The Group Stage was held these past two weeks for the same reason time and time again at each World Cup: to separate the contenders from the pretenders. There were some surprises both in terms of who qualified and who were ousted. The big name countries that were ousted were some of the biggest news. Nevertheless those that qualified got their moment in the sun.
Now begins the knockout rounds to determine the two teams in contention for the Cup. However the first round of the playoff stage will be the Round of 16. The Group Stage not only decided the two advancers from each of the eight groups but also determined who plays who in the knockout stage. Heck they’ll even go to the ever-dreaded penalty kicks to get a winner. One thing about this phase is that it’s organized so that neither of the two qualifiers from the Group Stage meet again until they are both lucky enough to both reach the final.
So without further ado, here are my predictions for the first set of the knockout phases. I will consider both their play exhibited in the Group Stage and their head-to-head play in past matches:
ROUND OF 16
-Brazil (Group A 1st) vs. Chile (Group B 2nd): Brazil and Chile sure have a habit of meeting each other at the World Cup. First time was in 1962 in the semifinals when Chile was host nation. Brazil won 4-2. Next time was in 1998 in the Round of 16: Brazil won again 4-1. The next time was in 2010 again in the Round of 16: Brazil won again 3-0. Look who play in the first Round of 16 match?
In terms of looking at the teams, Brazil has been excellent but has a habit of slowing down when they shouldn’t. Just ask Mexico. Chile has been very good and proved they can rise to the occasion against even the heavy favorites like Spain. Netherlands however gave them a reminder how they still have a ways to go.
My prediction for this round will be Brazil to win. No way is Brazil going to lose in front of their home country. Not with the memories of the Maracanazo in mind. Yes, I’ll post that flashback soon.
NOTE: One thing I’ve noticed is that every first-game of the Round of 16 begins on a good and often thrilling note. I still remember USA 1994 and seeing the first Round of 16 match: Germany vs. Belgium. Three goals scored in the first fifteen minutes. Also a bit of trivia. The first Round of 16 game has never gone to penalty kicks. Let’s hope it stays this way this year.
-Colombia (Group C 1st) vs. Uruguay (Group D 2nd): Funny thing about the first day of the Round of 16 is that it might make you think you’re watching the Copa America instead. Actually one thing about the South American countries is that they’re very thorough in their play against each other. While some continents contest a few countries against each other for a World Cup berth or even half the countries, all South American countries play each other twice to determine the qualifiers. Each of the countries know each other very well from the play. They know their strengths and their weaknesses. It’s possible that even the best South American team can be defeated by a South American team that doesn’t have the legacy or the higher FIFA ranking. Sometimes it makes you wonder if it’s harder to win a continental championship than the World Cup. Not just for South America but for all continents.
Both Colombia and Uruguay have played each other a lot over they years. They’ve both won some and they’ve lost some. Uruguay has won more but Colombia has won more in recent years. My pick for the winner will be Colombia. However don’t be surprised if the match goes to penalty kicks to decide the winner.
-Netherlands (Group B 1st) vs. Mexico (Group A 2nd): Most people at the beginning were writing the Netherlands off, especially from their three losses in the Euro 2012 Group Stage. They didn’t show much sign of improvement. That is, until they stepped on the field against Spain. There they reduced the defending Cupholders to size and continued with impressive wins against Australia and Chile. Orange magic was back. Mexico themselves had low expectations. However it took consistent play from them, and even proving to be a tough match for Brazil, to send the message they haven’t lost it.
My pick for the win is the Netherlands. They have been a scoring machine since the start of the Cup and they don’t show signs of slowing down.
-Costa Rica (Group D 1st) vs. Greece (Group C 2nd): Of all the pair-ups in this Round of 16, this is the only pair that has never played against each other even once before. Costa Rica has been the ‘Cinderella team’ of this World Cup so far with their wins against heavy favorites Uruguay and Italy. Greece has also had a ‘Cinderella’ moment here at the World Cup. With a loss and a tie, they appeared close to elimination before playing the Ivory Coast. However Greece had a surprise. And repeating their surprise from Euro 2012 when a win against Russia in their last Group Stage game, and also with a loss and a tie, helped them advance.
I’ll have to go with Costa Rica because they’ve been better at winning here at the World Cup. But don’t rule out Greece causing a surprise.
-France (Group E 1st) vs. Nigeria (Group F 2nd): France has impressed the football world with their comeback here at the World Cup. The 5-2 win over Switzerland sure showed Les Bleus are back. Nigeria is also another comeback team. They tied Iran, won against Bosnia and gave Argentina a good fight in their 3-2 loss against them. Nigeria advanced for the first time in 16 years and for the third time in their history, making them the first African nation to advance past the Group Stage three times.
I’m normally one to rely on head-to-head stats. If I did, I’d pick Nigeria as they won their one head-to-head match. However I give it to France for their brilliant play they’ve been showing.
-Germany (Group G 1st) vs. Algeria (Group H 2nd): Germany just keep on showing their consistency. The sixteenth straight World Cup where they advance past the Group Stage and the seventh straight World Cup where they finish the Group Stage #1 in their group. Algeria however are having their best ever World Cup. Their first World Cup where they advance past the Group Stage. It was a brilliant 4-2 win against South Korea that solidified their chances.
Now the hard part. Predicting the winner. Normally I’d pick Germany because of their consistency and the fact they’ve made the Top 8 every year since 1954. However I’m reminded at the FIFA site that Germany has played Algeria twice before and lost both times. I’ll say Germany but don’t be surprised if this takes penalty kicks to decide.
-Argentina (Group F 1st) vs. Switzerland (Group F 2nd): Argentina continue showing their consistency even though their wins have been lax. One thing is that Lionel Messi has come back and has scored four goals. Switzerland has been mostly consistent in their play and they didn’t let their 5-2 defeat from France bring them down.
I pick Argentina and not just because of their play. FIFA stats show that Argentina and Switzerland have met six times before. Argentina has won four timed and they drew twice. I don’t think this will be the place Switzerland will get their first win against Messi and the boys.
-Belgium (Group H 1st) vs. U.S.A. (Group G 2nd): Belgium is back. They’ve been questions whether they deserved their ‘seeded’ status during the draw but they’ve won all three of their games, even though with small results like 2-1, 1-0 and 1-0. USA keep writing new chapters for themselves. They deliver an impressive record in the Group Stage to qualify for the Round of 16 for the second time in a row. To think the USA used to be a joke in the football world. Not anymore.
I pick Belgium. yes, the USA has shown they can put up a great fight with even the best of them. However I will rely on the head-to-head stats where the USA has beaten Belgium one time in the five times they’ve met. The last game they played was a friendly less than a year ago which Belgium won 4-2.
For this part, I will assume the quarterfinal match-ups go with my Round of 16 winner predictions.
-France vs. Germany
-Brazil may not like this because they’ve had bad luck against France in the previous three World Cup meetings. I predict France because they’ve had better head-to-head play against Germany.
-Brazil vs. Colombia
I predict Brazil. At first many thought they’d crumble under pressure but they have poured it on against Croatia and Cameroon.
-Argentina vs. Belgium
Argentina’s won three of the four times they’ve played Belgium. It’s likely to stay that way here.
-Netherlands vs. Costa Rica
Oranje and the Ticos have never faced each other before. However Netherlands is skilled enough a team to bring Costa Rica’s ‘Cinderella story’ to an end.
Okay, I’ll save my actual predictions for the semifinals and finals once we learn of the true winners of the Round of 16 and the quarterfinals. My coarse predictions for the semis, should my predictions actually all turn out right, is Argentina beating Netherlands and Brazil finally beating France. Netherlands will win the 3rd-place match and Brazil will win the Cup. In the meantime, those Round of 16 and quarterfinals predictions are my actual predictions for now.