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FIFA World Cup Preview – Round of Sixteen

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BRAZIL vs CHILE

This match promises to be open and flowing with both sides offering plenty in attack, and should be a good spectacle. Chile were somewhat unexpected qualifiers, doing well to qualify at the expense of Spain. Chile offer the most going forward and Alexis Sanchez will be key for Chile who with his pace and dribbling and direct running will look to cause Brazil problems.

Midfield battles will be crucial as Chile will sit deep and try to stifle the free-flowing Brazil attacking style of play by keeping things tight and compact in the midfield, and not let Brazil get any space behind them, and then will look to use the pace of Alexis Sanchez to spring lighting fast counter – attacks and catch the Brazil back unprepared.

Oscar has pulled the string for Brazil from the midfield, and would be key to unlocking this Chilean strategy, looking to feed Neymar in the box, who at a very young age has led the line very well and has been lethal in front of the goal. For their game plan to work against Brazil, Chile will need to score first, or keep the game at a stale mate for as long as possible.

If Chile score first then it could be whole different match. If Brazil get the first goal, then Chile could be in for a tough outing. Brazil will also look to use the width provided by Dani Alves and Marcelo, their two marauding full backs. Fernandinho should start ahead of Paulinho in the Brazil midfield, as he offers much more both in defence and inside the opposition box.

Key Factor – Oscar will be key to unlocking what will be a very organised Chilean Midfield, which will sit deep and force Brazil to play in front of them, denying them all penetration.

If however Oscar struggles then Brazil will have a hard time, and most of the play will be taking place in front of the Chilean midfield, and Brazil facing many counter attacks led by Sanchez.

Oscar will hold the key
Oscar will hold the key

RESULT – All said and done, Brazil, should be able to come through with a win in normal time. Brazil through their full backs and Oscar in midfield should be able to stretch the Chilean side enough to find a way through to goal.

Neymar, given the form he is in shouldn’t need more than one or two chances to score. Brazil to win by a couple of goals.

COLOMBIA VS URUGUAY

Colombia and Uruguay have had a very contrasting route to the knockout stage. Colombia have been exceptionally good, and have enthralled everyone with their attacking and free-flowing football. To the contrary Uruguay’s form can at best be said to be patchy. However some may argue that Uruguay were in a very tough group and qualification, howsoever unconvincing, is a testament to the steel in their side.

All said and done though, Uruguay do not have many players in form, and their star striker, Luis Suarez, is now out for the rest of the World Cup for disciplinary reasons, and rightly so. It is hard to find any positives for Uruguay right now.

Edison Cavani another of their star players has looked totally lost so far in his outings, and it seems age has caught up with Diego Forlan, one of the starts of Uruguay’s run to the Semi-Finals in South Africa ’10. Uruguay in the absence of Suarez, seem to lack any obvious pace and movement in attack.

While Uruguay seem to be struggling in attack, they seem much better prepared in defense, ably led by Godin. Uruguay will look to build on this foundation of defense and look to nick a goal on the counter or through set-pieces.

Uruguay strikers have been out of form, but still have the quality to not need too many chances to score.

Colombia have looked superb, so far in the tournament and have delighted us all with their attacking play. Their critics will argue that they had a rather easy group, but you can only beat what is in front of you and Colombia have done that in super style, scoring plenty of goals along the way.

James Rodriguez has been one the stars of the tournament, scoring in all three games so far and providing two assists. Mario Yepes the veteran defender has been a rock at the back for Colombia in the matches he has played. Colombia do face a stern test against Uruguay though, and unlike they teams that Colombia have faced so far, Uruguay will come with a game plan specifically to counter Colombia, and expect James Rodriguez to be given close attention all through.

If Uruguay and do a good job taking James Rodriguez out of the game, then Colombia will find a lot of their attack, that has been a highlight of the tournament, neutralised.

Key Factor – James Rodriguez will have to continue his form against, what will be no doubt a very well organised Uruguay side. If James Rodriguez continues his form then it will be hard for Uruguay to win. However Rodriguez is a one man creative force, and so Uruguay will know that stopping him will be crucial.

Stop Rodriguez, Stop Colombia
Stop Rodriguez, Stop Colombia

RESULT – World Cups do not come around every day and a World Cup run is not thrown away because of one players stupidity. Uruguay should not have a problem picking themselves up for this match.

Colombia have one key attacking outlet and that is James Rodriguez and Uruguay will no doubt have a plan to stifle his play. Ultimately a lot of steel is required to be able to come through a group as tough as the one Uruguay have qualified from, and Colombia may find Uruguay a different ball game.

This is a very tough one to predict and may even go to penalties. However I will think Uruguay to win this 1-0.

FRANCE VS NIGERIA
France are one of the most unpredictable sides in the world, and can be either absolutely sublime or woeful. In FIFA World Cup 2014, France have been absolutely superb and have mesmerized us with some of their attacking play. Karim Benzema has been their star player, but he has been ably supported by his midfield.

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Blaise Matuidi has been very solid in the holding role in the midfield and in Sakho, Varane and Koscielny France have three very good defenders. France have just too much creative quality in their midfield, and too much strength in their defense to see Nigeria posing any real threat to them.

That Cabaye will return to add even more steel to the French midfield, against Nigeria will only hurt whatever little chances Nigeria had.

Nigeria for their part have done well to qualify into the knock out stages, but it’s really hard to find any positives for them going into the match against France.

They can at best hope that the woeful France turn up. John Obi Mikel will be crucial in the Nigerian midfield, and they will hope that Musa shows the same lethal finishing he showed against Argentina and in turn France are as wasteful as they were in their final group game.

Victor Moses is a potential threat to whoever he plays against with his pace and direct running, but, strangely, Moses has hardly featured in the World Cup for Nigeria. Nigeria will hope to keep things tight in defense and steal a break here and there or score off set-pieces.

Key Factor – Yohan Cabaye in the midfield has the potential to totally undo whatever little chances Nigeria have for this game, and make this a very long and hard ninety minutes for Nigeria.

Yohann Cabaye can totally stop Nigeria from Venturing Forward
Yohann Cabaye can totally stop Nigeria from Venturing Forward

RESULT – It’s really hard to find many positives for Nigeria and just too many things have to go right for Nigeria to even stand a chance. France should win by a few goals.

GERMANY VS. ALGERIA

Germany were the among the pre-world cup favorites and it is easy to see why. There is hardly any position on the field where Germany do not have absolutely world-class players. In fact Germany are so strong that they have players like Podolski and Gotze sitting on the bench. To use a cliche, the German side is like a well oiled machine and its hard to spot and weaknesses at all. They play their football in an efficient manner and always seem to be in control.

In Muller they have one of the star performers of the World Cup and it is hard too fathom the Algerian defence being able to cope with him.

Algeria are in a position where being in the knockout stages is something of a bit of an over-achievement for them, and even the Algerian players will admit, that they don’t realistically expect to advance much further, especially against Germany. Algeria realistically lack any strength to cause Germany problems.

Algeria have let in goals in all their group matches, against teams far less efficient than the German attack they will face. Germany did face problems against Ghana defensively, but unlike Ghana, Algeria don’t have any players with sufficient pace to cause the German defence any real problems.

Algeria could at best hope to get a goal through set pieces, but ultimately Germany should have too much for Algeria. Algeria will look to sit back deep with all players in its own half and defend with all eleven men.

The Algerian players will in all likelihood, show the same keenness to get into the German half, that someone would show to get into Mordor. That is to say, the Algerian players will be happy to sit in their own half and defend and keep their fingers crossed.

Key Factor – Bastian Schweinsteiger, returned to the German midfield against USA and gave it a much required stability which Germany seemed to lack against Ghana. Schweinsteiger was able to break down a lot of the opposition attacks in the midfield, leading to a comfortable outing for Germany.

Even against Ghana, Schweinsteiger’s introduction at 70 min had ensured that Germany dominated the final twenty minutes of the match. The pace of the Ghana attacks which had seen Germany concede two goals upto that point, after Schweinsteiger’s introduction lost its tooth.

His presence in the midfield against Algeria will really make it hard for the Algerian side do much in the German half.

Schweinsteiger Returning to the Pitch further strengthens Germany
Schweinsteiger Returning to the Pitch Further Strengthens Germany

RESULT – It is really up to the German side to decide how many goals they want to score. Algeria will try their best, but Germany should win comfortably by two goals or more.

HOLLAND VS MEXICO

It didn’t take long for the 2010 runners-up to establish themselves once again as serious contenders for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and they did that by taking apart the much vaunted Spanish side 5-1, and have enthralled us further with their attacking display with wins against Australia and Chile. Robin van Persie and Robben have looked unstoppable and have been central to Holland’s good run.

Memphis Depay has been somewhat of an unsung hero for the Dutch, and has ably supported both Robben and van Persie. Holland have tactically been very impressive, playing three at the back with two defensive midfielders to counter the Spanish threat which does a bulk of its attack through the middle, and then switched to four across the back to counter Chile who main threat comes from down the wings.

What is more the transformation was seamless and both the tactics worked brilliantly.

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Mexico have impressed everyone and while many would have predicted that Mexico would qualify, but the manner of their qualification has definitely impressed many along the way.

Mexico have been very solid at the back and have only let in one goal all tournament, while going forward they have been a revelation.

They put three past a solid Croatian side, and really should have put more past Cameroon, then the solitary goal.

If the Dutch have one potential weakness it is their defense and Mexico will have to be at their lethal best to take any chances that come along. Peralta has worked his socks off for Mexico upfront and Mexico will need more of his work rate to trouble Holland.

Peralta has been ably supported by Guardado and Dos Santos and they will have to continue to do the same.

In their 5-3-1-1 formation Mexico have definitely the right formation to counter the Dutch side, and Mexico will have to really stretch the play and use their wingbacks to get a 2 on 1 situation against the defenders, especially on the wing that Robben plays as he not exactly the most keen to track back and help out in defense. Some Ochoa heroics, similar to the one against Brazil, will definitely come in handy.

Key Factor – Robben’s pace. Robben has the ability to outrun any defence, and his pace will be key to unlocking the Mexico defence, which will set out to look for a 0-0 draw. If Robben can strech the Mexico defense and midfield and that will create the space required for the rest of the Dutch attack to do what they do best.

To the contrary if the Mexico defence can keep it narrow and compact for long periods in the game, then the Dutch side will find it to create opportunities. Having said this the game is not played in paper, and out in the middle, the Mexico spirit may yet give the Dutch a few problems.

Robben's Pace Could Leave Mexico in its Trail
Robben’s Pace Could Leave Mexico in its Trail

RESULT – Holland going forward should have enough to break down the stubborn Mexico defence. Besides Robben’s pace out wide, Holland also have the guile and finishing of Robin van Persie, who is clever enough to create space for himself even in the face of tight marking and his finishing is beyond question.

Holland should win this one by a couple of goals.

COSTA RICA VS GREECE

Costa Rica have been one of the stories of the world cup, initially expected to be the whipping boys in a group consisting of three former world champions, but they did exceptionally well to top the group and do it handsomely. What is more Costa Rica have impressed everyone with how they have played the game.

They played hard but fair, and have been positive in their approach looking to run at the opposition defence with pace and directness. Costa Rica have played together as a team and as one unit and if they continue to do that they will advance into the next round. Costa Rica have had many stars this tournament and it will be hard to point out just one.

Their two wing backs, Gamboa and Diaz have been excellent and have been strong in tackles and have done their bit going forward.

In the middle of defence Duarte has been exceptional, while Tajeda and Borges have formed a very formidable partnership in the middle of midfield. Costa Rica should stick to the same system and look to impress the viewers even more.

Greece will themselves not quite know how they are into the next round. They have been among the poorest sides to watch at this world cup and have been defensive and have totally lacked any pace or movement upfront. Against Costa Rica, Greece will continue to defend, and sit back.

Costa Rica have so far excelled in counter attacking football and Greece, in setting out to defend will hope that Costa Rica will be at their wits end, trying to figure out how to counter attack a team that just doesn’t attack !

Key Factor – Cristian Gamboa has been a joy to watch this world cup and the Costa Rican Right Wing Back has looked solid in tackling as well as in going forward.

His movement down the right-wing would be key to Costa Rica breaking down the rather Greece side which will be setting its stall to defend.

Costa Rica’s Cristian Gamboa has been excellent in Defence

RESULT – Costa Rica should find their attacking spirit eventually winning. Costa Rica to win.

ARGENTINA vs SWITZERLAND

It is hard to sum up Argentina so far in this World Cup and eventually it would not be unfair to say that it was great to see Messi turn up for the World Cup, but we are still waiting for the rest of the Argentine players to turn too.

As the tournament has progressed Messi has improved, but the rest of the attack line has just not turned up. Messi has scored four of the five goals ,and if one takes away Messi’s goals then Argentina would have been knocked out in group stages.

It’s not as if Argentina have problems only with attack, but even defensively Argentina look weak, have let in three goals so far in the group stages against whom one would expect Argentina to fare much better.

I know I am being harsh on Argentina, a side that qualified with full points, but apart from the form of Messi, Argentina do not really have too many positives to speak of. Mascherano has done his role well, and Di Maria has at times looked lively.

However the defensive partnership of Fernandez and Garay which looks solid on paper has failed to deliver on the field, and Higuain and Aguero have been among the most disappointing players of the World Cup.

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Switzerland are actually a better team than many give them credit for, and their strongest area is no doubt midfield. In Xhaka, Inler, Behrami, Dzemaili Switzerland have four very combative midfielders. Behrami has been a little out of form so I expect the trio of Xhaka, Inler and Dzemaili to start against Argentina, and these three have more than got the potential to completely stifle Argentina’s play in the midfield. Perhaps all four may start as Switzerland shift to a 4-1-3-1-1 formation.

One of these midfielders will not doubt be asked to shadow Messi and take him completely out of the game, a job much easier said than done. In Shaqiri, they have one of the most exciting young players and we have already seen how devastating he can be and is capable of causing more than a fair share of trouble for the Argentine defense.

The middle of the defense is where Switzerland have a huge problem, and are presently playing Senderos and Djourou and neither of them really strike any fear in the opposing attack lines.

Switzerland also don’t really have any out-and-out goal scorer and eventually too much would come to rest on Shaqiri to do the damage upfront.

Key Factor – Lionel Messi is no doubt the key, and any match he plays in he just is the key. If he hits his elements he is unstoppable and things like tactics and shadowing go out of the window. There is no doubting his ability and he can totally exploit the weak Switzerland defence and carry Argentina through to the next round.

RESULT – Of all the matches so far, this one has the biggest potential for an upset. Messi is having the World Cup of his life, but the rest of the Argentina side are struggling. Switzerland in their midfield have the potential to stifle, Messi, and if they do then will any of the struggling Argentina side step up.

Crucially, even if Switzerland keep Messi quiet and keep Argentina out, I am not sure they could score themselves as too much rests on the shoulders of Shaqiri, but having said this Argentina have not looked as solid defensively as they would like to.

So once again while, stressing that of all the matches the potential for an upset is the most in this match, I will tip towards Argentina to win. An early goal could be crucial.

BELGIUM VS UNITED STATES

It would be fair to say that this is Belgian football’s golden generation, and individually Belgium have too much talent, but in the past this generation had not quite gelled as team.

However, Belgium have done exceptionally well to qualify with full points into the knock-out stage, but they have never really made it easy for themselves, often leaving it late to score the winning goal.

Having said that Belgium as the tournament has gone one have become more and more battle hardened, and have had two very tough matches against Algeria, where they had to come from behind to win and then in their last group match against Korea Republic, they were reduced to 10-men but still managed to find a goal and win.

These two stern tests will stand them in good stead going into the knock out stages of the tournament. The rediscovery of Fellaini’s form is excellent news for Belgium, and he can be a force of absolute destruction from the midfield.

Hazard is their most talented player and has been the creator of winning goals against Algeria and Russia for Belgium, and he will look to continue his excellent run this world cup. At the back in defence Kompany has been brilliant, and as a whole the Belgian side look solid.

USA have done well to reach this far, and some may consider them a little lucky to qualify despite them losing to Germany, but then again some may argue that USA were very unlucky not to finish off the job against Portugal. USA are a very combative side, and while they do not really have any superstars, but they do play really well as a team and are hard to break down.

Dempsey has had a brilliant World Cup and while his numbers are not exactly the best, but the effort he has put in this World Cup is second to none. USA rely on a strong midfield duo of Bradley and Jones to both repel the opposition attacks, as well as a springboard to launch their own attacks and the duo of Bradley and Jones have been crucial at both ends of the field for USA. Having a quality keeper in between the sticks has further helped their cause.

Key Factor – Marouane Fellaini will be crucial to this match. USA’s strength lies in the middle of their midfield, and Fallaini will be critical to countering the challenge posed by Jones and Johnson which will then free up Hazard to pull the strings and run the show. If Johnson and Jones take control of the midfield then Belgium will in for a much sterner test.

Fellaini Has Found Form For His Nation
Fellaini in Form is a Dauting Oppoenent

RESULT – This Belgian side has not exactly had a stroll into the knockout rounds and they have been duly tested in tight games, but they have always emerged on top.

This tough route into the knockout rounds will stand them in good stead for the challenge against the United States, which should be a similar test to what they have already faced. Belgium to win by a goal.

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