. I can foresee them edging a fortunate Greece side who needed a penalty to squeeze their way into the Round of 16. And if Costa Rica continues to play well, they may even find themselves becoming the champions of the world next month – against all odds.
France v Nigeria
The French have played some great football in the knockout stages, but I must say that their group was a rather easy one to get through. Did you see the way that they blitzed five goals past the sorry Swiss?
So with their brilliant passing game and abundance in creating chances, I can see the Nigerians struggling to handle their slick play. This should be a relatively easy win for the Les Bleus.
Argentina v Switzerland
A Lionel Messi led Argentina side are just beginning to find their groove in this tournament. Against a Swiss side, which completely fell apart and shipped in five goals against the French, I think that Messi will be able to lead his side to victory.
The Swiss may probably try to absorb Argentina’s attack and hope that they can hit on the counter, but sadly this will not be enough for them. They are very likely to be overwhelmed by Lionel Messi and company.
Germany v Algeria
The Algerians don’t have much chance against a rampant Germany side that completely demolished Portugal and narrowly edged out a resurgent USA team.
Against Russia, in their final group game, the Algerians got lucky with the crucial goal that propelled them into the knockout round, but they won’t have such luxury of time and space against the Germans – who should cruise to victory here.
United States v Belgium
The United States has certainly exceeded all expectations, by making it through a rather tough group and coming this far. I must admit that I was surprised.
However, much as we all love these American underdogs, my head thinks that this match will be their final swansong in the 2014 Fifa World Cup. They are simply not good enough to beat the Red Devils, who somehow managed to top their group with a maximum nine points despite not playing their best football.