So farewell then, rubbish teams. You couldn’t hit a cow’s ass with a barn door, and for that you have paid the price. Ghana, we’ll miss you. The other 15? Not so much. This has been a bad World Cup for some of the old soccer powers (let’s call them the F4+1: Spain, Italy, England – oh Albion, perfidious as ever! - Russia and Portugal), and a disastrous one for the Asians (not one nation through to the final 16).
The South Americans have matched their performance at the 2010 World Cup, when they had five teams in the round of 16. Somewhat bizarrely, four of the sides face each other today. First up is Brazil vs. Chile. The bad news for the Chileans is that they’ve never beaten Brazil on enemy terrain. They also lost 3-0 to the boys from Brazil at the same stage four years ago. The good news? Chile is a much stronger side this time around, while Brazil is basically Neymar plus 9 yellow shirts and a goalie. Another incentive for the Chileans is the chance to finally gain revenge for Brazil knocking them out when they themselves hosted the World Cup way back in 1962.
One bit of bad news. According to this wonderful Wall Street Journal story, Brazil and Chile topped the chart for faking injures in the first two games. Collectively they had no fewer than 33 “injuries,” with 10 minutes and 16 seconds of writhing around before miraculously recovering. (In comparison, Bosnia and Herzegovina faked it for a mere 24 seconds – and that’s even with Eden Dzeko in their side!)
The other local derby Saturday is between Uruguay and Colombia. Believe it or not, the Uruguayans are feeling hard done by after Luis Suarez was banned for nine matches (woof justice?). We’ll leave the last word on the Suarez biting scandal to Brazilian legend Ronaldo with this surreal effort: “If my little children bite me, they are sent to the dark room with the big bad wolf. This is football's equivalent.” Sadly Ronaldo didn’t reveal whether it was a metaphorical or real wolf … we’re going to assume it’s real until told otherwise.
When the two sides met in qualifying, Colombia trounced Uruguay 4-0 at home, before losing the return fixture 2-0. Interestingly (and you just know a very dull statistic is going to follow that word), Colombian winger James Rodriguez has the best goals/assists combination at the World Cup (three goals, two assists) for minutes played. We’re predicting a Brazil vs. Colombia quarterfinal next Friday, so place your bets now for Chile and Uruguayan victories.
Sunday’s games see two impressive sides, Netherlands and Mexico, faceoff in the early game. We’ve been impressed by Mexico’s performances, and think they could spring the surprise of the round. There’s a huge incentive for both sides, with the winner facing either Costa Rica or Greece in the quarterfinal. Costa Rica topped Group D, and should be too strong for the Greeks. Costa Rican forward Joel Campbell, who played his soccer in Greece last season, could be the man to consign the Greeks to the exit.
France and Germany will both fancy their chances against Nigeria and Algeria, respectively, in Monday’s matches, although wins for France and Algeria would set up a potentially incendiary quarterfinal clash – Algeria against its old colonial master. The two sides met for the one and only time in 2001, with that ”friendly” abandoned after French Algerians invaded the pitch in Paris. The French police will be cheering for anything but a France vs. Algeria matchup.
Finally, Tuesday’s games see Argentina playing Switzerland and Belgium against the United States. Despite spluttering through the group stage, the Diary is backing Leo Messi and Co. to win the tournament (call it the Maradona effect, with Messi reprising the former’s No.10 role).
The United States also has a great chance against Belgium, although it might need to start practicing its penalties. Even though it qualified with three victories, Belgium has been surprisingly dull. The only bright spark has been their 19-year-old striker with the best name in the entire tournament: Divock Origi. Even better, his dad is called Mike.
Finally, some statistics showing why this World Cup has been as gripping as an Argentine defender at a corner (courtesy of The Roar website in Australia):
- 83 percent of games have ended in a win - none of those “kissing your sister” ties so despised by Americans of yore!
- 44 percent of games have ended with a one-goal winning margin, meaning closely contested games with results going to the wire.
- The average number of goals per game in the group stage was 2.83 – the highest for 56 years. Let’s just hope that trend continues over the next two weeks and that fear of losing doesn’t make sides more negative.
Round of 16:
Brazil vs. Chile 7 P.M.
Colombia vs. Uruguay 11 P.M.
Netherlands vs. Mexico 7 P.M.
Costa Rica vs. Greece 11 P.M.
France vs. Nigeria 7 P.M.
Germany vs Algeria 11 P.M.
Argentina vs. Switzerland 7 P.M.
Belgium vs. United States 11 P.M.
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