The Round of 16 matches continue here are my previews and predictions for Monday and Tuesday’s matches. The quarter finals will be with us very soon – next Friday (6th July) and Saturday (7th July) to be exact.
BRAZIL v MEXICO – 2nd July – Samara
After a slow start, pre tournament favourites Brazil are simmering nicely. They did not have it all their own way in Group E, their opening draw against Switzerland was a huge disappointment and they only just got over the line versus Costa Rica with two very late goals, though it has to be acknowledged that they dominated the match. Under pressure to some extent in their final group game, as they were not guaranteed qualification and if their opponents Serbia had beaten them they would have likely been on the plane home, however apart from a 5/10 minute spell when the Serbians had a couple of decent chances they remained in control and will head to Samara with confidence. They are the archetypal staple within a World Cup where their performances have improved as each match has gone on, that can only be seen as a positive and long may that continue.
Mexico have been one of the breaths of fresh air in this tournament, obviously their opening victory against holders Germany brought them a lot of kudos and the tactics employed by their manager, Juan Carlos Osorio, were lauded and rightly so. They continued their winning streak with a competent performance versus South Korea, however Germany’s late goal against the Swedes, meant that even though they had won their first two matches, work was still required to secure qualification, bottom line was that they could have been knocked out. What followed was an awful performance against Sweden where they lost their bottle and heads in a 0-3 defeat, however the luck that has deserted them by not being through even after two wins was on their side as the Germans inexplicably lost to the South Koreans (who by this stage in their game knew they were going out). So when Mexico are good they are very good, but we have now seen when they are bad, they are very bad. The one that turns up in Samara will go a long way to determining their fate. Another footnote in 1986 they made the quarter finals on home soil, since then they made the knockout phase of every World Cup they have qualified for (1994 onwards) but have lost in the round of 16, they would love to make it to the so called ‘5th game’ for the first time in 32 years.
PREDICTION – As mentioned above all the talk in Mexico is about that ‘5th game’. Unfortunately for them having Brazil as your opposition in the 4th one is no help. Whilst they have their German victory in their heads, the capitulation versus Sweden will also be on their the mind. Brazil are clinical in situations like this, they will sense weakness and go for the throat. Mexico might even score first, but they will struggle to deal with wave after wave of Brazilian pressure thereafter, especially without suspended centre back Hector Moreno. 3-1 to the South Americans for me.
BELGIUM v JAPAN – 2nd July – Rostov-on-Don
Belgium have been fantastic this tournament. Along with Croatia my team of the World Cup as the Round of 16 got underway on the 30th June. After a very average, by their standards, first half against Panama, they blew the Central American minnows away in the second period, without really looking like they were at full pelt. Tunisia were next in line and were 3-1 down at half time with the game ending 5-2, it really should have been a lot more and probably would have if star striker Romelu Lukaku didn’t have to go off early in the second half with an injury. Defensively in that game there were a few issues, but nothing some work on the training ground shouldn’t be able to fix, plus if talisman defender Vincent Kompany gets back to full fitness they will improve markedly in that area. By the time they played England in their final game, both teams had already secured qualification for the next phase, and actually entered the match with identical records, the English only top because of less bookings. Wholesale changes were made to both teams and with how the draw was panning out it looked best to finish second in the group and many thought the Belgian’s may not necessarily want to win especially as they picked up a couple of yellows in the first half to increase the fair play gap to 5-2. However they were the better team, scored a goal shockingly defended by England and won through 0-1 to the so called ‘harder’ section of the draw. In the form they are in they shouldn’t be too worried, they are live contenders for this title and it will take some team to stop them.
Japan have done superbly this World Cup. Even though it was said that Group H, with Colombia, Senegal and Poland along with themselves, was a very evenly matched group, it was widely expected that the Japanese would be the whipping boys. Well minutes into their opening game against Colombia they were a goal up and playing against 10 men, and whilst they dropped off and their opponents equalised, they managed the game well in the second half to win 1-2 against the team most people thought would win the group anyway. Next up was Senegal and to be fair they showed real bottle by coming back from behind twice to secure what in the end was to become a massively crucial point. In their final match for whatever reason the coach made a number of changes, leaving out key players, maybe he thought the already eliminated Polish, wouldn’t be up for match, how wrong he was. At the moment they went a goal down, they were going out of the competition, they upped their game but to little avail (Poland should have scored again with a guilt edged chance for Lewandowski) then Colombia scored and things changed, they were going through due to ‘fair play’ as they had less bookings than Senegal. Japan then basically settled for a 0-1 defeat late in their match hoping that the Senegalese didn’t score a goal to draw their match, and the fact that it is the side from the Asian Confederation in the round of 16 tells you they did not. Yes they had some fortune to get through, but they have defied the odds to make it this far and they will give their all in the knockout phase and deserve to take their chance.
PREDICTION – For me this is the most one sided of the Round of 16 matches. Japan have done really well getting this far but Belgium are on another planet footballing wise. If the top ranked European side left in the competition do not get stage fright, I expect them to go through comfortably, 4-0 to the Belgian’s with a marker well and truly set for a quarter final against the Brazilians.
SWEDEN v SWITZERLAND – 3rd July – St Petersburg
ALL HAIL SWEDEN – a limited team in some respects, but you cannot fault their heart, effort and bottle. They have not been to a World Cup since 2006 and after they lost to Germany, due to a complete lack of game management and nous, with basically the last kick, it looked like their return to the top table of world football was going to end at the group stages. They were not expected to trouble a Mexican side who had lit up the tournament, but they dominated them winning 0-3 to actually top Group F and make the knockout phase. Whatever manager Janne Andersson did post the heartbreak of last Saturday’s game he needs to bottle it as they produced a performance of the highest quality. To be fair to Sweden their path to competition has not been easy they qualified from group containing France as well as Holland to make the play-offs in which they beat Italy to just get to Russia and now they have made it through a group containing the World Champions. CREDIT WHERE CREDITS DUE I say, they have more than deserved this extended stay, the plan surely has to be to progress further now and with Switzerland next up they will fancy their chances no doubt.
Switzerland qualified from a tricky group unbeaten. They survived a Brazilian onslaught in their first game to work back into the match and sneak a draw, thankfully for them a slight push on a Brazil defender was not deemed sufficient to overturn. Against Serbia in an absolute rip roaring contest they most definitely got the benefit of the doubt as a German referee and German led VAR team somehow managed not to see a double rugby tackle on a Serbian player in the box at 1-1 and low and behold a late winner was the result for the Switz, admittedly well taken by star man Xherdan Shaqiri. They saw out qualification with the point they needed in an entertaining 2-2 draw against the already eliminated Costa Rica. Shaqiri is the man that will need to fire if Switzerland are to progress further in the competition, though you hope that the officiating is not what we are talking about if they get through to the quarter finals. Another footnote is that captain Stephan Lichtsteiner will miss this match due to picking up two yellow cards, he is a 100+ cap veteran and his experience will be sorely missed now we are at the knockout stage.
PREDICTION – Switzerland have had all the luck on their side so far this competition, even with VAR being used. Hopefully this game will be decided by the players on the pitch and not the officials, it will be very interesting to see who is appointed to this game. For me it will be cagey and a single goal will win it. I’m going for Sweden 1-0, they have impressed me in this tournament and in my opinion deserve to make the last 8 in their first World Cup Finals for 12 years.
COLOMBIA v ENGLAND – 3rd July – Moscow
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