With the Group Stage portion of this 2014 World Cup complete, we’ve finally thinned the herd down to 16 select international sides who will now vie for the title of World’s best. From those that have been there before like Argentina and Brazil, to the 1st timers like Algeria and Greece, the remaining field is laden with talent and stories worthy of football’s biggest stage. Before the action is fired up again on Saturday, let’s take a moment and analyze each of the remaining sides, beginning with the Algerians.
The North Africans made history yesterday against Russia by securing a draw that was enough to put them through to the Round of 16 for the first time ever, also making them the first North African nation since Morocco in 1986 to accomplish the feat. Solid in the back with keeper Rais M’Bolhi keeping his back four in check and inspired up front by goal scorer Islam Slimani, the Algerians are looking to continue their 2014 dream against a powerful German side in the Rof16. They fared relatively well in Group H, being the only team to score against group winners Belgium while benefiting massively from their 4-2 drubbing of the South Koreans. They got the necessary point, deservedly, against a poor Russian side and made it to the next stage, but the Germans contain a level of class that the Algerians haven’t seen yet.
Outlook: Algeria have a perfect opportunity to shock the world and undo the sins of 1982, but it would be a massive ask of them despite their rabid fan base in Brazil.
Prediction: Loss to Germany, 3-1.
Argentina might as well have been rebranded “Team Messi” for the 2014 World Cup, as they have relied almost exclusively on their midfield maestro for their goals thus far, with the Barcelona star scoring 4 of his nation’s 6 goals in their Group Stage matches. Aside from Messi though, the Argentinians have been thoroughly unimpressive in their Group F fixtures against Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran, and Nigeria, managing to beat all 3 sides despite looking lacking in both the attack and defensively. They were the benefactors of an early own goal against the Bosnians, who were making their World Cup debut that night in Rio, and managed to coast to a victory from there thanks to a bit of Messi magic around the hour mark. Against Iran, they again needed Messi to bail them out with a delicious strike at the death, while they appeared a bit better in their final encounter against the Nigerians, although this time they appeared even frailer at the back by giving up a brace to Ahmed Musa.
Outlook: Despite garnering 9 points from their Group Stage games, Argentina appear very one-dimensional at the moment and the loss of Sergio Aguero for their Switzerland Rof16 match won’t help matters much, that is if the Swiss can’t contain their one (albeit him tiny) threat.
Prediction: Win over Switzerland, 2-1.
Similar to Argentina, the Belgians managed to win all 3 of their Group H matches without appearing all too powerful despite their reputation as a World Cup “dark horse” prior to the tournament. They struggled in all 3 matches as they came from behind to narrowly beat Algeria thanks to a couple super subs, left it quite late to defeat an average Russia, and squeaked past South Korea 1-0 in their final match, although they were a man down for a large portion of the game after Steven Defour picked up a straight red, ruling him out for their Rof16 clash against the USA. Belgium will have to be much, much better against the United States if they are to advance, and the star power that’s been missing from Edin Hazard and Romelu Lukaku must show up in Salvador.
Outlook: The task of Belgium is certainly not impossible, but they will need to make a big step forward in the coming days in terms of skill and heart to defeat the Americans, a task they may not be up for.
Prediction: Loss to the United States, 1-1 after ET, 2-4 on PKs.
Neymar and company will have their hands full with Chile on Saturday if they don’t elevate their play from their 3 prior performances at the World Cup which they’re hosting. They may have just shaken off the cobwebs though following a lackluster win over Croatia and a dull draw with Mexico, as the 4-1 thrashing they gave Cameroon may just have kickstarted their true World Cup campaign. Getting Fred off the mark (although he was offsides) may prove to be a key moment for Luis Felipe Scolari’s men, who will undoubtedly have the Belo Horizonte crowd behind them as they face Chile. The Brazilian defense will have to be alert due to the speed and quickness of the Chileans, but Brazil when playing to their potential are just simply better than all of the other teams at this tournament.
Outlook: It will take effort, but there’s no reason Brazil should slip up against a Chilean team with defensive issues.
Prediction: Win over Chile, 3-1.
Speaking of the Chileans, they enter this encounter with Brazil after a successful Group campaign that saw them eliminate Spain at that Maracana before losing out to the Netherlands, a match which placed them in this Rof16 match. Led by the deadly Alexis Sanchez in a striking role and solid with Gary Medel in the back, the South Americans should be stiff opposition for Brazil on the night, although Chile’s last match against the Netherlands exposed some serious defensive flaws for La Roja, flaws which could see them eliminated against Brazil.
Outlook: Its not out of the question to think Chile could win, but it would take a near perfect game from them.
Prediction: Loss to Brazil, 3-1
A side that have impressed many in Brazil, the Colombians have rolled over all opponents so far from Group C, defeating Greece and Japan handily while they did labor a bit to take down the Ivory Coast, but they still had a 2-0 lead in that match as well. James (pronounced Jamez) Rodriguez looks a revelation for them in a role that would have otherwise been occupied by the injured Radamel Falcao, and he along with his fellow attackers look likely to mount more goals against Uruguay, who will of course be without their main goal threat in Luis Suarez, and all the better for Colombia as ‘keeper David Ospina is probably their weakest link.
Outlook: The Colombians got a favorable matchup with Uruguay, and expect them to take advantage of it.
Prediction: Win over Uruguay, 2-1.
The shock and delight of the tournament so far, Costa Rica shocked the masses by not only escaping, but topping Group D over England, Italy, and Uruguay respectively. Even more impressively, the Costa Ricans managed to take something from each of their 3 matches: 2 wins against Italy and Uruguay along with a scoreless affair vs. England once they had already secured passage. Manager Jorge Luis Pinto has been a joy to watch on the touchline so far and his side should continue to provide him with more moments of joy, as long as Joel Campbell continues to loom large in attack with Bryan Ruiz feeding the ball to him.
Outlook: The Greek defense may hinder the Costa Rican attack for a while, but their persistent inability to score will allow Costa Rica plenty of bites at the apple.
Prediction: Win over Greece, 2-0.
The French have been superb so far in Brazil, dispatching their Group E opponents with relative ease aside from a final goalless affair with the Ecuadorians. Striker Karim Benzema has been instrumental in their success at the World Cup, scoring gobs of goals for France and setting up quite a few as well, with the Real Madrid man currently on 4 goals, although he could easily have been on 6 by now if not for a referee’s whistle and a miraculous deflection off the inside of the post. Regardless, Hugo Lloris has not had much to deal with so far in goal, although I expect him to hold up nicely against the Nigerians in what should be a nervy affair with a closer than expected result.
Outlook: Nigeria will be by far their toughest game to date, but France should fully exercise their demons of 2010 by advancing in Brasilia.
Prediction: Win over Nigeria, 1-0 in ET.
The Germans topped Group G behind a strong opening day rout of Portugal and a last day cakewalk over the US, despite the scoreline only being 1-0. Thomas Muller has been a man in form for the German machine, notching the 1st of Brazil 2014′s 2 hat-tricks so far and Miroslav Klose making history by equaling the Brazilian Ronaldo’s World Cup goal scoring record of 15 in the game against Ghana. The placement of Phillip Lahm in the middle of the park instead of as a wingback is still a question mark to some, but the German defense should stay strong enough against an admittedly weaker Algerian outfit in Porto Alegre.
Outlook: Germany have looked in charge in each of their contests so far, and you shouldn’t expect that to change in the Rof16.
Prediction: Win over Algeria, 3-1.
The Greeks advanced to their first ever Round of 16 thanks to a dramatic Georgios Samaras penalty in stoppage time against the Ivory Coast, a goal which put the Greeks through and sent the Ivoirians home in a Group C finale. This Greek side seemingly resurrected itself following a really poor opening loss, 3-0, to Colombia. Ever since then however, the Greeks have looked an improved team both defensively as shown in their 0-0 draw with Japan when they played for 60 minutes with 10 men, and of course in their historic 2-1 win over the Ivory Coast. Fernando Santos should be proud of his side for the heart and resiliency they’ve shown in the Group stage, but their fairy tale should end against a Costa Rican side with skill and pace.
Outlook: They’ve done a great job getting here, but don’t expect much more from Greece.
Prediction: Loss to Costa Rica, 2-0.
The Mexicans have overcome pre-World Cup turmoil and a brutal qualification run in CONCACAF to surprise some in Brazil by escaping Group A with Brazil, actually achieving the same number of points as Brazil only to be edged out on goal differential. Regardless, their newfound success can be attributed mainly to new manager Miguel Herrera and ‘keeper Guillermo Ochoa, whose heroic saves ensured their 0-0 draw with Brazil in their second group match. The football gods dealt them a harsh blow though as they are to face the Netherlands in the Round of 16, who should have too much firepower for Mexico to handle in Fortaleza.
Outlook: Mexico have impressed thus far, but should lose a narrow decision to the Orange.
Prediction: Loss to the Netherlands, 1-0.
Probably the most impressive side in Brazil, the Dutch have simply demolished all other teams in Group B, beginning with their 5-1 destruction of Spain that we all remember so well. RVP and Arjen Robben have finally lived up to their playing potential in both attack and in the center of the field, with the Dutch defense also holding steady so far despite prior concerns of youth and inexperience failing them. All in all, the Netherlands look like real threats to take the entire tournament, and that should begin with a win over Mexico in the Round of 16.
Outlook: The Netherlands have outclassed all opponents so far and that should continue against a stubborn Mexican side.
Prediction: Win over Mexico, 1-0.
Nigeria have performed brilliantly during a time of sadness and tragedy for their country, advancing out of Group F thanks in large part to a controversial win over Bosnia and Herzegovina. Granted, they did need several fortunate calls from the officials to ensure the victory, but Nigeria won’t complain a bit about it as they advance to the knockout rounds for the first time this century. While Victor Moses has been a true disappointment for the Super Eagles, Ahmed Musa has taken his chance incredibly well by bagging a brace against Argentina and appearing a very bright attacking presence for the Nigerians. Peter Odemwingie as well appears like he has a goal or two still left in him, but they won’t receive any favors from a stout French defense.
Outlook: Nigeria aren’t the worst side left in the tournament, they just simply have a bad matchup against France, but expect Nigeria to compete to the end.
Prediction: Loss to France, 1-0 in ET.
The Swiss enter their Round of 16 date with Argentina on a high following Xherdan Shaqiri’s heroics against Honduras, as the Bayern Munich man bagged himself a hat-trick en route to single handedly putting his nation into the knockout stages following both embarrassment against France and a last minute win against Ecuador. Ottmar Hitzfeld’s last go around with the national side has proved in fact to be a memorable one, but no one can realistically see their defense hold up against Messi and company, especially after watching the carving they took from France about a week ago.
Outlook: The Swiss will take many memories from this tournament, but probably not a spot in the Quarterfinals.
Prediction: Loss to Argentina, 2-1.
The loss of striker Luis Suarez to the 9 match and 4 month FIFA suspension for biting will undoubtedly hurt Uruguay’s chances of advancing against the Colombians, as the match at the Maracana may well turn into a shootout between two sides who love to score. The only problem is that Suarez is an integral part of the Uruguayan attack and they may well struggle mightily without his services up front, especially since the Colombian back line is relatively untested so far this tournament. Uruguay were a great team with Suarez, good enough to beat England and Italy. Uruguay are a decent team without Suarez, decent enough to lose to Costa Rica, and in a few days Colombia.
Outlook: It would be an incredibly competitive match with Suarez in the lineup, without him, Colombia are clear favorites.
Prediction: Loss to Colombia, 2-1.
The United States provided a decently-sized shock in the “Group of Death”, advancing ahead of Portugal and Ghana thanks to 3 strong performances in the group, all kick started by John Brooks’ late header against the aforementioned Ghanaians. The remaining 2 matches saw the US improve in each as automatic qualification was snatched from them right at the death by a superb CR7 cross in the Portugal game, while they tasted defeat against Germany only to advance anyway. Jurgen Klinsmann has done a splendid job in getting his 23 man squad to believe that they can continue to pull shocks at this tournament, but his lack of a replacement for injured striker Jozy Altidore may come back to haunt him against the Belgians.
Outlook: It will be a tooth and nail battle against Belgium, but the USA has had luck on its side so far in Brazil….
Prediction: Win against Belgium, 1-1 after ET, 4-2 on PKs.