The group stages are done and dusted, and there have been surprises. Europe’s elite are out—England, Spain, Russia, Portugal and Italy—while the traditionally less favored teams like Belgium, Netherlands, France have made it through without much fuss. Between these three teams, they won 8 of their 9 group stage games without a loss, while Germany topped the Group of Death (USA, Portugal, Ghana) expectedly. Here are the knockout fixtures along with some fun predictions:
Brazil v/s Chile (28th June)
The first knockout game will feature two South American teams on the opposite side of the spectrum. Chile have arguably been the most impressive side of the Group Stages so far (and Sanchez the best player), finishing second to a rampaging Netherlands in their group. They defeated Australia and defending champions Spain, and will now take on a Brazilian team that has been over reliant on star player Neymar. Neymar has scored 4 out of their 6 group stage goals, and though they started as pre-tournament favourites, expect this to be their toughest fixture of the Cup. If they fail, there is no coming back from three consecutive World Cup failures. Chile is the team most capable of causing this upset. Unless Neymar has other ideas. Could he be to Brazil what Maradona was to Argentina in 1986?
Prediction: Brazil 3-1 Chile
Netherlands v/s Mexico (29th June)
Super Sunday begins with current favourites Netherlands taking on a side that frightened Brazil in the group stages. There are no better strikers in European football than Dutch stars Van Persie and Robben on a roll, and they will come up against the current superstar of the tournament in goalkeeper Ochoa—who is yet to see his team defeated. Mexico qualified second on inferior goal difference to Brazil, and were arguably more impressive as a unit, and will form the perfect bull-minded opponents to the free-flowing Dutch antics. An upset? Maybe not. This will be Netherland’s warning bell to the rest of the teams.
Prediction: Netherlands 2-0 Mexico
Columbia v/s Uruguay (29th June)
Again, two South American foes face off in what will be a battle of equals. Uruguay have the greater experience but will be without their star Suarez—who has been rightfully banned for bite-gate in the Italy game. These are brave teams, and Columbia’s celebrations have been a joy to behold. Their fairytale looks to continue against a team that looked clueless in the first game against Costa Rica without Suarez. Love him or hate him, Uruguay depend on him more than Brazil do on Neymar.
Prediction: Columbia 1-1 Uruguay (Columbia on penalties)
Costa Rica v/s Greece (30th June)
It feels like a parallel world where teams like Greece and Costa Rica advance to the knockouts while teams like Spain and Italy fall through. This is not to say that these ‘minnows’ are inferior, but they have come as the better-prepared teams, and Greece will consider themselves the luckiest to get away from the tie with Ivory Coast with a win. A last gasp penalty by Samaras confirmed second place for them in a group that saw them begin as the last team on the final day of group games. This is the most wide-open contest, with Costa Rica advancing from a group containing England, Italy and Uruguay. Rub your eyes, this is real. And the dream won’t end anytime soon.
Prediction: Costa Rica 3-0 Greece
France v/s Nigeria (30th June)
France will consider themselves lucky to have drawn Nigeria—who scraped through the Argentina group past Iran and Bosnia. The African Champions have always underperformed at World Cups, but seem to have gotten the easier group to advance. They played a brave last game against Argentina—scoring 2 goals but conceding 3, losing mostly due to Messi’s brilliance. But their dream could end here as they face a French team that sailed past their group without a scratch. Even a last-game draw with Ecuador didn’t harm them much, after they thrashed Honduras and Switzerland. France could enter the quarters for the first time since 2006—where they defeated Brazil in the last 8.
Prediction: France 3-1 Nigeria
Argentina v/s Switzerland (1st July)
Down to two men: Messi and Shaqiri. Switzerland will find it tough to contain the Barcelona superstar after being sliced open by France in the group stages, but they will need to find their A game against a scratchy-looking Argentinian outfit dragged only by Messi in a relatively simple group to overcome.
Prediction: Messi 2-1 Switzerland
Germany v/s Algeria (1st July)
The Germans are back in town. They defeated USA in their final group game to advance in style, and will now face Algeria—who upset Russia in a draw to advance from the Belgium group into the knockouts. It is hard to look past the European favourites here, and they pose the biggest challenge to the South American brigade this tournament. Muller is on 4 goals, and one expects him to poach some more against an Algerian team that feels fortunate enough to be in this round. They were brave against Capello’s Russia, but will face the test of their lives against Germany.
Prediction: Germany 4-1 Algeria
Belgium v/s USA (2nd July)
Evenly matched teams, simply because USA have played out of their skins to qualify over Ghana and Portugal. The ‘soccer’ team will face a well-organized Belgian team that have fulfilled expectations by winning all their 3 games in the group stages. This will be a mercurial battle that could go down to penalties.
Prediction: Belgium 1-2 USA