Round of 16 and beyond: An analysis

The knockout rounds of the World Cup are upon us, and we have some tantalizing match-ups to look forward to.

The dominating trend of the competition so far has been how the “favourites” have really failed to step up to the mark. Defending champions Germany finished bottom of their group consisting of Mexico, Sweden and South Korea. Joachim Loew’s men have already taken the plane back to Deutschland, and this has cleared up a lot of space on that side of the draw for a surprise entrant in the latter stages of the competition. Brazil, France and Spain did top their respective groups, but have all been way below par thus far.

France take on Argentina in the first knockout match on Saturday, in arguably the highest-profile game at this stage of the competition. The South Americans have been very disappointing so far, but there is nothing to say that they can’t pull off a major upset here against Les Blues, whose inexperience has shown.

Brazil face a potential banana skin in the form of Mexico, who beat Germany in their opening match. Tite’s men weren’t really in any trouble in the group stage, but huffed and puffed their way to goal in each of their three matches. Neymar hasn’t hit anywhere near his best form, and Gabriel Jesus and Willian haven’t really made too much of a difference. Nearly everything has gone through Philippe Coutinho. Their North American opponents may have lost 3-0 to Sweden in their last match, but will know that they could cause an almighty upset if they can get back to their best.

Spain are up against hosts Russia, in a game that is more evenly-balanced than people would think. The 2010 champions got through Group B in thoroughly unconvincing fashion, and needed a contentious, last-gasp equalizer against Morocco to finish top. The host nation is going to have the entire nation’s backing in Moscow on Sunday, and there is no reason why a shock can’t be on the cards.

The two most impressive teams in the tournament have arguably been Belgium and Croatia. Both boasted perfect records in the group stages, and will fancy their chances to make it as far as possible into the competition. Belgium will be heavy favourites against Japan, while Croatia face a slightly trickier prospect against a Denmark side that is unbeaten in 17 games.

Portugal, dependent almost solely on Cristiano Ronaldo, face the other team with 3 wins out of 3 in the group stages – Uruguay. The South Americans struggled to find their rhythm in the first two matches, winning each of those by a 1-0 scoreline. In the third match against Russia, they were at their best, with Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez both on the scoresheet in a 3-0 victory.

The road not taken

Belgium’s 1-0 win over England on Thursday means that Roberto Martinez’s men will now face Japan in the round of 16. While that may be an easier game than Colombia (whom they would have faced had they failed to beat England), this sets up a potential match-up against Brazil in the quarter-finals. If they can defy the odds and get the five-time champions, they will run into one of France, Uruguay, Portugal or Argentina in the semis.

England, on the other hand, could have a much simpler route to the finals if they can get past Colombia. The winner of Switzerland vs Sweden will wait in the last 8, and the semis will be against either Spain, Croatia, Russia or Denmark. This may the best chance the Three Lions have to win the tournament they last brought home in 1966.

Potential dream match

The winner of Uruguay vs Portugal will play the winner of France vs Argentina in the quarters. This of course, provides the potential for Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to come face to face for the first time ever at a World Cup. This may also be the last time that’s going to be possible with both players at the height of their powers.

Of course, both Portugal and Argentina are firm underdogs, and are both dependent on their captains to a large extent. Of course, this isn’t an entirely bad thing considering who those two individuals are.