Uruguay v Portugal
Here it is. The quintessential controversial fixture destined to steal the spotlight of ITV’s comedic tournament recap that’ll undoubtedly air in a couple months time. Uruguay versus Portugal - the cannibalistic tendencies of Suarez face off against the shithousery of Pepe and theatrical falls of Ronaldo.
In all seriousness though, this will be a fixture between two evenly matched, four out of five star teams and only a piece of individual brilliance will separate the two - and such brilliance will come from Portgual.
They proved in their match against Spain that they’re a side capable of biding their time until Ronaldo decides to remind us why he’s one of the greatest footballers to ever exist, and I can see them resorting to the very same strategy in order to push past Uruguay and into the Quarter Finals.
Prediction: Uruguay 1-2 Portugal (Ronaldo to do something immense in extra time)
France v Argentina
France topped their group following a very uncontroversial set of results while Argentina were frustrated by Iceland, well and truly humbled by Croatia and almost put to the sword by Nigeria.
Les Bleus haven’t been quite as impressive as their squad on paper would suggest they’d be, but they’re a far cry from the disappointing Argentina who are lucky to have even gotten this far. France will see the Argentines onto their flight home, with Messi still not getting a look in while, hopefully, a Frenchman in an adjacent corporate suite reciprocates the middle finger gesture Maradona showed the Nigerians.
Prediction: France 2-0 Argentina
Spain v Russia
Despite being the host nation, the odds were stacked firmly against Russia in the form of both statistics and newspaper slander - indeed, the ‘Sbornaya’ were the lowest ranked team of any going into this World Cup and an abundance of media outlets branded the current squad as the worst Russian team ever.
However, whilst the doubters were quickly silenced once Russia won their first two games emphatically to qualify, those wins came against an abysmally weak Saudi Arabia and an Egypt pinning all it’s nations hopes on one Mo Salah. Once Russia were confronted with formidable opposition in the form of Uruguay, they were soon shown to be a class below, and the games are only going to get more grueling from here onward.
Uruguay found them out, and now it’s over to Spain to crack the case.
Prediction: Spain 3-0 Russia
Croatia v Denmark
I’ve seen a lot of people dubbing Croatia the ‘surprise package’ of the tournament but, with a squad consisting of Dejan Lovren, Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric and Mario Mandzukic, is it really such a surprise to see that they secured group qualification ahead of Iceland and Nigeria?
Denmark did well to hold France to a goalless draw, but failed to beat a relatively poor Australia and had to battle their way to a 1-0 win against a Peru side that looked the better of the two teams. The blokes from the Balkans should beat their Scandinavian counterparts with relative ease.
Prediction: Croatia 3-1 Denmark
Brazil v Mexico
Brazil are yet another ‘big team’ in the tournament who have failed to set it alight (subsequently loudening the cries for football to come home), and they face a Mexico side who were the first to hammer a nail into Germany’s coffin.
The North Americans will have been galvanized by that triumph over the current holders, but I can’t help but feel that a 3-0 thumping at the hands of a Zlatan-less, Ola Toivonen-and-Seb Larsson-led Sweden side might’ve brought them back down to earth with a particularly painful thump.
They’ll pick themselves back up in time to face Brazil, but the momentum gathered from their opening two games will have long since worn off - they’ll simply find that they’re second best.
Prediction: Brazil 1-0 Mexico
Belgium v Japan
Belgium’s ‘golden generation’ boasts arguably the strongest starting lineup in the entire tournament and outclasses that of Japan’s in every aspect.
The Blue Samurais did well to surface from their group and can proudly boast the fact that they’re the only Asian team left at the World Cup - but this is the end of the line for that continent’s candidates. ‘Keeper Eiji Kawashima has been clanger-prone throughout the group games, and with Belgium’s front line facing him down I don’t much fancy him and his team’s chances even if he does get his act together.
Prediction: Belgium 4-1 Japan
Sweden v Switzerland
The Swiss showed their strength by remaining undefeated for all three of their opening fixtures and fended off tough competition from Serbia to secure second spot via a thrilling 2-1 win. Meanwhile, the Swedes showed their resolve by coming back from a crushing, last-minute loss at the hands of Germany to beat Mexico 3-0 and ultimately climb to the summit of their group.
Neither team is lacking any determination, so it’ll come entirely down to quality, which Switzerland have over Sweden. The Swiss will nab victory here, but the Norsemen will fight them for it to the very last second.
Prediction: Sweden 0-1 Switzerland (Switzerland to score in extra time)
Colombia v England
The first obstacle on our allegedly easier route to the finals is a Colombian outfit that should by no means be underestimated. While England are decidedly the better team - just about - the likes of Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado will ensure that one moment of complacency could be enough to see us boarding a plane home.
But Southgate isn’t about to let that happen. With plenty of first-teamers well rested and now used to playing in their most adept position at both club and international level, England will have a squad primed for this encounter and ready to best the South Americans, bringing themselves one stride closer to the final.
Prediction: Colombia 1-2 England