Alex and -J. did such a good job picking the 16 teams to make it past the Group Stage, we brought them back to predict the Round of 16.
(That said, “good” is a relative term here, as they each picked 10 of 16. If a 62.5% success rate is good, these guys are solid.)
To the picks!
Brazil vs. Chile
-J.: Every team in these first two games is from CONMEBOL, which means we’re guaranteed to have a South American team in the semi-finals. As the home team, it’s really difficult to pick against Brazil. They’re getting favorable calls from the refs, they’re one of the best teams in the world, and Neymar is scary-good. Chile had a great group stage, but couldn’t beat strong Dutch team. Chile also has yet to beat Brazil in the last 18 months, and I don’t see it happening here. Can you find a reason to pick against Brazil here, Alex?
Alex: Sadly, I cannot. I really liked watching Chile spank their old colonial masters out of the tournament last week. They looked young, aggressive, and confident; who could ask for anything more from a South American side? Well, you could ask for a history of complete dominance and a stupefying home-field advantage. Brazil hasn’t lost a competitive match within its borders since the 70’s. The 70’s! They will win here.
Colombia vs. Uruguay
-J.: James Rodríguez is having his World Cup coming-out party for Colombia, and his goals are making up for the absence of Falcao. Uruguay, on the other hand, is suddenly missing (arguably) the best player from South American, now that FIFA has banned Luis Suárez. While Uruguay’s federation is pissed, I find myself lacking sympathy. Suárez is the same player who cynically committed a handball to prevent Ghana from being the first African team to advance to the semi-finals in the 2010 World Cup. Now he’s bitten a dude (again). No Suárez, no win for Uruguay. Would you agree on Colombia winning this one?
Alex: Viva Colombia! I have throughly enjoyed watching Colombia’s team storm back into the world’s consciousness. They look like a very real threat to reach the semi-finals, even at Brazil’s expense. Suffice to say, I think they will romp over a Suarez-less Uruguay. The latter will probably be playing with a lot of anger and passion, but they didn’t look like the better side even before The Bite Seen Round the World. Los Cafeteros move on.
Side note: the Colombian team is nicknamed “The Coffee Growers.” I love soccer so much.
the Netherlands vs. Mexico
-J.: Damn. I really want Mexico to win this game. After a disastrous CONCACAF Hex, Mexico qualified for a play-in game thanks to Team USA’s victory over Panama. Their new coach, however, has them playing above their level — they didn’t lose a single game in their group, even against Brazil. But… the Netherlands are looking like a steamroller. My heart cheers for Mexico, but my eyes can’t see them beating the Dutch. What do your eyes yell you, Alex?
Alex: I’m actually sort of unsure about this one. The Dutch absolutely plastered Spain two weeks ago, but “La Roja Wedding” looks less impressive since the Spainards were never going to win in hindsight. They did handle Chile quite well, too. But I have a Dutch friend who has been bemoaning their play so consistently that I now doubt my own eyes. On the other hand, El Tri have looked really impressive. Their draw against Brazil was thrilling and unexpected, and their wins over Cameroon and Croatia were both solid. I’m gonna roll with CONCACAF here and pick Mexico to reach the Quarters. The power of Super Saiyan Herrera compels me.
Costa Rica vs. Greece
-J.: AAAGGGGHH! Greece made it to the knockout round. Remember my threat to invoke unholy powers if Greece advanced? I fully believe that it took an unexpected form: the Grim Spectre of Costa Rica. Los Ticos were notoriously good in favorable climates during CONCACAF qualifiers, and they schooled a “group of death” in this World Cup which included England, Italy, and Uruguay. Fueled by supernatural power, I expect Costa Rica to sink the cursed pirate ship of Greece. They damn well better.
Alex: Fuck this Greek squad. The penalty that advanced them was some hot bullshit and they play such awful football. Ugh. Good thing Costa Rica has played like dynamite so far. I expect them to whip the Greeks and make this the most CONCACAF-ey of Quarter-Finals.
France vs. Nigeria
-J.: I’m glad for the Super Eagles, but it feels like they’re here because of karmic balance more than anything. Ivory Coast was on its way to the knockout stage, but the refs handed the victory to Greece instead. Conversely, Bosnia & Herzegovina got utterly hosed by the refs in its game against Nigeria, which gave the Super Eagles this spot. France is one of those storied World Cup teams that: a) hasn’t imploded this time around, and b) tends to get favorable calls from refs. Besides, I would hate to deprive you of La Marseillaise, Alex.
Alex: This is the easiest pick of the round. As I prophesied, this has been a redemption tour for the French side. Like you said, Nigeria got rather lucky just to be in this round. Considering that, I just can’t imagine Nigeria giving Les Bleus much trouble. Vive la France!
Germany vs. Algeria
-J.: It was great to watch Algeria break out of the cupcake Group H. They finally displayed the capability to challenge and beat European teams at the World Cup… only to draw Germany in the Round of 16. I can’t see them defeating die Mannschaft. Germany won a “group of death,” and they looked badass doing it. Honestly, this looks to be the easiest matchup for the Germans so far, and the hardest for Algeria so far. Are you also expecting Germany to advance into a face-off against rival France in the quarters?
Alex: Yeah, this should be an easy win for Germany. I’m thrilled that the Desert Foxes advanced to the Round of 16, but I’m not convinced they’re losing again for quite a while. They’ve got flaws, but true to stereotype, they are so well-organized that it hardly matters. The Algerians will give it their all, might even prompt a scare or two, but it won’t be enough. Thus dies my friend Luke’s dream of a Quarter-Final wherein the two African teams can decide once and for all which “-geria” is greater.
Argentina vs. Switzerland
-J: I’ve said it before, but the Swiss just seem to underwhelm at World Cups. Despite an utterly embarrassing loss to France at the start of group play, they showed plenty of quality to get out of the group stage. Argentina, meanwhile, has also underwhelmed; they won every group game, but Messi almost had to carry them on his back to do so. That’s where I think the difference lies: Switzerland doesn’t have Messi, and we’re in South America. La Albiceleste advances.
Alex: My thoughts exactly. I’ve never been sold this Swiss quad. They seem over-ranked by FIFA and got a very easy group draw. Then they did exactly as expected in the Group and my thoughts didn’t change a bit. By contrast, Argentina has probably underperformed to this point, but I still like them a lot. Messi has been their motor, obviously, but the squad hasn’t fallen apart around him a la Ronaldo and Portugal. He’s an unselfish superstar, and while I no longer think he can propel them all the way to the Finals, the Argentines should advance here.
Belgium vs. USA
-J.: I know, I know, I’m a homer. I’m going to pick the USA here, but hear me out. The USA has faced Europe’s best team (Germany), the team with best player in the world (Portugal), and their arch nemesis (Ghana). Despite the worst travel schedule of all 32 teams, despite losing Altidore, despite being in the most difficult group, the USA moved on. Belgium looked inconsistent while easing through the fluffiest of cupcake groups in this World Cup. Are you with me, Alex?
Alex: Oh, hell yes. Why would we not be homers here? No one really gave the U.S. a shot at advancing from Group G, yet here we are. That gauntlet you described was daunting, and I am quite sure the team is exhausted beyond compare at this point. But I don’t think their journey is over yet. For all of the hype about Belgium being a dark horse contender before the tournament, they have not played like one. Not to say they cannot, especially since they were beating the tar out of the American team as recently as last year, but I like the moxie (yes, moxie), organization, and determination of the Von Trapps. We still aren’t talented enough to beat the best, but we are well past crumpling. The U.S. matches 2002 and reaches the Quarter-Finals, at least. #NoSleepTilSalvador