After the first break of the tournament, the World Cup is ready to proceed with what promise to be four great days of football. The round of 16 will kick off later today with two of the most interesting match-ups on paper: France-Argentina and Uruguay-Spain.
Les Bleus have won two out of three matches in the group stage, but they have been rather uninspiring so far, squeaking by Australia and Peru and drawing with Denmark. The Albiceleste is the poster child of not playing up to their talent: they showed great character in the thriller against Nigeria, but their manoeuvre is still way too discombobulated. Both teams need to improve to go far, but they have an excellent launching pad early because eliminating a contender always gives you a big boost.
Uruguay has looked like a quiet juggernaut so far: their defence has been rock-solid and the Luis Suarez-Edinson Cavani tandem can carry any team. If they do not concede, and they have collected three clean sheets so far, they will eventually find a way to score and this is a formula that can allow them to go to distance. Portugal has been opportunistic: they have not looked as organized and fluid as in Euro 2016 for instance, but they went toe-to-toe with Spain. It obviously helps to have Cristiano Ronaldo on your side. The performance against Iran was worrying, but they do not necessarily need to play well to win.
On Sunday, Spain will square off against Russia. The Red Fury has been just OK so far, they have not been able to overwhelm opponents with their ball possession and tiki-taka and have not managed to create a bounty of chances as its best version would do. However, an in-form Diego Costa gives them a new, more pragmatic dimension. The Sbornaya has been one of the surprises, they have a terrific counter-attacking game, with Denys Cheryshev and Aleksandar Golovin leading the way, and Artem Dzyuba is a handful.
Croatia will take on Denmark. The Vatreni certainly looked like one of the best squads of the tournament: they have a tasty array of weapons at their disposal and they have displayed a highly efficient brand of football. They have swept through their schedule and Luka Modric has been one of the best players of the competition. What they have done to Argentina was filthy. On the other hand, the Dynamite has been able to take advantage of the few opportunities here and there, with their leader Christian Eriksen shining bright.
On Monday, Brazil will face Mexico: La Seleçao has been improving throughout the first three matches, which is always a good sign. They have not gotten much from Gabriel Jesus and Willian so far, but Philippe Coutinho, Paulinho and Neymar have been enough to avoid too much troubles after the faux pas against Switzerland. They have a pair of injury concerns because Douglas Costa and Marcelo are hurt. La Tricolor won two out of three fixtures, but was still at risk of elimination until late. They displayed a devastating countering ability against Germany, while they had a more all-around performance against South Korea before faltering against Sweden.
Later that day, Belgium, another team that has won all three games so far, will encounter Japan. The Red Devils have been fantastic: the three-headed monster upfront has been on a tear, they have a precise idea and they execute it with a good dose of finesse. They are certainly a true contender. The Blue Samurai have proven to possess a good amount of fighting spirit and resiliency in them.
On Tuesday, Sweden will square off against Switzerland: two fairly similar teams, tactically sound and sturdy, one more physical, the other more technical. The final game is another intriguing one: Colombia versus England. Besides the debut against Japan, that immediately took a turn for the worse, Los Cafeteros have had solid performances, unexpectedly battering Poland and then topping Senegal in the deciding one. They could be trouble if they have room to attack, but they are also pretty muscular. The Three Lions pulled off a late win against Tunisia, where they had less problem than what the final score indicates, and then smashed Panama, before settling against Belgium. They could be a dark horse with such a young team, but also melt in front of the first difficulty. They are gifted, but they are a wild card.
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