Predicting the Round of 16 – 2018 World Cup

It’s been a magnificent World Cup so far, maybe the best ever! Since we so clearly crushed our expansive 32 nation World Cup Preview Series, and did so well in our World Cup Predictions *cough cough Ger-maaa-ny, we’re going to take on the mighty challenge of predicting the round of 16. Stick around and learn a thing or two.

France v Argentina

Tise Okuo: Can any Argentine attacker not named Leo Messi turn up? Can Mascherano keep the mistakes under 3? Can Mbappe punish the slow Argentina defense? How badly will Les Bleus’ midfield own the Argentines? Will the French have someone man mark Ever Banega?
Deschamps doesn’t care if he bores you to death with France’s football. That isn’t a good sign for Argentina who have struggled to break disciplined defenses all tournament long. Even if Messi has a moment or two of pure magic, the French attack have enough gears to punish a weak La Albiceleste defense. If France were coached by someone slightly more aggressive, this would be a major beatdown but they’re not so…
Prediction: France 3-1 Argentina

James Wilkinson: Will Deschamps continue to have a squad littered with World Class attackers play stylistically like Burnley? Can we continue to count on Argentina’s Centerbacks to hammer home late volleys? Was Ever Banega’s creative presence in the midfield an aberration or the start of an Argentina turnaround? If Banega is being counted on deep in the midfield, does Masherano have the legs to cover him defensively? Can Higuain shrug off the burdens of narrative and finish a POINT BLANK GOAL IN A MAJOR MATCH?? Argentina still have a really disjointed attack, in spite of Messi’s presence. Now that disjointed attack will be faced with N’Golo Kante aka Destroyer of World’s and I don’t think it’s going to go well. France continue to underwhelm but they’ll ‘whelm slightly more than Argentina in this one to seal their spot in the Quarters.
Prediction: France 1-0 Argentina

Uruguay v Portugal

Tise: Can Portugal get their play distributed when Uruguay inevitably close down William Carvalho? Can Cristiano Ronaldo win versus the monsters in Uruguay’s central defense? Will Quaresma or Bernardo be a major factor? Can Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani expose Portugal’s soft central defense? Will Diego Laxalt pull apart the Portuguese midfield?
On paper, these are two incredibly pragmatic sides and this has the makings of a borefest which naturally means it’ll probably be one of the most exciting games of the round.
Prediction: Uruguay 2-1 Portugal

James: Can Uruguay’s pragmatism and efficiency in front of net continue against an actual strong opponent? Will Portugal’s aging Centerback pair of Pepe and Fonte be able to hold out against a deadly striking pair for Uruguay? What sort of magic is Ronaldo going to conjure up to push his team onward? When Pepe and Luis Suarez collide, will a black hole suddenly open due to the sheer amount of dark arts present? Which winger between Bernardo Silva and Quaresma gets the start, and can they contribute enough to help out Ronaldo? Uruguay truly have not been tested yet, and are certain to continue trying to hit back on the counter. But they haven’t faced a squad that offers anything close to the attacking power and frankly the overall team quality that Portugal does. Uruguay’s road ends here, much to the delight of those who prefer beautiful football to rock fights.
Prediction: Portugal 2-1 Uruguay

Spain v Russia

Tise: Can the Russian attack cause enough havoc in Spain’s defense? Will the Russians believe they can win this game? Will the Russian defense tighten up or get pulled apart by Spain? Is there one last great performance left in Sergei Ignashevich? Which Spanish center back will make an egregious mistake? Can Diego Costa go into full ‘bully’ mode? Will Iniesta take over the midfield again?
If Russia can mentally switch on and not be intimidated, they can make a game of this which will be great for the home fans. If recent history is anything to go by, that won’t happen. The scoreline may be close the performance should tell another story.
Prediction: Spain 2-1 Russia

James: Will Spain’s aging midfield legs have enough juice against a Russia squad that flat out loves to run? How will the colossal Dzyuba be able to remain effective when faced with Ramos and Pique? Will Aleksandr Golovin continue to show world class potential against true stars like Iniesta and Busquets? Honestly this boils down to one thing – Is Russia for real? If they are, they should be able to give Spain a little trouble with their movement and overall feistiness. Plus you know the home crowd will give them a lift. I lean
towards the idea they were punching above their weight class in the group, and won’t be able to maintain their quality against a team that may be the new World Cup favorites. The dream ends here for Russia, but they’ll get a late goal to give the fans something to cheer about.
Prediction: Spain 3-1 Russia

Croatia v Denmark

Tise: Will the Croatian attack put away it’s chances? Can the Croat midfield totally take over the game? How will Denmark deal with Christian Eriksen being snuffed out? Will the Danes find enough creativity in the wings to stretch the Croatian defense and midfield?
Croatia have been one of the most impressive teams at the tournament so far. They’ve done this in the opposite way from what we thought. In the past, they’ve been a beautiful passing attacking side that flowed from front to back irresistibly and they gave us some wonderful classic games versus equally good attacking sides. This time, while they’ve maintained their ability to pass around teams, their play is far more controlled and focused on stifling the opponent. The Danes will need to summon something extra especially since Eriksen will likely be silenced.
Prediction: Croatia 3-1 Denmark

James: How will Croatia defend Christian Eriksen? If Croatia gives Eriksen the Messi treatment and just completely freezes him out, is there anyone on Denmark that can step up and have a moment of brilliance? Croatia has looked one of the best teams in the tournament, so can they continue the momentum? Will players like Rebic and Mandzukic, who toe the line on discipline, steer clear of a card that could cost them down the road? Denmark has only managed to score twice so far. Their offense is entirely dependent on Eriksen. I love me some Eriksen, but Croatia had a great game plan for dealing with Lionel Messi, and Eriksen is no Messi. Expect Denmark’s lack of a second option to be brutally and harshly brought to light. Croatia breezes through.
Prediction: Croatia 3-0 Denmark

Brazil v Mexico

Tise: Can El Tri cause Brazil’s centerbacks to get happy feet? Will Mexico play a possession based game and win the moral battle or a counter attacking game and deal with real punishment? Can Mexico keep Brazil from scoring early? How many times will Neymar roll over in pure agony? Will Mexico be able to curtail Coutinho? Will Marcelo play and if he does, can Mexico get behind him? Will Brazil’s midfield overwhelm Mexico with runners from deep?
Brazil have been a complete side at this cup. They feel very solid and even if Mexico play a counterattacking game like they did v Germany, Brazil is not imbalanced, they won’t let El Tri break like the Germans did. This feels like Mexico will regret not topping the table when they had the chance, back 3 or back 4 probably won’t matter against Brazil.
Prediction: Brazil 4-0 Mexico

James: Brazil has looked better every match, will that trend continue? Mexico has played giant killer once with a counter attacking game plan, will they employ similar tactics against a Brazil squad much better equipped to defend against it? After failing to put away Germany by missing quality chances, can Mexico build a lead by converting some of their great looks on the counter? Will Gabriel Jesus finally get a goal or is it time to utilize Firmino? Will Marcelo be back from his mystery injury to play? This is the nightmare scenario for Mexico. They beat Germany but squandered the chance to win their group and avoid this matchup. They’ll live to regret that. Missing Hector Moreno, and unable to employ the counter attacking strategy which led them to success against the Germans, Mexico just doesn’t have the
firepower to win this. Casemiro single-handedly blows up their counter strategy and Brazil cruise to the round of 8. Juan Carlos Osorio is (somewhat wrongly) fired before the plane lands back in Mexico.
Prediction: Brazil 2-0 Mexico

Belgium v Japan

James: Japan has made it through in shock fashion thanks to a disciplined and smart defense, but will that be able to hold up against the attacking power Belgium brings to the table? To be frank, is there a weakness here Japan can exploit? Without a clear way to attack this strong Belgium group, it could come down to an individual moment of brilliance from a player like Honda, if so will he deliver? Japan are probably the biggest surprise of this group stage, and their organized squad has played smart and steady thus far, against more than solid opposition. Belgium is hitting on all cylinders though and boasts more talent playing well together than Japan can cope with. Belgium through!
Prediction: Belgium 3-1 Japan

Tise: How many goals will Romelu Lukaku score? Can the Belgians deal with a quick striking Japanese counter attack? Can the Belgian attack break Japan’s low block? Will the Japanese concede the midfield or surprise the Belgian midfield like they did Senegal? Will Japan be efficient in front of goal?
The Japanese have been a joy to watch at this tournament, they have competed bravely with teams who were supposed to overpower them on paper and they can trouble the Red Devils if Belgium let them stick around.
Prediction: Belgium 3-0 Japan

Switzerland v Sweden

James: Will Switzerland be able to cope defensively without Fabian Schar and Captain Stephan Lichtsteiner who will miss through Yellow Card accumulation? Sweden’s employed a conservative approach defensively, so how will they deal with the speed Xherdan Shaqiri and potentially Breel Embolo coming at them? Will Swedish striker Marcus Berg finally start finishing his non-penalty chances? This is the one matchup this round that does not feature a perceived heavyweight, and that makes it incredibly compelling. The lack of defenders for the Swiss cancel out Sweden’s finishing issues, and barring another Granit Xhaka wonder-strike, that should be enough to get them through in a close one. Jan Sommer has been standing on his head in goal but I’m afraid he’s going to be faced with more than he can handle. Sweden
sneak by.
Prediction: Sweden 2-1 Switzerland

Tise: Can the Swiss cope with the absence of Schar and Lichtsteiner? Can the Swiss strikers get on the scoreboard? Which version of Granit Xhaka and especially Xherdan Shaqiri will show up? Can Sweden overpower Switzerland’s defense? Can the Swedish defense force Switzerland to go wide and rely on crossing into the teeth of Sweden’s monstrous defense?
The Swedes are an extremely solid unit. They will be hard to break down for a Swiss attack that just isn’t scoring enough. If Shaqiri doesn’t win his one-on-one battles, this could be a frustrating game for the Swiss.
Prediction: Switzerland 1-1 Sweden* (Swedes win on penalties)

Colombia v England

James: Is James Rodriguez going to be healthy enough to play through his calf injury? England suddenly have a lot of pressure on them, so will a team full of youngsters be able to handle it against a quality Colombian side? Does Yerry Mina continue to shoulder the goal load or can Falcao puncture a strong English back line? Both teams have been great scoring on set pieces in the tournament, will one swing the match?
England fans will tell you this is the side of the bracket they wanted, but they need to be careful what they wish for. Colombia is a dangerous side, and if James can play, he has the ability pull the strings and beat the Three Lions even on one leg. There would literally be nothing more English than to get the “easy route” and blow it in the first game. Still, I’ll bet against English history here and say they pull it off through some more Southgate set piece brilliance, but plan on sweating through a tense 90 minutes and maybe more.
Prediction: England 2-1 Colombia in Extra Time

Tise: Which version of Colombia will show up? The scintillating one v Poland or the drab version that limped v Japan and Senegal? Will James Rodriguez play? Can Juan Quintero shoulder more of the goalscoring and creative burden? If the game is even, how many times will David Ospina be close to death? Will Harry Kane punish Colombia’s static defending? Can England stifle Falcao and isolate him? Will Dele Alli be ready and if he isn’t, can Ruben Loftus Cheek be the version we saw v Panama not the version v Belgium?
Colombia are an appealing side on their day and England can get really bogged down in their own minds, this will go to the team who stay more alert.
Prediction: England 2-1 Colombia

 

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