After a group stage full of upsets and entertaining soccer, the knockout stages for the 2018 World Cup are set. Here are my predictions for the round of 16 games. Let me know what you think!
France vs. Argentina
There isn’t a better way to start the round of 16 than this incredible matchup. Argentina, the 2014 World Cup runner-ups, have been very disappointing so far this year. They needed a late minute winning goal from defender Marcos Rojo against Nigeria to even qualify for the knockout rounds. France, the pre-tournament favorite of many, finished first in their weak group and only conceding one penalty goal in the process. Both teams have yet to reach their full potential, but I expect both to come out attacking. France are the favorites as they have an incredibly strong and well-rounded team, while Argentina has been exposed by their inconsistent midfield and defense. However, Argentina has arguably the best player in the world in Lionel Messi. I see Messi scoring an early goal to put the pressure on France from the start. France will then equalize in the early second half. Look out for the attacking play of Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele, and Kylian Mbappe from the French. This is my first upset prediction of the knockout stages as I have Argentina surprising everyone after their awful start and winning this through a late winner from Messi again. This will be a breakout game for Messi in this tournament, so make sure to watch it!
Prediction: 2-1 Argentina
Uruguay vs. Portugal
Saturday will feature not only Messi but his competition for the best in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal. Portugal was lucky in their first three games. They salvaged a tie against Spain through Ronaldo’s hattrick and poor Spanish goalkeeping. They were lucky to win against Morocco who outplayed them for the majority of the game, and they probably should’ve lost to Iran who missed a last-minute sitter that would’ve knocked Portugal out of the World Cup. Uruguay finished with nine out of a possible nine points in what was probably the weakest group of the World Cup. They looked very impressive against the host nation, Russia, who they demolished 3-0. Uruguay also has one of the best strike forces in the tournament led by Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez. They will look to expose a Portugal defense that has not looked convincing so far. I see Cavani and Suarez scoring a goal apiece in the first half to take a two-goal lead. Ronaldo will get a goal back for Portugal, but Uruguay will score a third goal on a counter attack in the second half to secure the victory. For the most part, Uruguay defended Diego Godin will do a decent job in containing Ronaldo.
Prediction: 3-1 Uruguay
Spain vs. Russia
If you read my pre-tournament predictions, you would know that I picked Spain to win the entire World Cup. Spain is another team that has yet to reach their full potential. Stupid defensive mistakes and terrible goalkeeping from David de Gea (who happens to be one of the world’s best) saw them drop points against Portugal and Morocco, two games they should’ve easily won. Russia crushed both Saudi Arabia and Egypt before getting destroyed by Uruguay in their final game. Russia will work to make use of their home field advantage by getting the crowd into it early. They will start off pressuring and attacking Spain hoping to pounce on another defensive mistake. This will be the first game that Spain doesn’t make any though. Spain will then settle the game down and keep possession with their short passes and force Russia to defend deep in their zone. Diego Costa will finally break through the Russian and score the deciding goal in the second half. Spain will have a few more chances, but this will be a pretty uneventful game dominated by possession. Watch out for Spain’s two center backs Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos, who will be very dominant in defense and Isco, who will be the source of creativity in the midfield.
Prediction: 1-0 Spain
Croatia vs. Denmark
Croatia is arguably the hottest team in the tournament at the moment. They won all three group games beating Nigeria and Iceland along with obliterating Argentina 3-0 (another game I predicted correctly). Denmark has not been that good so far. They beat Peru, even though they were outplayed and tied Australia and France. I expected more firepower from Denmark in the group stage. Realistically, Croatia will have no problem winning this game with ease. Denmark’s only true danger man is playmaking attacking midfielder, Christian Eriksen. With a lack of good finishers up front, Eriksen will have a difficult time providing the assists he normally does. Also, Croatia is too powerful in the midfield. Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Mateo Kovacic, and Marcelo Brozovic will run circles around the weaker Denmark team and set up forwards, Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic for many goals. I really don’t have much more to say about this game. Croatia is a much better and much more in-form team than Denmark, and they will win in the first blowout of the knockout stages.
Prediction: 3-0 Croatia
Brazil vs. Mexico
I am beyond excited for this game. Both Brazil and Mexico have amazing, loud, and passionate fan bases, so this game should be exciting from the start to watch. Neither of these teams will sit back and defend. Brazil and Mexico always look to run and attack, rather than stand around and pass. This will be an extremely open and fast paced game with many scoring chances from both teams. I think Brazil will score first with a goal from striker Gabriel Jesus, who many saw as a possible leading scorer for this tournament. Mexico will tie it up in the second half, as this game will go to extra time. Mexico will get physical with Brazilian superstar Neymar and force him to see less of the ball than usual. During the extra time period, both teams will get tired due to all of the running, and the defenses will weaken. I predict that Philippe Coutinho, the Barcelona attacker, will score for Brazil and Hirving Lozano, the young winger who has been great so far in the group stage, will score for Mexico. This game will go to penalties, and I have to give the nod to Brazil. Brazil has one of the best goalies in the world in Alisson from Roma and a large amount of good penalty takers to choose from. Mexico, is simply not as experienced as Brazil and will fall just short.
Prediction: 2-2, Brazil wins 4-2 on penalties
Belgium vs. Japan
Belgium, my pre-tournament runner-up pick will go up against a Japan team who many did not expect to make it out of the group. Japan squeaked out of Group H, beating out Senegal for the final spot in the knockouts (even though they tied the head to head and had the same goal differential) because they had less yellow cards than them. Imagine how bad Senegal must feel after being eliminated from the World Cup just because they lost the yellow card tiebreaker. Nevertheless, Japan showed their quality by beating a tough and talented Colombia team and tying an exciting and fast Senegal team. Belgium swept their group beating Panama and Tunisia easily and outplaying a decent England team for their third win. Belgium simply has too many good players for Japan to handle. Dries Mertens, Eden Hazard, and Romelu Lukaku are all world class forwards and Kevin de Bruyne is one of the best midfielders in the world today. A strong defense led by goalie Thibaut Courtois and center back Vincent Kompany will prevent Japanese creative players Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda from posing any sort of scoring threat. Belgium will win this in lopsided fashion.
Prediction: 4-0 Belgium
Sweden vs. Switzerland
Sweden may be the luckiest team in all of sports. HOW ARE THEY STILL IN THE WORLD CUP? This is a team that sits back and defends the entire game and hopes to score a lucky goal on the counter-attack to win games. They beat Mexico 3-0 but only scored on a penalty kick and two own goals. They lost to Germany on a last-second beautiful strike from Toni Kroos after trying their luck and defending tactics, and they beat South Korea 1-0, scoring from another penalty. I am not rooting for boring Sweden in this one. Not only are they boring but their players cried like babies after losing to Germany and complained that the celebrating German players hurt their feelings. Switzerland has a much more likable and fun to watch team. They deserve to be there so much more than Sweden. Sweden will come out defending like usual in this game. Switzerland will break through with a goal in the second half from crafty forward Xherdan Shaqiri. This will force them to attack and push men forward, but they will not score because they don’t not really have any good goal scorers. Shaqiri will score another late goal for the Swiss taking advantage of an exposed Swedish defense. Switzerland will be going through, and Sweden will be watching the rest of the World Cup from where they belong, the couch.
Prediction: 2-0 Switzerland
Colombia vs. England
The final game of the round of 16 should be an awesome one. After losing their first game against Japan, Colombia won two straight against Poland and Senegal to win their group. England scored a late winner against Tunisia and destroyed Panama 6-1 before losing to Belgium in their final group game 1-0. On paper, England should win this game. They definitely have the quality in their squad with players such as Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, and the current tournament-leading goal scorer, Harry Kane. The issue with England is that these players do not seem to mesh well together. There is a lack of creativity in England’s midfield, and this greatly affects their ability to break down the defense of some teams. Colombia is a fast and creative team that likes to run at defenses, so their style of play directly contrasts England’s. I think that England will keep the majority of the possession in this game, but they will mostly pass the ball around with not many great chances. Colombia will play on the counter-attack and have more scoring opportunities. Colombia’s star player James Rodriguez was injured in their last group game against Senegal, and it is unknown if he’ll be able to play against England. Rodriguez can help Colombia a lot, but they can still win without him. Players like Juan Cuadrado will look to dribble past defenders and set up their teammates such as strong striker Radamel Falcao. Kane and Cuadrado will score, sending this game into extra time. In the bonus period, Colombia’s offense and speed will overwhelm England, and Falcao will score the winning goal. Expect an insanely entertaining and close game here.
Prediction: 2-1 Colombia after extra time
Again, let me know what you think. What teams do you have winning? Which teams do you expect to surprise people?