Saturday, June 28
Brazil vs Chile
Backed by thousands of fans, playing in a country they have been to on countless occasions, against opponents they know so well, Chile pose a gigantic threat to Brazil’s World Cup dream.
Even more tellingly when it comes to matters on the pitch, Chile will be led by a coach (Jorge Sampaoli) as meticulous as he is passionate, a man who does his homework (he spoke figuratively but revealingly when he said before their victory over Spain that he had watched millions of videos of the world champions in action).
The players have been up for battle since the start, pressing and suffocating opponents, covering miles of ground, defending together and attacking with pace and precision, led by the inspired and tireless Alexis Sanchez. To avoid the upset, Brazil must improve and match Chile’s defensive organisation and team ethic. If they do, their individual brilliance, home support, superior firepower and perhaps even a sympathetic whistle will see the Selecao through this tough one. Brazil win
Colombia vs Uruguay
Fifa yesterday suspended Luis Suarez for nine matches and banned the Uruguay forward for four months from any football-related activity. This means he will sit out this round of 16 encounter.
Uruguay’s opening loss to Costa Rica without their injured talisman, and then their two victories over England and Italy after he had returned, showed that they are like two entirely different teams.
Colombia are the better team overall even when Suarez is in the picture, but it would not necessarily guarantee them victory because he can always produce a memorable moment to decide it. Should the man with the notorious cannibalistic streak play, this one will head for Extra Time. But if he is out, Colombia win it outright.
Sunday, June 29
Holland vs Mexico
From Guillermo Ochoa’s goalkeeping, through the team’s organisation and work rate, down to their varied attack and improved strike rate, Mexico are formidable World Cup foes.
Holland have shown vulnerabilities which this Mexican side can exploit, and the temperatures and humidity expected during this early kickoff are meant to ideally work in Mexico’s favour. But the Dutch have impressed even in the heat, led by the unbelievable running of 30-year-old Arjen Robben as seen at the same kickoff time against Chile in the group decider. They will have Robin Van Persie back, and even if Mexico have done a great job defending with Rafa Marquez at the helm, and the Dutch three-man attack can finally expose the old man’s until-now hidden frailties. Holland win
Costa Rica vs Greece
From the World Cup’s outstanding coach so far, the man they call The General, the mantle has been as simple as ‘run harder and faster for longer’.
Jorge Luis Pinto has made quite an impact with the pre-tournament minnows Costa Rica, fitness and discipline laying the foundation on which their talent and youthfulness have blossomed.
They now face a Greece side which has been gradually improving game by game, in the same way another one so famously did 10 years ago.
They pass and move well, and have a knack for shooting from range, and these veterans will pose their own threat. The betting man understands me perfectly when I call for this one to go to Extra Time.
Monday, June 30
France vs Nigeria
The African champions have done the continent proud, lifting spirits after the low of Cameroon and the heartbreak of the Ivory Coast.
In Vincent Enyeama they have one of the best goalkeepers at the tournament, and the team’s defending was impressive against Bosnia and decent at times against Argentina. Peter Odemwingie, Ahmed Musa and Emmanuel Emenike have proved a handful albeit intermittently. But should France continue in the same form and at the same pace as they did in the group phases they will have too much for the Super Eagles, who will have their midfield and backline under constant pressure. Les Blues should be able to end the sub-Saharan adventure right here. France win
Tuesday, July 1
Argentina vs Switzerland
The capitulation against France notwithstanding, Switzerland have been a model of organisation, sound group defending and tactical astuteness under legendary coach Ottmar Hitzfeld. As a unit they are more solid than Argentina, but the Argentines have more talent overall, and the world’s best player who has finally come into his element on the big stage in national colours.
Lionel Messi has been the difference between Argentina and all else up to now, under very close scrutiny from the opposition, and should continue in the same vein whatever the Swiss throw at him.
And if Gonzalo Higuain, Angel Di Maria, Sergio Aguero and Ezequiel Lavezzi finally come to the party too, there will only be one winner.