This part of the World Cup is both sad and exciting. We’ve already seen 48 of the 64 matches and 136 goals scored—only nine short of the total from 2010. Sixteen teams left; 16 of them out. We say goodbye to debutants like Bosnia-Herzegovina and giants like Italy and Spain. But now every game is worth double. Now is when nations make history. It’s the first trip to the Round of 16 for Algeria, a country once divided by civil war, and it’s a second consecutive journey to this stage of the World Cup for the United States. Then there’s Colombia, Chile, Belgium and Costa Rica: a stable of dark horses ready to surprise the world again.
Here is a snapshot of the next few matches.
Brazil vs. Chile The Brazilians did not look convincing in the group stage, and they will need Neymar to score their goals. He already has four in this, his first World Cup. Brazil is shaky at the back, despite a back-line tandem worth more than €100 million. Brazil has not lost to Chile since 2000, and the Chileans lost their last match again the Netherlands. But this is a team that is not afraid to attack, and Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal, despite niggling injuries, look dangerous. “When I talked about Chile then, people made fun of me, they said Chile wasn’t good enough,” said Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari. That view has changed.
Colombia vs. Uruguay The Colombians dance better than any other team in the World Cup—and they play some pretty ruthless soccer as well. Juan Cuadrado has three assists and goal, and Uruguay will have a tough time handling him on the flanks. Uruguay is also without Luis Suarez, and while Edinson Cavani has not played particularly poorly in this tournament, he will need to lead the line.
Netherlands vs. Mexico For a team that barely qualified, El Tri have surprised us. Coach Miguel Herrera has entertained us. They are not a shy and timid team, not the team that went through three coaches since 2010. The Dutch, however, look like the team to beat. They’re deadly on the counter, and Arjen Robben, who is so often a one-trick player, is so quick and incisive on the run.
Costa Rica vs. Greece Nobody had this matchup, two unlikely teams to get out of their group. Costa Rica is a team with a fighter’s attitude, getting out of one of the groups of death, but Greece, probably the most boring team in this tournament, scored just twice and found a way through.
Winner: Costa Rica
France vs. Nigeria The Ghanaians, not the French, were the ones imploding this time. France has successfully reformed under coach Didier Deschamps, and they’re firing goals. Karim Benzema looks like he could score hat-tricks for fun. The Nigerians were not so impressive in the group stage, but they are one of only two African teams left in the World Cup.
Germany vs. Algeria Thomas Muller already has nine World Cup goals, and he’s just 24. He celebrates every goal as if he’s just conquered a nation, and that’s exactly what he’s done this month. But that’s not the extent of Germany, which is simply the most talented team left. The Algerians cut a different figure. They allowed their people back home to celebrate a first appearance in the knockout rounds like they celebrated independence. It is the most pride we’ve seen in this World Cup.
Argentina vs. Switzerland This has to be his World Cup. Lionel Messi has saved Argentina so far, scoring four crucial goals at important times, but he himself has not looked amazing. Against a team like Swizterland, the Argentinians should fire shots at will, and it looks like they have saved their best for the business end—including Messi.
Belgium vs. United States The Belgians have finally arrived on the scene, but they were not impressive, and they have only scored four goals. The matchup works for the U.S. The Americans play with a strong mentality, never giving up, but both teams did just enough to make it this far.