First Round Recap

WOOOOOOO boy! There were some close calls there. Brazil, Argentina, Spain and Portugal needed their 3rd game and help to get to the knockout stage. Germany wasn’t so lucky. (Not even gonna mention Italy or the Netherlands who didn’t even make the trip).

There have been 20 goals scored in the 90th minute or later. TWENTY!

Senegal was the first team bounced out of a cup by the Fair Play tiebreaker. They had two more yellow cards than Japan. I think I like the idea behind the Fair Play tiebreaker… but my concern is that it is a truly subjective measure and subject to the personality and skill of the referee you happen to draw rather than any other objective measure like goals for/against.

Round of 16 Previews

France vs. Argentina, Saturday, 10am EST

Both teams have talent, neither has been impressive. Especially Argentina. France almost has too much talent, and no one seems to be willing to grab the team by the scruff of the neck to advance. If someone steps up to take charge this team could be a serious contender. Argentina on the other hand is just waiting for Messi to weave some magic. I’m expecting Argentina’s soft defense to crumble first and an early goal by France should enable them to cruise through to the next round, but if the game stays tied deep into the second half you increase the chance that Messi (or another talented Argentine) slips through the cracks with a moment of brilliance.

Uruguay vs. Portugal, Saturday, 2pm EST

Uruguay has been boring quietly impressive. They have yet to allow a goal in the tourney and put a stop to Russia’s roll through the group. I’ve still got odds on Suarez biting someone before the tourney finishes… Portugal started strong against Spain and played well enough in the other two to advance. Ronaldo has shown he can still be a game changer and is tied for second in goals scored so far. Portugal has to be careful since they’ve got six players who are one yellow card away from suspension (Fernandes, Silva, Guerreiro, Quaresma, Ronaldo, Cedric). Both teams would prefer to defend comfortably and counter. Let’s see who can impose their style on the game.

Spain vs. Russia, Sunday, 10am EST

Russia (8 goals for) is the underdog here, but Spain (6 goals for) is far from unbeatable having let in quite a few soft goals. Russia has nothing to lose, they weren’t expecting to go far and we’ll see how much of a lift the home field advantage can provide. I expect a multi-goal performance by both teams here and possibly one of the more entertaining matches in this round.

Croatia vs. Denmark, Sunday, 2pm EST

Croatia pretty well rolled through their group including a 3-0 whooping on Argentina. Along with Belgium, Uruguay, and maybe Mexico (before their 3rd game) they’ve been among the most consistent performers. Denmark has been… well, boring really. They don’t score often (only 2 goals so far), but they’ve made the most of their few chances and they’ve been very hard to score on. I expect Croatia to control the match and ultimately win.

Brazil vs. Mexico, Monday, 10am EST

Mexico hasn’t made it past the Round of 16 since 1986. They probably didn’t want this match to try and break that streak. Mexico was looking like a really strong contender through the first two games then got thoroughly stomped by Sweden. They showed to be a really balanced team that defended and attacked well, with an outstanding goalie. What I learned from the Sweden game is that Sweden is really good at defending and countering and Mexico wasn’t great at defending that counter. Brazil is definitely NOT a team that defends and counters and that will play more into Mexico’s hands.

Brazil has not been impressive so far. They tied Switzerland in their opening match, and were utterly frustrated by Costa Rica before squeezing in two goals in stoppage time. I was pretty close to laughing out loud at Neymar getting mad at Costa Rican players for diving and time-wasting. Karma, bro… Karma. Teams take on the personality of their leaders, and Neymar leads this team. While things are going good, everything is good. But when things start going sideways… I wonder if Brazil will fold like a lawn chair.

This is probably the match I’m looking forward to the most in this round. Brazil is no doubt favored, but Mexico has the ability to hold the ball keeping it away from Neymar, defend in numbers, and counter with skill. I would not be surprised at an upset here and Mexico would have beaten the defending champions and the predicted next champion.

Belgium vs. Japan, Monday, 2pm EST

Japan made it through on the Fair Play tiebreaker over Senegal. They’ve been hard working and surprisingly fun to watch. But they run up against the machine known as Belgium here and that run is probably coming to an end.

Sweden vs. Switzerland, Tuesday, 10am EST

Sweden has looked pretty strong this tournament. Giving Germany all they could handle before falling to a stoppage time goal. They put an abrupt end to talk of Mexico being a contender after the first two games. They defend strongly and have countered with amazing speed and skill.  Meanwhile, Switzerland’s claim to fame was holding Brazil to a draw and then struggling with Serbia and Costa Rica. I’m looking for Sweden to advance here.

Colombia vs. England, Tuesday, 2pm EST

England cruised (as they should) over Panama and Tunisia. They lost to Belgium (a very strong team) in a 3rd game that no one really had any interest in winning, so I’m not sure we can learn anything from that match. They face a Colombia team that barely managed to escape what turned out to be a very subpar group. England will be, by far, the best team they’ve faced so far this tournament and they may or may not have their best player (James “Don’t call me James” Rodriguez) because of a nagging calf injury. I hope for a win by Colombia, but honestly don’t think they’ll have enough to get past this match.