We’ve said hasta la vista to half the teams who made it to Russia. With Germany among those to have fallen at the first hurdle, a new champion will be crowned on July 15th. Many teams did not meet the standard required to make it to the round of sixteen after three group games, and it can be argued that some who made it still have room for improvement. It’s time for us to look at the prospects of the teams on show this weekend as we kick off the knockout rounds.
We begin with quite possibly the most anticipated match of the weekend, featuring teams who came into the tournament with great expectations. France won their group without ever really having to raise their level, but now Didier Deschamps must get his team to move up another gear.
After all, this is a team that many counted amongst the pre-tournament favorites. The French boast world class players along every line of the team, so the manager must be envied because he can count on including names such as Samuel Umtiti, N’Golo Kante, and Antoine Griezmann. I think a Pirlo or Xavi type player is the missing piece to link the team, but when you can count on such a deep squad, no excuses can be given if France fail to advance.
I saw video of the Argentina team busily training yesterday; it was all smiles and happiness. This team has been through so many different emotions in the past week, so maybe they’ve hit the refresh button now.
Lionel Messi has never scored a World Cup knockout game goal, but unlike 2014, that will not suffice for the team to advance. He will have to get on the score sheet just as he did against Nigeria. France are the superior team here, but Messi is a great weapon that can drag his team past them. Jorge Sampaoli did well in the Nigeria game to recall Marcos Rojo and Ever Banega; they were important in securing the victory.
Everything for Uruguay begins at the back. Diego Godin and club-mate Jose Gimenez (expected to return from injury) provide a solid foundation upon which the rest of the team can build. The ability to step onto the field knowing how difficult it will be for the other team to score against you must be very uplifting. Group A did not test Uruguay heavily, which may be a slight disadvantage, but I just can’t see an experienced manager like Oscar Tabarez letting that be an issue. He will have the team prepared to face the number seven on the other side of the pitch and his men.
Fernando Santos is a manager who is not given much praise by the media despite leading Portugal to the Euro 2016 title. It will be foolish to underestimate a manager and team that have shown they can navigate the knockout stages of a major tournament (albeit not usually in 90 minutes). My belief is that if you have Cristiano Ronaldo in your team, you have a chance to win. The Real Madrid man already has four goals, and you can’t bet against him getting more. One area Portugal needs to be very aware defending is set pieces because Uruguay has scored all five of their goals from restarts so far.
Spain vs Russia
Julen who? Spain won their group despite the late managerial change, and although Fernando Hierro didn’t have them playing beautiful tiki taka football, they are clear favorites heading into this game. Diego Costa will be the man seeking to get on the end of service from the great passers behind him. When service is provided from the likes of Andres Iniesta, Isco, and David Silva, you are certain to have chances. At the back, David De Gea has looked a shell of himself, and he might even take a seat today. The Russians will be looking to exploit any further weakness shown.
A beating in the final group fixture against Uruguay will have softened Russian enthusiasm a little coming into this game. Russia did very well to get here after the opening two games though. They may not possess household names, but they possess immense talent. Stanislav Cherchesov will be praised if he can get this team into the last eight, and the crowd at the Luzhniki will be loud pumping his men up.
The second all-European game of Sunday features some midfield maestros. Leading the way is Luka Modric who recently added another Champions League medal to his cabinet. The Croatian number ten has scored two goals already, leading from the front for arguably the best team of the opening round. Coach Zlatko Dalic has a cohesive unit at his disposal to go along with his individual talents; look how that worked against Argentina. This might not be the team that wins it all, but they look very organized, so it will take an exceptional performance to overcome them.
Number ten on the other side of the pitch will be Christian Eriksen, a playmaker of the highest quality. Like Ronaldo and Messi, he will have to rise to the occasion to get his team past strong opponents. Eriksen has an enviable record of thirteen goals and five assists in his last sixteen games for Denmark, so while Croatia know of his ability they still have to stop him on the field.
Players to watch
Three fantasy players to watch on Saturday are Diego Godin, Antoine Griezmann, and Lionel Messi. My Sunday recommendations are Dejan Lovren, Christian Eriksen, and Diego Costa. There you have it guys, I’ve tried to mix it up a bit with those picks. Good luck this weekend!
What are your predictions for the weekend folks? Have you used one of your chips for the round of 16? (I’m thinking about using the maximum captain.) And are you planning any captain twists or subs already? Please join us in the comments below!