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Getting ready for the knockout rounds of the World Cup

Recapping the rest of the group stage, while previewing what’s coming up next

England v Panama: Group G - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Wow. After an amazing two weeks to open this tournament, that’s all I can really say about it.

Honestly, I don’t remember the 2002 WC (I was 6 years old, give me a break). I remember the main points and things to know from the 2006 tournament. 2010 in South Africa I watched in-depth, almost every game of it, if not all of them. In 2014, same thing. I don’t remember missing a game. What I’m getting at is I definitely have not seen as much yet, but from what I have seen, this tournament in 2018 has been by far the craziest group stage. I can’t quite say “tournament” yet, because we have yet to see what the knockout rounds will bring us, but I hope that we get some more madness like we’ve had.

If you all read my preview, then you would have seen my original predictions for this crazy tournament. I emphasize, yet again, how crazy this tournament is, mainly to deflect away from the fact that my picks are so damn messed up, I’m not even sure if I want to go through them again. Just to start, my predicted final was France-Argentina, and I got that match-up right!........just a few rounds too late as they meet in the round of 16 coming up.

I’m gonna suck it up, go through my picks and elaborate on what’s really going on now out of that group, and I’ll end it with some more predictions, now that the bracket is set in stone. If you haven’t seen it yet, here it is:

Group A

I mean, the only place there was for error here was deciding who was gonna finish second, Egypt or Russia. I’m not saying I underestimated Russia, because I didn’t. They’re still not good, just the beneficiary of a “lucky” “random” draw. As the hosts, they “happen to” draw potentially the two worst teams in the tournament, and Egypt, sorry Salah, cannot manage to win a game. Uruguay finish first, I got that one right, but Russia second, followed by Saudi Arabia, and then Egypt.

I had Uruguay, Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia

Final standings of Group A

Group B

I like to celebrate the small victories, and I got the 1st/2nd place’s right in this one! Barely, but after a crazy first game between Spain-Portugal, they finish level on points because of a bizarre flip in the script at the same time in each of their last games. A VAR-reversed sexy goal by Spain in the dying embers of that game, tied the match against Morocco, but Portugal conceded a VAR-not-reversed call in the box, and Iran got the draw against them, scoring that ensuing penalty kick. Spain win the group, followed as close as possible by Portugal.

I had Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Iran

Final Standings of Group B

Group C

Honestly, this ended up being one of the more boring groups, with things working out just as expected, and none of the games were really that exciting. I blame the French. Boring football is in their blood as of late, but we get to see a real good test for them having to turn it on against Argentina. Staying in this group for now though, and Denmark had a bit of a scare, but worked through it, as Australia stumbled. Not much to note from this group other than that, but I am watching to see how France does, as well as Denmark now too

I had France, Denmark, Australia, Peru

Final standings of Group C

Group D

My group of death (GoD) showed to be just that. RIP Iceland, it was a good run, you had a chance at it, but I’m gonna say it and I don’t care who hates me for it, but thank god I don’t have to watch them play anymore. The most annoying style of play I’ve ever had to watch, from their long throws to Big Kicks FC, it was American High School soccer 2.0. Yeah, it’s a great story, and yeah I cheered for them because of my Villa boy Bjarnason, but I hated watching their games, because of how boring they made it. Messi and Argentina squeak by, keeping my champion still in it and not completely ruining my credibility just yet! What will boost the same credibility though, is my dark horses, who EVERYONE decides now, to notice how good Croatia are. My GoD and they come out with all nine points, and a +6 goal differential. They have a sweet chance at making a run, I’ll get to that later.

I had Argentina, Croatia, Nigeria, Iceland

Final standings of Group D

Halfway through and I’m realizing I got most of the teams advancing right, just the final exact order of the groups a little mixed up. Anyways...

Group E

BOOM BABY I got this one spot on, exact order and everything.

Brazil get the job done, advancing in first place, but not too comfortably because of their opening draw against Switzerland. Serbia blew their chance to advance against the Swiss, and the Swiss took advantage of their chance, and finished with five points, ahead of Serbia. This was another one of those groups with not much to note, but will still be looking out for how Brazil and Switzerland do in the KO round.

I had Brazil, Switzerland, Serbia, and then Costa Rica

Final standings of Group E

Group F

Bit of a heat check here, as this group has me 50 shades of f-ed up, but I’m sure I’m not the only one here. The defending champs and a lot of people’s favorites again, Germany are OUT. The Germans had a horrendous showing, and the curse of the hangover continues on. Just like Spain in 2014, the defending champs fail to qualify for the knockout round. I’ll say I had them first in this group too, but I knew this German team is not anywhere near the ones we’ve seen. I had them losing in the quarterfinals initially, but then I changed it to them losing in the semis instead. I’m not good enough to have predicted them crashing out like they did, but give me some credit for not thinking they’re gonna win it all! Sweden wins the group after annihilating Mexico, but Mexico survive thanks to Korea beating Germany. Mexico suffers from finishing second though, because they face Brazil and are on the tougher side of the bracket, even if they get by Brazil.

Shamefully, I had Germany, Korea, Sweden, Mexico

Final standings of Group F

Group G

Wow I’m actually better at this than I thought... This one was perfect too, although most people probably got this one right as well. England and Belgium run rampant in their first two games, and then don’t really want to win against one another, but someone has to, and Belgium do and finish first place, followed immediately by the British. Both of these teams looked solid, but against what opponents? It’ll be super interesting to see how things play out for them as they jump into the knockout round.

I had Belgium, England, Tunisia, Panama

Final standings of Group G

Group H

Last, and definitely not least (thanks, Groups A and C), this group came down to what was expected to be more last day madness. I spent the whole morning learning all these complex scenarios, and tie breakers and all that, and it ended up coming down to Senegal being eliminated because of one more yellow card. Yup, read that again but it’s true. It’s a “fair-play” tie-breaker, in which teams start at 0, and lose points as they’re awarded yellow or red cards. One point for each yellow, three points if it’s a second yellow leading to a red, and four points for a straight red. If someone manages to get a straight red when they’re already on a yellow card, they combine the four and one point to get five! So it came down to Senegal unfortunately having one more yellow card and thus one less point than Japan, losing that tie-breaker. It sucks, but if it was still tied on fair-play points, it would’ve gone to a coin flip (not kidding), so that would’ve sucked even more. I got the Colombia part right as they figured their stuff out after collapsing the first game. Poland show, once again, how FIFA rankings are dumb, and “#8,” your eighth best team in the world, was eliminated before their last game! Oh well, at least Japan and Senegal were fun to watch too, as Japan and Colombia advance.

I had Colombia, Poland, Japan, Senegal

Final standings of Group H

Like I said, not too bad I started to realize, right? Now we’ll see how I can do now that the bracket is set up, not in the way I initially hoped, but still! The one side of the bracket is absolutely LOADED, while the other might see the likes of England or Croatia actually making it to the finals. You’ll see what I mean, let’s get to it!

Instead of going game by game and dragging this out, I’ll go the two RO16 games that will meet in the quarters, and then who’s gonna win that too. First, I have Uruguay shutting down Ronaldo, and sending him home. He has been absolutely balling this tournament, but I do not think his team is good at all, and Uruguay’s centre-back pairing will be able to minimize his damage, while on the other end Suarez will run all over the Portuguese back-line. I really want to see this Portugal-Argentina game though, so I hope I’m wrong.

On the other hand, my original bracket had this as my championship, in which I picked Argentina over France. Argentina struggled in the games where it was heavily defensive, but playing a team like France will be an open game and allow for Argentina to hopefully find their groove, and I’m sticking with Argentina over France.

Uruguay-Argentina is a CONMEBOL (South American) match-up we see ever so often. In this game, usually we see the Argentines get the best of the Uruguayans, and I see the same thing happen, and Argentina somehow make their way into the semi-finals.

I’ll give credit where credit is due, after the first two games, Mexico looked like one of the best teams in this World Cup. After potentially needing a result against Sweden in their last game, and losing 3-0, I’m not so sure about that anymore, and they play Brazil, who we know all about. Brazil will take this one, but definitely not easy. We may even see extra-time in this one I feel.

Brazil will be awaiting a tough game against Belgium, who will handle Japan relatively easily. This Brazil-Belgium potential has me drooling just thinking about it. The names in this game, plus the quality it’s gonna give us... I really hope they meet. I take Brazil, unfortunately I just think they’re more well-versed in this aspect, and if Neymar stays healthy as well as their defense, they’re an absolute force. Coutinho has been an under-looked aspect of this team, but it’s time people acknowledge his greatness and contributions, and it’ll really show in these elimination games.

That right there is the 'tough side' of the bracket, my friends. Now, we’re getting to what is called the 'easier side', even though each individual game will be tough, and even tougher to predict.

Starting with the Spanish team, who still play the best style of footy, and winning now again while doing it, they just have some kinks to still work through, but their experience and quality will push them past Russia.

Croatia faces Denmark, who have some quality, but not too much. Croatia will continue their run of form, and their midfield will dominate again, as they’ll go on to face Spain.

Talking midfields, you look at this tournament and the teams in it, there really aren’t many with a dominant midfield, and the ones that do have a solid midfield, are the ones that are dominating this tournament. Belgium, Brazil, Spain, Croatia all have the midfield quality, and are all the teams that emerged from the group stage as favorites. This isn’t a random correlation, because you look at the teams that crashed out (Germany), and their midfield isn’t nearly as dominant as it was four years ago when they won. This specific tournament comes down to the midfield grinding out defensive work, and starting the attack. Unfortunately here, Belgium will face Brazil and Spain with Croatia, so two of those teams are getting knocked out. I already said Brazil are beating Belgium, but I have to keep riding this dark horse I picked, and I’m taking Croatia over Spain, sending Croatia to the semi-finals for the first time since 1998, and only a second time in their history as an independent nation.

Sweden-Switzerland is probably the most dull pairing in this RO16, and the winner plays the winner of England-Colombia, so honestly, even though this may be a dull spot, it’s interesting because it’s so wide open for any one of these teams to make it to the semi-finals. The way I see it working out is Sweden will outplay Switzerland, with the Swedish Bundesliga players balling out, exceeding expectations, and making it to the quarter-finals.

England were the beneficiary of being on the easier side of the bracket, but they do have to start against a solid Colombia side, so there are positives and negatives there. Colombia are solid, but the Brits will find a way to get their goals, and outlast the Colombians, if James Rodriguez even plays, and will take on and beat Sweden in the quarters.

So.... whether you agree with me or not, this is how my bracket looks so far

I talked about the CONMEBOL and Argentina-Uruguay, but other than Chile right now, Argentina and Brazil is the rivalry with the most behind it. The two soccer powerhouses meeting in the World Cup semi-finals, what more can ya ask for, right? Maybe I’ll start with asking for a better Argentina team. This team might squeak its way to these semis, but I have a feeling if they do make it to this game against Brazil, they’ll get embarrassed. I had a bold take even putting them this far into the tournament, beating France and all, but Argentina do not have the quality that Brazil do, or even if Belgium make it for that matter, Argentina are losing this game. Brazil will advance to the finals to try and win their record sixth World Cup trophy.

On the other hand, England-Croatia will be fun but in a different way. Two teams that honestly probably didn’t expect to make it this far, will have everything to lose, and I’ll go back to that battle of the midfields I was talking about, and if Croatia do what they have been, it’ll keep England from having any type of attack, and Croatia will win. I see this happening, and I’m riding my dark horse all the way to their first final, to meet powerhouse Brazil, who have been there so much.

To win a World Cup, a bunch of things have to fall into place. They have for Croatia, but unfortunately, they’re running into a Brazil team that I have not stopped ranting about since my first post about this WC. Brazil have that final piece that Croatia do not, and that’s the class and the experience from top to bottom in their squad, and that will see Brazil winning their sixth trophy, making up for the misery they experienced at home in 2014.

Congrats Brazil, but I wouldn’t get too excited for them yet, if I was you. If this tournament has taught me anything so far, it’s to not get comfortable with what’s happening, because it’s bound to take a twisted turn at some point. This World Cup has been amazing up to this point, I’m only expecting more from it, we won’t be disappointed! Hope you enjoyed my update, let me know what you think. I’ll check in again, so stay tuned!!