That’s it. After an exhausting first round of games, the round of 16 lineup for the Fifa World Cup 2018 is out. There are some surprise entries, as has always been the case. Asia have a solitary representative in Japan, while after a lengthy gap Africa won’t have a single team in the last-16.
Hosts Russia looked sharp in their two opening games and it remains to be seen how far they can progress. They need to pull off a huge upset against Spain to go further into the tournament.
Argentina sealed a last-gasp win to qualify, and Portugal also scraped over the line. Belgium, Colombia, Brazil, and Sweden topped their groups.
Croatia, another group-topper, has also looked a dangerous side. How many would have not predicted Germany to not be in the mix at this stage.
That is, perhaps, the glorious uncertainty of World Cup football.
Spain vs Russia
Spain were pushed to the limit in the group stages and did not enjoy a single easy outing, contrary to what many had predicted before a ball was kicked. Spain, though, managed to pip Portugal to finish as group toppers with five points from three games. Although effective, Spain, under new coach Fernando Hierro, have been underwhelming.
Hosts Russia started the tournament with a bang, thumping five and three goals past Saudi Arabia and Egypt respectively. It ended on a whimper for the Russians towards the end as Uruguay ran circles past them to top group A. Stanislav Cherchesov’s side have their task cut out against the 2010 champions.
When: July 1, 19:30 IST
Portugal vs Uruguay
Portugal fans’ hearts might have sunk when Iranian forward Sardar Azmoun ran clear in the box with time running out in their last group match. Luckily for them, with the score at 1-1, Azmoun missed and Portugal were through with five points from three games, finishing second behind Spain due to inferior goal difference.
Cristiano Ronaldo, who now has four goals in the tournament, will be gunning for more but he has a formidable defence to play against. Uruguay have not conceded a goal and despite not getting out of second gear, they bagged nine points from their three games.
In Diego Godin, they have one of the best defenders in the world. The game has already been dubbed as a battle between Luis Suarez and Ronaldo.
When: June 30, 23:30 IST
France vs Argentina
Argentina sneaked into the round of 16 in dramatic style, and many believe they can string a winning run after defeating Nigeria. Lionel Messi and Co, though, will have a much sterner test than the one they faced against the African outfit. Jorge Sampaoli’s greatest challenge is to fix a porous defence, which was brutally exposed by Croatia.
France, meanwhile, have failed to hit the heights they were expected to. They sneaked past Australia and Peru while playing out a dire goalless draw with Denmark. Antoine Greizmann, who has been underwhelming, and midfield ace Paul Pogba, need to be at the heart of action. Teenager Kylian Mbappe may perhaps provide the inspiration that Didier Deschamps’s side have failed to produce.
When: June 30, 19:30 IST
Denmark vs Croatia
Denmark finished behind France in their group with five points from three games. In all games, they showed that they are a difficult side to break down. Christian Eriksen, despite not hitting the heights that he was expected to, influenced proceedings with a key assist and a stunning goal.
Croatia, meanwhile, are favourites in this tie. They have hardly put a foot wrong. Nigeria were blunted out, Argentina humbled, and Iceland were brought down to their knees. That too after Zlatko Dalic had made a host of changes for the last group game.
When: July 1, 23:30 IST
Mexico vs Brazil
The Mexicans endured an agonising afternoon during their final group match as they lost 0-3 to Sweden and had to wait to know Germany’s fate against South Korea to know if they had progressed. Despair turned into ecstasy for El Tri, as the defending champions limped out of the group stages following a tame 0-2 loss against South Korea.
As for five-time winners Brazil, all eyes were on star forward Neymar’s fitness at the start of the tournament. The PSG forward has blown hot and cold but it was his theatrics that caught the attention of fans. The best part of Tite’s side is that they look like a team that will get better as the tournament progresses.
When: July 2, 19:30 pm IST
Switzerland vs Sweden
Switzerland got five points from three games and their draw against Brazil was their most shock result. They also earned the first comeback win of the tournament, which was against Serbia. It made noise for all the wrong reasons, though. The Swiss have proved that they are a plucky outfit.
Sweden, meanwhile, topped a group that featured Germany, and sealed qualification on an extraordinary last day with a thumping 3-0 win over Mexico. The Swedes’ combative and physical style can hurt opponents.
When: July 3, 19:30 IST
Colombia vs England
A team’s chances take a major hit after losing their first game. Colombia were defeated in their first group game against Japan, but made a strong comeback, defeating Poland and Senegal to top their group. James Rodriguez’s fitness remains a worry after being substituted early against Aliou Cisse’s side. On their day, Colombia are one of the most dangerous teams.
England, meanwhile, surprised a few when they scored eight goals in their first two games, against Tunisia and Panama. A loss to Belgium may have not dampened their spirits, as they managed to avoid being in the star-studded top half of the draw. But Gareth Southgate and Co still have a task on their hands.
When: July 3, 23:30 IST
Belgium vs Japan
Belgium, just like in 2014, won all their group games. Against England, Roberto Martinez earned a win despite making nine changes. His star men – skipper Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens, Kevin de Bruyne and striker Romelu Lukaku – have all been in red-hot form. The Belgians have been tipped as a dark horse by many to win the tournament.
Japan’s chances were written off much before the World Cup started. New coach Akira Nishino had eight weeks to prepare for the tournament. However, they defied expectations with a dramatic entry through fair-play points, a first-time occurrence in World Cup history. The Japanese are technically sound and can hurt any team on the counter-attack. Belgium do start as overwhelming favourites in this fixture.
When: July 2, 23:30 IST