Finally, it’s time for true win or go home games. No more draws, no more we-can-lose-by-one-or-two-but-not-three, no more Portugal (sorry, that’s the last time I pick on them, I promise). Now here’s a quick primer on what to expect over the next 4 days, bearing in mind I am in no way qualified to judge these teams (other than having watched all but 3 group stage games – it was a serious commitment).
Chile has surprised a lot of people, obviously by defeating Spain, but also with their impressive energy and attacking verve (strange how that word is only ever used in conjunction with “attacking”, never “shaving” or “sexual assaulting”). But despite their alarming draw with Mexico, Brazil is looking more comfortable all the time and should handle this one. Expect them to leave it late, though, when the little Chileans eventually start slowing down a bit.
Despite Uruguayan claims that the whole Suarez ban is just a thinly veiled conspiracy to push them out of the World Cup in favour of larger television markets I’m pretty certain it all really happened. Psycho-boy actually did bite an big Italian dude and should be suspended. Unless FIFA put him up to it… hmm, the plot thickens. Well, not really. What is real is that Uruguay will probably play well since the remaining 22 players have to be a little annoyed that they are being talked about like a team of Timbits without their voracious talisman, but the Colombians are a surprisingly complete team and should win this one, although I wouldn’t be shocked either way.
I know the Dutch bandwagon is in full swing right now but I don’t see much to this team besides Robben, Van Persie and a couple solid centre-backs. Sneijder is a shadow of his former self, which is probably why he now plays in Turkey. Mexico is far from perfect but they are riding a huge wave (get it, Mexican wave?) of momentum right now, starting with their crazy ADD manager. Not a guy who’s antics are made for long-term success but in a short tournament? These guys are buying in, and from what I’ve seen their keeper is at least twice as good as Holland’s. That may be the difference.
Welcome to the one game this weekend everyone has earmarked as a great opportunity to take a break from watching soccer for a while. The Costa Ricans are a huge surprise, obviously, and the Greeks are huge dicks, obviously. So who will win? No idea, but I expect it to be really boring. Let’s go with Costa Rica in extra time.
The French have gone with three completely different lineups in three games and they looked loaded the whole time regardless (loaded-talented, not loaded-too much wine with brunch). Their depth is their greatest strength. Nigeria’s greatest strength is, um, I don’t know exactly. How did they get to this point again? No idea, but they won’t go any further than this.
While I have said all along that I think Germany is the best team in the world, at least when not playing the home team in front of 200,000 fans in Rio De Janeiro, the Algerians have become my new favourite team to watch. When they are playing their normal game and aren’t under strict orders to do nothing and let South Korea make a game of it, their passing and movement in the attacking end is as good as any team in the tournament. Unfortunately for them, their back line doesn’t match up with Germany’s, and as much of a revelation as Islam Slimani has been up front, he’s still no Muller, Podolski or Klose when it comes to clinical finishing on a big stage. I’m going with Germany in one the most exciting games of this round.
Interesting matchup. The Argentines haven’t looked good yet, their only good game coming when Messi and Di Maria stepped up from merely great to unbelievable. But their top passer and “set-up man” is Javier Mascherano, a tough defensive midfielder but about as suited to a creative role as I am to playing offensive line for the Riders. Every game the Swiss have looked like a different team to me, I have no idea what their true identity is. Obviously Shaqiri is really good, and they all have quite pleasant hair, but beyond that… I’m gonna go with Switzerland in the upset here. Unless Messi scores a bunch of goals. Then I’m pretty sure Argentina will win.
On paper you’d take the Belgians every day. Of course, on paper you’d have said the Belgians wouldn’t have struggled to score just 4 goals in 3 games in the weakest group of the tournament. And none of those goals were scored until the 70th minute or later. Still, Witsel and Kompany should handle Dempsey, the fast American wingers shouldn’t trouble the fast Belgian wingers, and neither team can really score. So can Hazard step up and be the difference or is this one going to penalties? I think he makes something happen and once again the Belgians do just enough to get by.