2014 World Cup Brazil: Knockout Stage Predictions, Version II

June 28, 2014
By K. Becks

It’s been an exciting two weeks of soccer in Brazil. We’ve seen last minute goals, plenty of heartbreak and even a biting incident. And for those of you still mockingly cheering whenever a goal is scored, be aware that the 2014 tournament is on pace to break the record for the most goals scored (171 set in 1978) and has the highest average goals per match (2.83) since 1970.

Now that the number of teams remaining has been cut in half and draws are no longer a possible game outcome, things are about to get all the more serious. This is the Knockout Stage.

Luckily for this blog, the United States is still in contention. That means at least several more days of heavy coverage by the major news outlets and a higher probability that you’ll read this article. Remember, I did do this just a couple of weeks ago.

With the Round of 16 set, I’ll take a look at every matchup and make predictions right down to the Finals. Again.

Here they are, my preview for the Knockout Stage, take two.

Round of 16

Brazil (A1) vs. Chile (B2) – June 28, 12 PM ET

The only Round of 16 match that I correctly predicted in my first go around, Brazil and Chile did not disappoint South American fans by setting up one of the more interesting games of the tournament thus far. The Seleção weren’t as dominating as I thought they would be in group play, but Neymar’s performance for the squad probably made a lot of people forget all about the fact that Croatia nearly beat this team. A 100 percent healthy Chile team is good enough to beat Brazil, but it’s looking more and more like that’s not what we’re going to see on the pitch. The home team survives to see another round.

Winner: Brazil

Columbia (C1) vs. Uruguay (D2) – June 28, 4 PM ET

Columbia was impressive in group play, tying the Netherlands for the best goal differential in the tournament at +7 and securing a perfect nine points in Group C. James Rodríguez and Jackson Martínez have been a deadly combination up front and will be a problem for Uruguay’s defense. The Celeste, on the other hand, will be without star striker Luis Suarez, who proved his bite is still as strong as his bark and won’t be playing for the rest of the tournament. Edinson Cavani will need to step up for Uruguay in a big way or else Colombia will be too much offensively.

Winner: Colombia

Netherlands (B1) vs. Mexico (A2) – June 29, 12 PM ET

By some accounts, Mexico has already won in this World Cup. El Tri was a mess several months ago, yet the team managed to make it to the Knockout Round for the sixth straight time. However, manager Miguel Herrera embodies the persona of this side, which is one that is simply out to play and the pressure to perform almost seems nonexistent. That mentality should serve the team well against the Netherlands, who are playing with a much different attitude: that of a team disrespected. The Dutch weren’t picked by everyone to make it this far, but here they are and playing as well as anyone in the tournament. As much as I’d like to see Herrera jump for joy again, I think the Netherlands are playing a bit too well to go out here.

Winner: Netherlands

Costa Rica (D1) vs. Greece (C2) – Sunday, 4 PM ET

One of two tournament darlings, Costa Rica managed to make it through the “Group of Champions” despite being the only country in Group D that doesn’t have a World Cup title. The draw for La Sele isn’t too bad either, going up against a Greece side that slipped into the Knockout Round thanks to an ill-timed penalty by the Ivory Coast. If Greece is to win this game, the goals are going to have to come from somewhere other than penalty kicks. Thanks to a multitude of Costa Rican players (four have scored in this World Cup), you don’t know where the goal is going to come from, only that it’ll most likely come eventually. The same cannot be said of Greece, which is why I like the good vibes to continue to come from the CONCACAF world beaters.

Winner: Costa Rica

France (E1) vs. Nigeria (F2) – Monday, 12 PM ET

Here’s how things have gone for France in the past four World Cups: champions, group stage, runner up, group stage. If there’s something to this pattern, then Les Bleus are due for a good showing this time around. Group play would suggest the same as France breezed through what was admittedly a relatively easy group. But easy or not, the play from the attackers has been terrific, especially from Karim Benzema. I’m not sure there is a lot that Nigeria can do to stop the French striker, which isn’t a good thing since there wasn’t too much offensive production to speak of from Nigeria before the Argentina match. The Super Eagles have a difficult match here.

Winner: France

Germany (G1) vs. Algeria (H2) – Monday, 4 PM ET

The Desert Foxes will look to avenge an injustice from the 1982 World Cup when it takes on Germany this coming Monday. Algeria, who wasn’t predicted by many to make it this far, has been one of the more interesting teams in the tournament. Goal scoring efforts by Islam Slimani and Sofiane Feghouli have transformed this historically defensive side into an offensive threat. Unfortunately, the North African underdogs must take on a Germany squad who looks every bit like a team capable of reaching the finals. Thomas Müller is a threat for the Golden Boot Award like I thought he would be and the defense is looking strong. It’d be a tremendous surprise if the Germans don’t move on to the quarterfinals.

Winner: Germany

Argentina (F1) vs. Switzerland (E2) – Tuesday, 12 PM ET

As far as the major stars are concerned, Lionel Messi has fully lived up to the hype. La Pulga (The Flea, as he is affectionately called) has been deadly around the box and broke the hearts of both Iran and Bosnia-Herzegovina during group play. As expected the defense was a bit of an issue, which could be a problem against Switzerland. Thanks to a Xherdan Shaqiri hat-trick in the final game of group play, Switzerland is one of the top scoring squads in the tournament. However, the Swiss also gave up more goals than any team in the Round of 16, which is more telling of how this game will go. Expect Messi & Co. to move on despite the absence of Sergio Aguero.

Winner: Argentina

Belgium (H1) vs. United States (G2) – Tuesday, 4 PM ET

Generally, Americans don’t like it when a team “backs in” to the playoffs. But in the case of the USMNT, it earned its spot in the Round of 16 fair and square. Jürgen Klinsmann’s squad has been tested a bit more than Belgium thus far and that should serve the team well heading into this match. With rumors swirling that Jozy Altidore could be ready to return for the game, the United States may very well hold a key advantage over Belgium, which might be without talented defender Vincent Kompany. Belgium is talented all over the field and has gotten about as much production from its subs as the United States has, but this matchup looks to be pretty even. For those of you careful readers, yes, this is the only team to finish second in its group I’m picking to move on to the quarterfinals.

Winner: United States

Quarterfinals

Brazil vs. Columbia – July 4, 12 PM ET

Brazil isn’t going to make it to the finals without facing everything the rest of South America has to offer, and this is a pretty stiff test. Frankly, Colombia has looked better than the Seleção so far and you have to wonder whether the nerves on the Brazilian side will come into play in this one. I expect a back and forth game, but it’ll likely come down to the play of the goalies to determine which team is moving on to the semifinals. I know that sounds like I’m calling for a penalty shootout, but I’m not.

Winner: Brazil

France vs. Germany – July 4, 4 PM ET

A huge battle between European powers, this one is a match that the entire world would be lucky to see. Both teams have looked good thus far, but you have to wonder if France will revert back to 2010 form (or more recently, qualification form in which it had to win a playoff to make it to Brazil) when the going gets tough. Against Germany, it’s almost a sure bet that the French will face some adversity sometime within the 90 minutes of regulation. Germany was the side with the high expectations coming into this tournament, but based on the way Les Bleus has played it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the fans back home aren’t expecting the same of their team as well.

Winner: Germany

Netherlands vs. Costa Rica – July 5, 12 PM ET

Costa Rica has proven itself to be no slouch in this tournament, but this could very well be the end of the line for the 2014 World Cup darling. The Netherlands are so precise, especially in the midfield which could cause a lot of trouble for Costa Rica, which has essentially been taking advantage of mistakes in that area to score goals. In this one, Costa Rica is going to have to beat what has historically been one of the world’s best squads straight up. Is it possible? Obviously, as anything is possible in the World Cup. But is it probable? No, definitely not.

Winner: Netherlands

Argentina vs. United States – July 5, 4 PM ET

American fans who remember 2002 are groaning at the thought of facing another elite squad in the quarterfinals. Unfortunately for the United States, that is what will probably happen if the team makes it this far, as Messi’s Argentina side looks poised to make a run to the final. In order to pull off the monumental upset, the American defense will need to be in top form, and even that doesn’t guarantee that Messi won’t deliver yet another magical moment of brilliance. Scoring against La Albiceleste might be a little easier than finding the back of the net against, say, Germany, but it’ll probably have to happen more than once for the United States to emerge victorious. The margin for error in this game will be razor thin for both sides and the more focused squad will likely be the one that moves on to the semifinals.

Winner: Argentina

Semifinals

Brazil vs. Germany – July 8, 4 PM ET

This was my original semifinal prediction, and quite surprisingly Brazil was the only reason I had slight reservations to make it my prediction once again. The host country will have the advantage of playing in front of a crowd of primarily supporters, which is a much bigger deal than one might think in a game this important. But Germany has clearly been playing better football in this tournament and in a better group to boot. I expect the Germans to press quickly against the Brazil defense, which could be vulnerable in the back but hasn’t had to face an attack as dangerous as Germany’s so far. The Colombia game in the quarterfinals could be very telling; a strong performance there and I’d say Brazil wins this one. Otherwise…

Winner: Germany

Netherlands vs. Argentina – July 9, 4 PM ET

Holland has a shot at making it back-to-back appearances in the World Cup final for the first time since it did so in 1974 and 1978. But who did the Netherlands lose to in the 1978 finals? That’s right; the hosts, Argentina. The South American squad could prove to be a thorn in sides of the Dutch once again if La Albiceleste can create enough chances offensively to break down the defense. For a group winner, only Argentina allowed as many goals as Holland’s three during group play. Worse yet is that two of those goals came against lowly Australia. While the Dutch are good enough to make it to this game aided in part by a favorable path, who knows how well they’ll fare against a team that it is as good as Spain was supposed to be. Then there is the whole “no European squad has never won a World Cup on South American soil” thing. So since I already have Germany in the final…

Winner: Argentina

Third Place Game

Brazil vs. Netherlands – July 12, 4 PM ET

When I originally predicted Germany to be the team in this game, I felt that the Germans would be upset not to be playing in the final and would have an underwhelming performance in this game. In a similar line of thinking, I think the Brazil side will be completely disinterested in this one. This World Cup is one of those rare situations, at least for the Brazilians, where if you’re not first, you’re last. The Netherlands on the other hand should feel proud to have made it this far considering the kind of chance they were being given before the tournament began. Don’t be surprised if this one is not worth watching midway through the second half.

Winner: Netherlands

Final

Germany vs. Argentina – July 13, 3 PM ET

Before the 2014 World Cup began, no one would have called you crazy for having predicted this final. Now that we’ve had a chance to see all the teams play, it is looking more and more like these are the two teams with the best shot at achieving greatness. While Argentina is not the complete squad like Germany, its ability to quickly counter attack with the best player in the world is unmatched. There are only a couple of teams Germany will face the rest of the way that truly have the ability to expose defensive flaws and Argentina is one of those teams. The Germans are a tough out for anyone and that includes La Albiceleste. But when it comes down to it, World Cup winners often seek strength from a player or two that can do incredible things when it matters most. Spain’s ticky tack midfield play and team game was the rare exception, but we may have seen the end of that era in Brazil. Argentina has the player, and I think he’ll rise to the occasion.

Winner: Argentina

- K. Becks

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