World Cup Round of 16 Preview – Part 2
Russia upset Spain on penalties, Uruguay sent Portugal home, France crushed Argentina’s hopes and Denmark was sent packing by Croatia, also after penalties. This means that from the pre-tournament top favourites, only France and Brazil are left.
What a World Cup it’s been so far. The drama. The upsets. And how hard it’s been to pick winning bets. I can’t help but feel a bit flustered. It wasn’t supposed to be this unpredictable, but hey, that’s the World Cup for you.
Let’s see if we can get it right in the second round of the top 16. We have quite a few good games coming up before the quarterfinals. Here’s what we’re in for today and tomorrow.
Brazil vs Mexico
Brazil delivered 20 minutes of scintillating football in their opening game against Switzerland, before curiously sinking deeper and allowing their opponents to come onto them. That resulted in a 1-0 advantage becoming a 1-1 draw.
The pressure increased further when the score was locked at 0-0 heading into second-half stoppage time against Costa Rica. Two late, late goals spared the Selecao’s blushes, though, and they were much improved in the 2-0 defeat of Serbia earlier this week.
Mexico’s group stage played out in reverse: a strong start followed by an underwhelming finish. El Tri produced a magnificent display to beat holders Germany 1-0 in their first match, before showing steel to overcome South Korea 2-1 a few days later. A point against Sweden would have secured top spot, but Juan Carlos Osorio’s men imploded and were beaten 3-0, ultimately finishing second.
Mexico’s counter-attacking could cause Brazil problems here, particularly if Tite’s men defend high up the pitch as expected. The five-time world champions should be good enough to progress, but back both teams to score in a Brazil triumph (3.60).
Belgium vs Japan
The question marks surrounding this Belgium side have not entirely cleared after the group stage, but it is hard to argue with nine points from nine. The Red Devils were scintillating in attack after a stodgy first-half display against Panama.
They finally beat the CONCACAF nation 3-0 after turning the screw in the second period and then thrashing Tunisia 5-2. A second-string side got the better of England by a goal to nil to claim top spot in Group G.
Japan exceeded expectations by finishing second in Group H, an achievement which owed plenty to their 2-1 win against 10-man Colombia in their first outing in Russia. The Samurai Blue, in fairness, were the better team in a 2-2 draw with Senegal, before manager Akira Nishino made the curious decision of resting six players against Poland (a 1-0 loss) despite the fact his side had not yet wrapped up qualification.
Japan play neat and tidy possession football, but they could be overwhelmed by Belgium here. Back Roberto Martinez’s side to win both halves (3.10).
Sweden vs Switzerland
When Sweden lost 2-1 to Germany in the dying seconds of their second group game, they appeared to be on the brink of an early elimination. Janne Andersson’s side already had three points to their name at that stage.
It was widely assumed that they would struggle to bounce back from such late heartbreak when they took on group leaders Mexico in their final match. Instead, the Swedes ran out 3-0 winners after a terrific all-round performance in which they combined gritty defending with potent counter-attacking, topping their section in the process.
Switzerland were held to a 2-2 draw by Costa Rica in their last outing, but that was enough for them to progress to the round of 16. They began their campaign with a creditable 1-1 draw with Brazil, fighting back after conceding the first goal to Philippe Coutinho early on, before second-half strikes from Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead against Serbia. That was the key result for Vladimir Petkovic’s men, who remain unbeaten in Russia so far this summer.
Sweden are an extremely difficult team to play against and should not be underestimated here. I would recommend backing Sweden to win a game featuring fewer than 2.5 goals (4.75).
Colombia vs England
This is perhaps the most finely poised of the four ties covered here. It is tough to gauge Colombia after the group stage: they began with a 2-1 defeat by Japan which was at least partially explained by the early red card shown to Carlos Sanchez, before blowing Poland away 3-0 with a brilliant showing.
Their 1-0 victory over Senegal was less convincing, however, and star man James Rodriguez could be unavailable to face England after exiting that game after just half an hour. Gareth Southgate’s side left it late to beat Tunisia in their opener, but a 2-1 win was the least they deserved after dominating proceedings from the first whistle.
Panama were then hammered 6-1 as England made full use of set-pieces, but they ended on a low with a 1-0 loss to Belgium. Southgate heavily rotated his team for that match and it would be interesting to know whether he considered second spot in Group G to be preferable, but England’s loss of momentum could prove costly.
This should be a really tight encounter which could easily go all the way to penalties. Put some money on a draw between Colombia and England after 90 minutes (3.15).
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.