World Cup 2018: Round of 16 Preview – Part 1

Considering how it went in the group stage of this World Cup, trying to predict how it will go now in the Round of 16 is not an easy task having seen so many surprises and upsets. Germany was among the favourites to win a consecutive gold but were sent packing thanks to the combined efforts of South Korea and Sweden.

Still, many nations expected to qualify lived up to it. Uruguay, Spain, Portugal, France, Croatia, Argentina (by a whisker), Brazil, Switzerland, England and Belgium were pretty much all due to make it past the group stage, and did. So what can we expect now?

France v Argentina: World Cup Match Preview

France did not exactly set Group C alight, but Didier Deschamps’ side still did enough to advance with a degree of comfort and will expect to get stronger as the tournament progresses. A stodgy 2-1 defeat of Australia set the tone for a series of underwhelming performances, with Peru beaten 1-0 and Denmark held to a 0-0 draw.

There is so much quality within this team, though, and it would be premature in the extreme to dismiss their chances of going all the way just because they have not yet hit their optimum level of performance.

Argentina’s first round was altogether more turbulent. After a disappointing 1-1 draw with Iceland in which Lionel Messi missed a penalty, they were beaten 3-0 by Croatia in what will go down as one of the nation’s worst ever performances at a major tournament. Nigeria’s 2-0 success against Iceland the following day kept Jorge Sampaoli’s side in the mix, however, and they sealed their spot in the round of 16 with a 2-1 win against the Nigerians on Tuesday.

There are still numerous problems with this Argentina side, not least in the defensive areas, but the inclusion of Ever Banega in the starting XI last time out seemed to get the best out of Messi. France are understandably favourites for this one, but a sneaky bet on Argentina to win (3.40) could pay dividends.

Uruguay v Portugal: World Cup Match Preview

Uruguay did not impress in their first two group games against Egypt and Saudi Arabia, despite winning both matches 1-0. There were thus question marks surrounding the team heading into their final encounter against Russia, but a comprehensive 3-0 triumph has raised optimism ahead of the knockout stage. Three consecutive clean sheets is certainly impressive, while Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani are beginning to find their feet up front.

Portugal looked set to qualify for the last 16 as Group B winners for much of their meeting with Iran, but a late concession – together with Iago Aspas’ goal for Spain against Morocco in Monday night’s other game – sent them through as runners-up instead.

This is a side built to get the best out of Cristiano Ronaldo, and Portugal’s fate could be decided by whether or not the Real Madrid superstar is able to deliver against a mean Uruguayan defence.

These two teams look more comfortable when playing back-foot, reactive football, so we should not expect a thriller in Sochi. A bet on under 1.5 goals (2.40) looks like the way to go here, while a small flutter on a 0-0 draw after 90 minutes (6.20) may also prove worthwhile.

Spain v Russia: World Cup Match Preview

Spain’s World Cup was thrown into turmoil on the eve of the big kick-off, as manager Julen Lopetegui was sacked after agreeing a deal to take charge of Real Madrid ahead of the 2018/19 season. La Roja delivered a terrific performance in the 3-3 draw with Portugal despite the chaos surrounding the camp.

But they were not quite as convincing in the 1-0 victory over Iran or the 2-2 tie with Morocco. The aforementioned late drama in that match helped them top Group B, though, and they will fancy their chances against the hosts.

Pessimism abounded about Russia’s chances of a successful World Cup before the tournament got underway, but brilliant wins against Saudi Arabia (5-0) and Egypt (3-1) saw them qualify with a game to spare. The comprehensive nature of their 3-0 loss to Uruguay suggests that the weakness of their first two opponents had plenty to do with those results, and Stanislav Cherchesov’s men start as clear underdogs here.

Spain looked defensively slack against Morocco last time out, but they are likely to refocus and tighten up now that the knockout phase is upon us. With that in mind, put some money on a win to nil (2.30) for Fernando Hierro’s charges.

Croatia v Denmark: World Cup Match Preview

Croatia have been one of the most impressive performers in Russia up to now, collecting maximum points to progress to the next round of Group D winners. The Vatreni defeated Nigeria 2-0, Argentina 3-0 and Iceland 2-1 in their three first-round matches, showcasing a range of qualities which suggests they have the ability to go far in this competition. Zlatko Dalic’s side arguably possess the strongest midfield at this World Cup, and the Croatians will fear no one as they head into the knockout stage for the first time since 1998.

Denmark advanced as runners-up in Group C, amassing five points and conceding just one goal (a penalty kick) against Peru (1-0), Australia (1-1) and France (0-0). That Peru victory was the key game for Age Hareide’s charges, who rode their luck a little but ultimately found a way to emerge triumphantly.

The Danes are tough to play against and possess a world-class creator in Christian Eriksen, but they will have to improve on their group stage performances to make it through to the last eight. It is difficult to look past a Croatia win in this one, provided they can keep Tottenham schemer Eriksen quiet. Back the Vatreni to score in both halves (3.60) and advance to the last eight.

By Greg Lea

After many years of sports writing with emphasis on football, including a stint at Sky Sports, Greg is here to help you with betting tips. Follow him on Twitter @greglea to get the latest updates before placing your bets.