The dust has settled on the group phase and the World Cup now becomes a straight forward knock-out competition.
With the exception of Spain and Italy, all the World Cup favourites have progressed to the latter stages.
Brazil, Holland, Argentina, Germany, France and Belgium successfully negotiated tough assignments to finish top of their respective groups ensuring they avoid each other until the quarter-finals.
All Latin American affair
Supporters and media alike have extolled the virtues of the South American nations as all countries have progressed—with only Ecuador having failed to make the cut.
Fans will now get their Copa América fix with a guaranteed three all-South American fixtures. Hosts Brazil take on Chile and Uruguay meet Colombia. The winners of each tie will then meet in the quarter-final.
South America is therefore guaranteed to be represented in the semi-finals but by the same token, the region will also lose three countries.
Brazil will hope that Neymar’s fine goal scoring spree continues but will also expect him to match the levels he set during last summer’s Confederations Cup. With home advantage the Selecao will be favourites against Chile and Colombia should be confident in toppling a Uruguayan side reeling from having star striker Luis Suarez sent home.
Africa’s finest and European pedigree
Algeria and Nigeria are the sole Africans representatives but will find it difficult to progress given they face Germany and France respectively in the second round.
Potentially Die Mannschaft will take on the French in the quarter-finals, which given their World Cup pedigree of four World Cup wins between them, is something to be savoured.
The last World Cup meetings between the Germans and Les Bleus was in the 1982 and 1986 semi-finals where the-then West Germans prevailed on both occasions—courtesy of penalties after an epic 3-3 draw in ‘82 and 2-0 in the Mexican heat during ’86.
France or Germany would then be likely to face Brazil or Colombia in the semi-final.
The Oranje and surprise packages
The Dutch have been the best performers thus far with three wins, 10 goals scored and a favourable goal difference of seven. The form of the flying Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie saw Spain dismantled before they eventually cruised to victory over Australia, albeit after a wobble, and beat an impressive Chile.
Holland are stronger but with the animated but tactically astute Miguel Herrera on the touchline, it is not unfeasible that the Mexicans could cause Louis Van Gaal’s side problems.
Costa Rica shocked most people by joining Mexico in the last 16. Having already beaten Uruguay and Italy this month, Ticos must fancy their chances against Greece—then again, most teams probably thought the same during the 2004 European Championships.
After an opening defeat to Colombia, Greece churned out a vital draw despite being one man down for the majority of their match against Japan and then outplayed the Ivory Coast for a famous victory in their final group game.
The world’s finest against his apprentice
Jose Mourinho maintained last season that Eden Hazard has all the ingredients to share the illustrious stage currently occupied by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. However, Hazard has only demonstrated a glimpse of his potential during the current World Cup.
This section of draw, strongly indicates a quarter-final between Argentina and Belgium.
Argentina should see-off Switzerland given how they folded against France. Ottmar Hitzfeld’s side were the seeds in Group E but France’s forward play proved too much and given La Albiceleste have an in-form Messi, the Swiss are in trouble.
Similar sentiments apply for the Belgians as they take on Jurgen Klinsmann’s USA.
The US have achieved their lofty ambition of reaching the last 16 but Belgium have a 100 percent record without really breaking sweat so far.
De Rode Duivels were dark horses before the tournament and that tag firmly remains. Having beaten three teams who all played very defensively, they Belgians would have grown in confidence.
The Stars and Stripes demonstrated against the Germans that they will fight tooth and nail for every ball but Klinsmann’s team are likely to sit back and invite Belgian pressure which would be a contributing factor in their downfall.
If Argentina prevail in the quarter-final, the Dutch would be the likely opposition in the last four, which would evoke memories of Dennis Bergkamp’s wonder goal in the 1998 finals.