Knockout Stage Predictions and Preview

It’s here. We’re left with half the teams we started with in this 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, the Group stage finally behind us. At times we were pushed to frustration and anger, and other times we’ve been passionate beyond belief:

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But we’re here, it’s the knockout stage. To those teams who have squeaked by with limited competition and little resistance (CC: England, Belgium, Uruguay), it only gets harder. The real test comes now when the stakes are higher and if you don’t win you’re done. C’est finis.

This time around we had some surprises, most notably the number of PKs in the group stage, another former winner being stunted in the group, and others.

Big picture, here’s what the knockout stage is looking like:

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From CBS Sports because I’m lazy.

There’s a clear “side of death” to this knockout stage, with a lot of heavy hitters on one side (Uruguay, Portugal, Brazil, Belgium, Argentina and France). For those other teams like Spain, Croatia, Columbia and England, they’re looking at a potentially easier road to the final. So with the shock teams through and ready to rumble, I’m going to dive right into my predictions for the upcoming knockout games:

France vs. Argentina (6/30 @ 10AM EST)

The first two games are extremely frustrating to predict, in my opinion. I see a France team who, in the group stages, didn’t show the world why we should be afraid of them. A sort of “sleeping bear,” France won its group pretty easily without having to exert too much energy.

That could be a good or bad thing, honestly. We’ve seen them flake out before with strong teams (South Africa 2010). We’ve also see what their players can individually do in Griezmann, Pogba, Lemar, Dembele, Matuidi, Kante, Lloris, I could go on. They’re a pretty stacked team on paper, it’s just a matter of Deschamps putting out the best lineup (not Matuidi on the wing) in order to beat a very lucky Argentinian team.

A team who made the knockouts by the skin of their teeth because of a beautiful goal from Rojo.

If that’s what you’re relying on to beat teams in the World Cup and win it, that’s not going to be enough.

And while I love Lionel Messi, and think he’s the most incredible player to ever touch a ball, I haven’t seen him put his team on his back the way Ronaldo has. He’s more content with sulking or sitting back.

At the same time, I can’t discount Messi and Co. They do have some great players in Otamendi, Banega, Di Maria, and pretty much all their attacking options.

Again, I believe this game comes down to matchups, and which coaches are willing to take a risk on players in the attacking positions. For what it’s worth: Argentina have never lost to France (4-0).

Prediction: 3-2 France

Uruguay vs. Portugal (6/30 @ 2PM EST)

This matchup should be great. CR7 has been on fire this World Cup, dragging his team through the mud into the knockout round. His tenacity has been unmatched thus far, save for maybe Chicharito.

But this isn’t a group stage match. Uruguay has some tough players that Ronaldo will need to have dealt with in order to have a chance. Suarez and Cavani have started to find their form, though they have missed a number of sitters that could have put some teams away even more than they did. 9/9 points taken isn’t an easy feat, even if it was an easy road. It gave them a nice boost in my book in the overall rankings.

Godin has been a rock for Uruguay, and overall they seem to be more organized than their South American Blue and white counterparts in Argentina. He has proven, in this tournament, that he might be the best Center back in the world (over Ramos). He has been pacey, his tackling has been perfect, and his passing out of the back has been second to none. One of the main reasons they haven’t conceded a single goal at the World Cup.

And while I do think there’s a chance the Portuguese team can beat any team on any given day, I also think Uruguay can do the same. If Carvalho controls the midfield for them, there’s a strong chance we see Uruguay’s play out on the wings be pressed more – not a bad thing.

Obvious key factor is Ronaldo and how he presses Uruguay. But Carvalho is important, as well as Pepe in the back. Goncalo Guedes hasn’t played terrible, though he’s very young. Bernardo Silva will be integral to the Portuguese attack, i believe, with Uruguay’s Bentancour doing well to push attacks out wide.

Prediction: 2-1 Uruguay.

I think Ronaldo’s prowess and tenacity might have proven to be too much in the group stages but not enough to beat Uruguay.

Spain vs. Russia (07/01 @10AM EST)

Russia, following a devastating ass-kicking from Uruguay, has to be a little nervous coming into the knockout. First two games everyone was surprised at their performance, speculating on the number of steroids their players were using.

But when it came time to play against a big-boy team, they flaked out. Flaked out hard. Golovin has played very well for the Russians, and to be fair their team has a lot of discipline and organization out of the back. Not your typical “hoofing it up field with large Russians to target” team, but still missing some cleanliness in passing and protection.

That’s where the Spanish will thrive. With Diego Costa, David Silva, Iniesta and Isco leading from the front, it will be very hard for Russia, I think, to maintain considerable possession. If the Spanish are smart, they’ll do just that. The hosts have been on the better end of 50/50 balls for the majority of the world Cup, but when its against Pique and Ramos, with Busquets in the middle, it might tip the scale enough.

Either way, I believe the Russian’s run might end at this game. They could surprise some people if they come out to an early lead, but I won’t hold my breath.

Prediction: 2-0 Spain

Croatia vs. Denmark (07/01 @2PM EST)

Croatia, if any of you recall, is currently at the top of my power rankings following the group stage. They were the only team, in my opinion, to show out in every single game and not let off the gas. That’s the mark of a team ready to take on bigger challenges on the biggest stage.

They’re certainly not perfect, but they have what most of the teams in this tournament do not: Organization. In my opinion that is the most important thing coming into the World Cup. It’s why we saw Germany make an early exit, why we saw African nations fail, and why even the teams in the knockout might go out early.

Modric might be the best, most consistent player at the 2018 World Cup. Him, alongside Rakitic, have been handling defenses and midfields like they’re nothing. And it’s not like they had an easy group – with Iceland, Argentina, and Nigeria. All of which they disposed easily.

Vrsaljko has played extremely well at fullback, with Lovren actually showing up. Mandzukic is always a problem for teams to face, but I can’t get that pair of Modric and Rakitic out of my head. I think they’re going to be too much for Denmark.

To give the Danes some credit, Eriksen has played extremely well, as well as Christensen, though they tied two matches. I think where they’re lacking is attacking prowess, with a Center attacking midfielder being their best chance at goals.

I see this game as a lock for Croatia, but stranger things have already happened this World Cup.

Prediction: 3-1 Croatia 

Mexico vs. Brazil (07/02 @10AM EST)

Mexico made extreme efforts in their last game to not make the knockouts. But thanks to South Korea, they’re in. Problem is, is that they’re playing Brazil – bookies favorite still to win the whole damn thing.

But as a team who might be considered up and coming, they operate very well with their passion and heart. Chicharito might be the most passionate player at this World Cup, and while they slipped very badly against Sweden, have sealed off a win against Germany already, as well as South Korea.

Lozano has been a revelation for Mexico, and might have secured himself some decent trade rumors following this world cup. He has proven that he can play at the highest level, against the best, and not be afraid.

He’s going to have to continue that against a Brazil side that boasts one of the best teams on paper. Obviously this will hinge on Neymar’s performance – who has been somewhat disappointing thus far.

But a team with Thiago Silva, Neymar, Willian, Firmino, Coutinho (to name a few) can’t be easy to beat. They start clicking and it won’t matter how lucky Mexico are. But all it takes is one unlucky (or lucky) touch from someone and Mexico could make it to the quarterfinals and upset the world. It wouldn’t be the first time they’ve done it.

Prediction: 2-1 Brazil

Japan vs. Belgium (07/02 @2PM EST)

While my latest power ranking has Japan as the lowest-ranked of the knockout teams, it’s only because of their latest performance. They were content with just playing possession and sitting back – I don’t blame them. We have seen Japan play up-to-par with some of the best in the world, and that’s where Belgium is going to be wary. They’re not that attack minded, and only put two away against 10-man Columbia.

They then drew and lost to Senegal and Poland, respectively. So a great (albeit lucky) performance in the group. But there are positives – again they’re extremely disciplined in defense. They don’t give up easy goals, and will certainly draw Belgium into their attacking zones more and more as the game goes on. We might see Japan squeak out a late goal.

Belgium on the other hand has been, in my opinion, one of the top-to-bottom most  dominant teams. It’s no wonder they’re one of the top favorites to win the whole damn thing. Lukaku has been on fire, and when he comes off there’s Batshuayi to relieve him. Hazard and Carrasco on the wings is deadly, and De Bruyne being in the middle is any coach’s gift. Their defensive spine is comprised of some of the best players in the world, Courtois rearing up that standing.

9/9 points taken for them, 9 goals scored. They have been lethal on the counter, strong in defense, and technical when they need to be. Dries Mertens will be a surefire player to show up, as he has been one of the more consistent players at this tournament.

Prediction: 3-0 to the Red Devils

Sweden vs. Switzerland (07/03 @ 10AM EST)

The Swedes against the Swiss. The Swedes showed everyone in Matchday 3 that they aren’t to be taken lightly, their team roaring against Mexico, winning 3-0 comfortably against (up until then) one of the more on-fire teams. They proved they don’t need much possession, holding only 33% against Mexico, in order to register shots (15).

They outplayed the Germans if not for a beautiful Toni Kroos free kick in stoppage time. Lindelof, Granqvist, Forsberg and Toivonen have all played extremely well for Sweden thus far, and will definitely be looking to surprise some in this game against a fiery Switzerland.

On the other hand, we have this;
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Xherdan Shaqiri has done his due diligence this World Cup as well, with the likes of Xhaka, Dzemaili, Djourou and Sommer helping him out. Downside for them is that Stephan Lichtsteiner and Fabian Schar are both out on suspension. Embolo to most likely replace Zuber on the other wing might prove risky.

But all in all, from a competitive standpoint, I think this game has the potential to be the closest. It might not end up that way, but I actually really like this matchup.

Prediction: 3-2 Switzerland

Columbia vs. England (07/03 @2PM EST)

Oh boy. Columbia against England. James vs. Kane. This one is a doozy in my head – any prediction could happen honestly. I see two teams with great, attack-minded teams with fantastic defenses, going head to head. Davinson Sanchez and Yerry Mina, Mina in particular, have played outstanding for Columbia in this World Cup. James obviously doing well, though left their third match with an injury that has plagued him this whole tournament.

On the other hand is England, who for the past few World Cups has underperformed by the public’s opinion. Harry Kane is on fire, per usual, and has proved to be unstoppable by even the best defenses. I honestly think both of these teams have what it takes to make it to the Semis or even the final, but there can only be one.

While this might have been a stupid move by England to move off the throttle to be second in the group for the first round, it might prove worth it if they come out the victor. Man to look out for on the wings is Juan Cuadrado, who has the pace and the skills to destroy defenses if given the chance. The biggest thing, to me, that will decide this game, is if James Rodriguez is injured for the game. Even if he’s injured and is playing – will it affect his play?

Regardless, England will have to be wary of the aerial threat Columbia has. On the flip side, Mina has proven to score goals, but is sometimes non-existent against good players. Kane as the number 10 will be looking to test that a lot, as well as of his Tottenham teammate, Davinson Sanchez.

Sterling will be integral, as well as the entire Spine of the England team. I think this might be the England team we have missed in the last couple World Cups, and they might just have what it takes to bring it home. As long as they don’t play the same JV squad as they did against Belgium.

Prediction: 3-1 Harry Kane

Well there you have it folks, your guide to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Knockout stage, round of 16. I’m sure my predictions won’t be spot on this time around, but anything is possible honestly. There’s most likely going to be some upset.

I just want everyone to have a good time, you know?

Tell your friends about this, share it, and for Christ’s sake watch the games. This is the highest level you can watch!

-Voggel

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