After a record of 136 goals in the first 48 games, tomorrow the World Cup is taking it’s final 16 teams to the knockout stage where usually the surprise teams collapse and the favorites stand. Let’s take a look at each game separately:
BRAZIL vs CHILE (28/6 12:00pm EST)
The bookmakers’ favorite to win. Although news of protests are coming in every day regarding the World Cup’s massive expenditure in a poverty filled country, Brazil has enough population to fill up every single game with crowds going wild. The fans are on fire and so is Neymar, in which the first have found a leader to cheer for. The FC Barcelona winger is the top scorer of the tournament with 4 goals, 2 against Croatia and 2 against Cameroon. With the best defensive quatro (Marcelo, David Luiz, Thiago Silva and Dani Alvez) Selecao is looking to take home the trophy for a record of 6 times.
Since Ivan Zamorano and Marcelo Salas were part of the roster, Chile‘s best attacking duo , the South American country hasn’t had any crazy expectations. Till now. Even though their true leaders, FC Juventus’ Arturo Vidal and FC Barcelona’s Alexis Sanchez, have not produced spectacular football, Chile seems to have a descent enough side to surprise. As they did against World Champions Spain whom they beat 2-0. Anyone who has their eye on the trophy will have to face strong challenges. Chile has to do so now. Against Brazil. Difficult task.
COLOMBIA vs URUGUAY (28/6 4:00pm)
Many thought that the absence of star player Ramadel Falcao would weaken Colombia. On the contrary it’s freed the rest, particularly AS Monaco’s James Rodriguez. The constantly smiling striker has scored in every game so far (Greece 3-0, 2-1 Ivory Coast, 4-1 Japan) and made the rest of the world praise the unity of Coach Jose Pekerman’s team. The first Golden generation of Los Cafeteros comprising of Faustino Asprilla, Carlos Valderama and Freddy Rincon, achieved nothing in the World Cups, even though in 94′ they were labeled as favorites to win. Against Uruguay, in a Latin American contest, Colombia will try and make their supporters proud for the first time since 2001 when they won the Copa America.
Uruguay sprang out alive against powerhouses Italy and England. Frankly, it was not that hard since the European countries were embarrassingly shocking. Uruguay lost their first game to Costa Rica 3-1, but came back after beating England 2-1 and Italy 1-0. Liverpool’s Luis Suarez helped the comeback as he was injured in the first game. However, after his attempt to bite (!) Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder in the game against Italy, the football federation (FIFA) decided to ban Suarez from any soccer related activity for the next 4 months. The soccer driven nation of just 3.5 million people is resting all their hopes now on Edison Cavani, the Paris Saint-Germain prolific striker who took Uruguay to the semi-finals in 2010. They probably won’t win it like in 1930 or 1950 but they’ll be pleased with a win over Colombia.
NETHERLANDS vs MEXICO (29/6 12:00pm)
As long as Arjen Robben is at the condition he is, the Netherlands can reach the final. He’s been the fittest player of the World Cup, scoring, assisting, overloading himself for Robbin Van Persie or Memphis Depay to find space and score and lastly, running back to defend. In the last World Cup final, he missed the chance of the century when on a one-on-one challenge with Iker Casillas, he failed to put the ball in the net. Surrounded by a young but talented defense and an experienced front line, the Bayern Munich midfielder is looking to take the Oranje where Johan Cruyff failed twice in the 70’s. To bring the World Cup to Holland.
The Aztecs have remained unbeaten throughout the group stage. They’re also carrying just 1 goal against them after 3 games. They kept Brazil to zero goals, picking up a glorious 0-0 tie. Adding a 1-0 victory against Cameroon (where they were also disallowed 2 goals) and a 3-1 against Croatia, Mexico advanced easier than their most optimistic fans would expect. Having the 2nd largest crowd after the Brazilians in the World Cup, Mexico is looking to reach the quarter finals, something they’ve accomplished twice back in 1970 and 1986 when the World Cup was held in their country.
COSTA RICA vs GREECE (6/29 4:00pm)
Ever since the Italy 1990 World Cup, Costa Rica has not been able to get out of the group stage. In the biggest surprise of the tournament so far, the Central American country took out England and Italy and topped Uruguay in the infamous group of death. Costa Rica has hardly any other sport to follow besides football, so the whole nation is prepared for glory. Besides, Greece is not considered a bugaboo, so if you can take out 3 World Champions, who says you can’t take out a Euro Champion? With Joel Campbell, Olympiacos FC striker last season, in great form, Los Ticos are hoping to at least reach the final 8.
Labeled again and again as the masterminds of defense, Greece has somewhat become a fan hated team. And they were not proved wrong in the first two games of the group stage. With a 3-0 loss and a “park the bus” tie (0-0) against Japan, Greece only needed a win against Ivory Coast to hope. They managed with Georgios Samaras’, the Dalai Lama, as he’s referred to by his teammates, calmly taken penalty kick in the 93rd minute of the game. A game unfolded the same way a Hollywood screenwriter would type it, lifted 20.000.000 Greeks worldwide to the heavens and gave each player a page in the history books. Any team, be it Brazil or Honduras, is participating with their minds to win. The Greeks are already chanting that they’re staying till the end.
FRANCE vs NIGERIA (6/30 12:00pm)
With 2 wins and a passionless 0-0 draw against Ecuador in their final group game, France easily took charge of the group. Having scored 8 goals in the first two games, 3 against Honduras and 5 against Switzerland, Les Blues startled crowds by showing they’re a real competitor. Without the star players of the recent past, similar to the likes of Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and of course Zinedine Zidane, and having lost Frank Ribbery to injury and Samir Nasri to a dispute, even their home supporters didn’t put too much hope in their representatives. But with 3 goals in 3 matches and an extra one that was disallowed after the ref had already blown the final whistle literally 1 second before he scored, Karim Benzema seems like the man who’s gonna lead France to glory.
Nigeria struggled to find the net in the match with Iran (0-0), scored a crucial goal that lead to 1-0 win over Bosnia and lost with their heads up to Argentina after a magical display of Lionel Messi (2-3). The Green Eagles have overall been the most successful African team to date in all previous World Cups and even though this time they were considered the weakest of the 5 that qualified, they still managed to hit the round of 16. Ahmed Musa, a 21-year-old striker who plays for CSKA Moscow, has been the fellow to watch so far with 2 goals against Argentina and already 40 caps and 9 goals for his country. He is considered Nigeria’s next best thing.
GERMANY vs ALGERIA (6/30 4:00pm)
Since the formation of the World Cup, Germany has failed to make the knockout stage just once. In 1938. Placed 3rd in 2006 and 2010 and losing in the final to Ronaldo’s Brazil in 2002, it seems like their time has come. Having not tasted glory since the Euro of 1996, 18 years is a lifetime to German fans. With the most skillful line of midfielders in the World Cup, including Real Madrid’s Sami Khedira, Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil and Lucas Podolski, Chelsea’s Andre Schurrle and all the Bayern Munich starting center halfs (Toni Kroos, Mario Gotze, Thomas Muller and Bastian Schrweinsteiger) any less than winning the trophy is claimed as failure. Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal was an easy target, swept by the Germans 4-0, while Ghana proved mighty and got a 2-2 draw out of them. USA, in the final group stage game, put some pressure on the Panzers but eventually lost 1-0. Although there have been other teams that qualified with 3 wins, Germany looks like the only one that can go all the way.
The Benjamin of the knockout stage, Algeria, has never made it to this stage before. The game against S.Korea marked them as the first African team to score 4 goals in the World Cup (4-2) and including a well-deserved 1-1 draw with Russia, they allowed their loss to Belgium (2-1) not to affect them. Now they have to face Germany, a team that literally stole their 1982 World Cup hopes to advance in the final 16, when they fixed the game with Austria. Germany had lost 2-1 to Algeria in the opening game in one of the biggest upsets in history and knew that in the final group stage game against Austria they would have to win by 1 or 2 goals for both of them to qualify. Which is exactly what happened in disgust to the rest of the soccer world. Algeria still considers this incident as the biggest scam they’ve experienced and for the nation it’s about time they get their revenge.
ARGENTINA vs SWITZERLAND (7/1 12:00pm)
As expected, group winners Argentina cruised through the first round with 3 wins against Nigeria, Iran and Bosnia who didn’t pose as serious threats. Although Argentina is titled as a favorite to win the whole tournament, its style of play has been problematic. Lavezzi, Aguero and Iguain, some of the world’s top strikers have failed to click so far leaving Leo Messi to do all the scoring. The Barcelona midfielder has managed to lift the team on his shoulders, scoring 4 out of their 6 goals. He is playing freely and unpressured and finally his nation is seeing a true successor to Diego Maradona. However, this sport consists of 11 players and no single man, even the best one in the world, can win the World Cup without some help.
Switzerland, similarly to Greece, is well known for its dynamically defensive play. In January 2013, they played each other at the Karaiskaki stadium in Pireas, tying 0-0 and forcing spectators to walk out, minutes before the final whistle. In the World Cup held in Germany in 06′, they became the sole team to ever get eliminated without conceding a goal during regulation time. They lost to Ukraine on penalties in the round of 16. In 2010, they defeated future Champions Spain in the opening game and terminated the longest streak in the World cup of not conceding a goal (559′) after losing 1-0 to Chile. In this Mundial however, they let in 5 goals in their second game against France (5-2), exposing weaknesses in warding away fast breaking, counter attacking teams. They managed to reassemble their broken spirits by grabbing a prominent victory against Honduras, with a hat-trick by Yugoslavian born Xherdan Shakiri of Bayern Munich. The Central European country, which is comprised of 23 players, 15 of whom are either born in another country or are first generation Swiss, beat Ecuador in its opening game with a 93rd minute goal from Haris Seferovic, ultimately gathering 6 points and advancing as 2nd behind France.
BELGIUM vs USA (7/1 4:00pm)
Participating with their most talented squad since the early 80’s, Belgium‘s new golden generation is aiming rocket high. Reinforced by Hazard of FC Chelsea, Lukaku and Mirallas of FC Everton, Fellaini of Manchester Utd, Courtois of Atletico Madrid and Company of Manchester City, theRed Devils seem like the most complete national soccer team, second maybe only to Germany. Another team with 3 wins in 3 matches, but arguably against weaker sides (Russia, Algeria and S.Korea), Belgium is willing to show that inexperience won’t be a drawback for them to bewilder the crowds.
As long as commercial breaks are not every 5-10 minutes, USA is not willing to spill in the billions of dollars to make soccer a fan’s favorite alongside basketball, American football and baseball. With the expansion of the media though, more and more Americans are realizing why the rest of the world is so attached to the sport. There’s simply nothing like it. Ever since hosting the World Cup in 94′ and reaching the knockout stage, the US has qualified for every World Cup, either failing to impress or hitting the quarter finals like in 2002 when they were defeated 0-1 by Germany but were denied a penalty when Torsten Frings hand-blocked a shot on goal. In this World Cup, USA beat Ghana 2-1, tied Portugal 2-2 and lost to Germany 0-1 in a game where both teams could’ve easily clinched the victory. Star players Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley have connected perfectly and the US is looking to mirror the 2002 successful run.