Brazil vs. Chile (Saturday, noon ET)
Despite the scorelines, it can’t really be said that Brazil won any of their three group-stage matches. The ref helped them in the first; they were stonewalled in the second; and their opponents gave up in the third. Meanwhile, Chile has been in wild, fearless form. The Brazilians will need to take a lesson from the Netherlands – absorb Chilean pressure for an hour, then pile on their own. But are they capable of it?
Player to watch: Neymar, Brazil. He’s been their only consistent threat. If he doesn’t drag them through it by himself, the host nation is done.
Chile 2, Brazil 2 (Brazil wins on penalty kicks)
– Cathal Kelly in Rio De Janeiro
Colombia vs. Uruguay (Saturday, 4 p.m.)
Quietly, Colombia is the steeliest team in the tournament. They defend as a group, and slot their chances at the other end. If their best player, Radamel Falcao, wasn’t out injured, they might be the favourite at this point. As usual, Uruguay is tough-minded and opportunistic. But without the game-changing brilliance of Luis Suarez, it’s difficult to see them overcoming a team that is a younger, hungrier version of themselves.
Player to watch: James, Colombia. Has assumed Andrea Pirlo’s mantle as the player who elevates everyone around him.
Colombia 3, Uruguay 1
Netherlands vs. Mexico (Sunday, noon)
A canny, tactical match is what we can expect. The Netherlands is a strong pick to make the final, having shown attacking smarts and speed, but also an ability to smother Chile’s wingers and win, even with less possession. Mexico is on a roll, though. That 0-0 draw with Brazil will keep the engine of confidence running. I’d say a tight Netherlands win.
Players to watch: Arjen Robben, the Netherlands. His bursts of speed are phenomenal and he’s only let down by an inability or unwillingness to pass. For Mexico, goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa may have played the game of his life against Brazil, and will need to do it again.
Netherlands 2, Mexico 1
– John Doyle in Rio De Janeiro
Costa Rica vs. Greece (Sunday, 4 p.m.)
Not the glamour game, but I expect a thumping victory for Costa Rica. Greece pretty much stunned itself getting into this round. It’s unlikely to have the luck or dodgy refereeing again. It will be satisfied with its second-round achievement and go home happy. Costa Rica is the real surprise package here in Brazil. It finished top of Group D, ahead of Uruguay, Italy and England. A remarkable dynamic exists, built internally in Costa Rica by using the country’s soccer past to nourish its future.
Players to watch: Bryan Ruiz, Costa Rica. The captain and occasional goal-scorer, he is a guy to steady the team and lead in attack when necessary. Konstantinos Mitroglou, Greece. He’s a fine striker who has yet to prove his worth here. A knockout game is his opportunity.
Costa Rica 2, Greece 0
France vs. Nigeria (Monday, noon)
In its final group game, France rested five starters and still pulled Ecuador all around the pitch. Only the Ecuadorian goalkeeper kept it scoreless. France has the deepest team in this tournament right now, given that it fields eight or nine players having peak international performances. Nigeria was muscular against Argentina, but France is too dangerous in too many positions. This could be a rout.
Player to watch: Karim Benzema, France. Often thought of as the least of the world’s great strikers, but he’s changing minds here.
France 4, Nigeria 1
Germany vs. Algeria (Monday, 4 p.m.)
The scenes from Algiers after their national team squeaked through into the Round of 16 for the first time in history were the most inspirational man-in-the-street photos of this tourney. Hope they got the most out of that party. Algeria has proved here to be rugged enough to give Germany a game, mostly by turtling in its own end. That may work for a while, but not for 90 minutes.
Player to watch: Thomas Mueller, Germany. Aside from James, he’s the best player in Brazil.
Germany 2, Algeria 0
Argentina vs. Switzerland (Tuesday, noon)
Argentina is the obvious pick to win. It will, but not easily. The Argentinians have not impressed as a unit, relying on Lionel Messi’s moments of magic to get the vital goal, so it could be closer match than expected. Switzerland came alive in a 3-0 win over Honduras, at last. The Swiss looked comfortable as a unit and capable of frustrating Argentina. They now have found a way for Josip Drmic to work in attack with Xherdan Shaqiri, who is lethal when in sight of goal.
Players to watch: Messi, Argentina. He is the best in the world at the difficult-angle, surprise goal, the one that proves important. But he needs to be interested. Shaqiri, Switzerland. He has a hat trick already, and a few more goals could put him among the best at the World Cup – good motivation.
Argentina 3, Switzerland 1
Belgium vs. USA (Tuesday, 4 p.m.)
Going out on a limb here and positing a USA victory, possibly on penalties. Belgium is brimming with talent but shaky, at times utterly lacking conviction. Team USA has formidable toughness of mind, and every game there’s something to prove. That mindset doesn’t diminish in this round.
Players to watch: Marouane Fellaini, Belgium. It’s a statement about Belgium’s fragility that Fellaini has been needed as the traditional big man in the box to score from corner kicks and other set-pieces. It’s route basic soccer, but it has worked. Clint Dempsey, USA. He was quiet against Germany, but he’s the ultimate warrior and a predatory goal-scorer. A few days’ rest and he could be in top form, keen to scrub the shine off Belgium.
Belgium 1, USA 1 (USA wins on penalty kicks)
Tournament All-Star Team
G – Guillermo Ochoa (MEX)
D – Mats Hummels (GER)
D – Giancarlo Gonzalez (CRC)
D – Serge Aurier (CIV)
D – Daley Blind (NED)
M – Thomas Mueller (GER)
M – James (COL)
M – Arjen Robben (NED)
F – Karim Benzema (FRA)
F – Lionel Messi (ARG)
F – Neymar (BRA)
F – Robin van Persie (NED)
M – Mathieu Valbuena (FRA)
D – Mamadou Sakho (FRA)
MVP of the Group Stage – James (COL)
– Cathal Kelly
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