We’re done with the group stages in World Cup 2014, and I’m offering my observations and predictions for the Round of 16.
I did okay in my predictions for the group stages of World Cup 2014.
I made my predictions after every team had played one game in the group stages, and so my predictions were based in part on the standings when the first games were over and on performances in those first games.
I’m not suggesting I’m 13 for 16 before the World Cup started. Prior to the World Cup I thought surely Spain would do better. I thought England and Italy would do better. I didn’t see those teams going out at the group stages until they’d all played their first game.
I got three teams wrong – I predicted Ivory Coast would advance out of Group C and Greece scored a late goal to prove me wrong. That was the one I got really wrong. The other two I only sort of got wrong because I didn’t care enough to think about it. Groups F and H were so exceedingly dull I couldn’t even focus long enough to guess what team would come out second.
Obviously Argentina came out of Group F on top and likewise I never doubted that Belgium would win Group H. I had Russia coming out of Group H in second place and Iran coming out of Group F. Instead, it’s Nigeria coming out of Group F and Algeria coming out of Group H.
Good to both of those African teams. At the start of the World Cup I’d have been more likely to put money on Ivory Coast and Ghana coming out of group, but it’s pretty much meaningless. I don’t see any way that either Nigeria or Algeria move on to the Quarter Finals. Russia and Iran served as placeholders for me, and they’ve just simply been replaced by new placeholders.
Here’s where I see the Round of 16 going:
Brazil v. Chile (Sat. 6/28 noon est): Brazil has been unconvincing and Chile has been amazing. Obviously, the good money is on Brazil moving forward. It’s a home crowd. Even by Brazil’s lofty standards they’ve got a decent side. It’s Brazil. However, I think Chile has momentum and I think for all the quality Brazil have when faced with a tough opponent they haven’t been stellar. Of the Ro16 games, I think this is one of two not to miss. I pick Chile to advance, and I’ll concede now the likelihood that I’m wrong.
Colombia v. Uruguay (Sat. 6/28 4 p.m. est): Luis Suarez did himself and his team a great dishonor with that bite of Italian he took on Wednesday. FIFA’s ban is too easy, in my opinion, but if you’re Uruguay it’s got to feel like a kick in the gut. I originally had Uruguay advancing out of the Ro16, and I’ll stick with that. Colombia are good, but Uruguay have more than Suarez. But I also had Uruguay advancing out of the Quarter Finals (where they will face winner of Chile v. Brazil), and I do not now see that happening. Suarez can score goals, but he’s a liability. I also won’t be terribly surprised if Colombia upset Uruguay. This game should be entertaining. And if you are Colombian, you have every reason to have belief in your team.
Netherlands v. Mexico (Sun. 6/29 noon est): Mexico have been great. You really have to feel good for them and for their manager that they’ve overcome a lot of the troubles they were having through qualifications. But I don’t see any way that they stop Netherlands from winning. Netherlands go through, and if I’m wrong I’ll be shocked.
Costa Rica v. Ivory Coast (oops!) Greece (Sun. 6/29 4 p.m. est): I didn’t see Greece getting this far and I don’t see them going farther. Costa Rica advances to Quarter Finals, and good for them.
France v. Iran (meh) Nigeria (Mon. 6/30 noon est): France was so good in its first two matches. The French drew nil-nil against Ecuador in a game they did not have to win. I don’t view Nigeria getting past a French team that’s been playing very well. France moves on.
Russia (meh) Algeria (Mon. 6/30 4 p.m. est): Algeria rightfully celebrate coming out of group, but I don’t see any way that this game ends well for them. If Germany score four or five goals I won’t be surprised. Germany advances.
Argentina v. Switzerland (Tues. 7/1 noon est): Obviously Messi and Argentina are the favorites here, but Argentina had a weak, weak group and seemed to struggle to get through. Don’t be surprised if there’s a Swiss upset here, but I’ll stick with my original prediction of Argentina moving on. Messi will score goals, and I believe the Swiss defense has proved its ability to allow goals to be scored.
Belgium v. USA (Tues. 7/1 4 p.m. est): Though my bracket shows the United States making it to the semi-finals, I will confess that I had serious doubts about us getting out of group. Those doubts were there when I first saw our draw and those doubts were there when Portugal got a late equalizer in our second game.
But I have a lot of belief in what Klinsmann is doing with this team. I think the evidence is there – he’s making thoughtful substitutions, thoughtful changes from one game to the next. The US is not going to the World Cup with one starting XI but with several starting XIs based on who we play. Tim Howard is unreal and he’s having an amazing tournament. Dempsey is maybe the best player the United States has every put on a soccer pitch. I’m a huge fan of Zusi and Jermaine Jones and Matt Besler. DeMarcus Beasley is just consistently good. Fabian Johnson has done well. Beckerman is our unsung hero. At some point, Michael Bradley has got to start playing to his ability. He was better against Portugal and Germany, but I still don’t think Americans who have never watched him before this World Cup have seen how good he is.
Belgium, pound for pound, is as talented as any team in the World Cup. The players on the Belgium team range from the very good to the absolute superstar. Maybe Fellaini is the weakest field player on the team. Vermaelen, van Buyten, Vertonghen, Kompany, Dembele, Witsel, Mertens, Hazard, Chadli, de Bruyne, Januzaj, Mirallas, Lukaku. Good Lord! If you follow European soccer, these names are all well known to you. Mertens, de Bruyne, Mirallas and Januzaj are majestic soccer players, and Hazard, I believe, is a future winner of the Ballon d’Or (the prize that Messi and Ronaldo vie for year after year). Eden Hazard is wonderful to watch and I believe the best player currently in the English Premier League.
I will already pick Belgium to win the World Cup in Russia in four years.
But Belgium this year is a young team. I literally, no joke and no hyperbole, have shirts hanging in my closet that are older than a fair number of the guys on the Belgium team. Most of them are between 22 and 26 years old. If it weren’t for 36-year-old Van Buyten I think Vincent Kompany would be the oldest guy in the squad at 28.
Experience matters. Belgium hasn’t been in the World Cup since 2002. Most of these guys weren’t even teenagers the last time their country played in the World Cup.
If Belgium win against the USMNT no one will be too surprised. They were the fifth favorite team coming into the World Cup.
But Belgium didn’t have a tough group. The US has got to be coming into the Ro16 with a healthy confidence. We escaped the Group of Death. Through genius leadership from Klinsmann and strength and determination and grit the US got out of the Group of Death. But maybe it was more than that. Maybe American soccer is reaching a level where we can talk about the skill of the players and not just grit and determination.
I mean, Nani’s goal came down to a poor clearance from Cameron. Did Portugal out-play the US? Were they better? Jermaine Jones’ and Dempsey’s goals were goals we made happen. Nani’s goal was a mistake combined with some luck.
Mueller’s goal, too, doesn’t suggest a weak US side. Tim Howard cleared the ball, it fell to Mueller. Now – nothing away from Mueller – what a shot! But still, did the Germans really do us up? Zusi had a great shot. Bradley, too. Dempsey nearly scored. A few inches, and that US v. Germany game could have ended much differently.
We earned our way out of group, and though there were some nail biting moments, you’ve got to think maybe we’re a better side than what we get credit for.
Belgium, meanwhile, came out of an easy group with narrow 1-goal victories.
A year ago Belgium beat the US team 4-2. Michael Bradley didn’t play for the US in that game, but Hazard wasn’t playing for Belgium, either. Particularly on the US side, there were folks on that roster who aren’t even in our 23 in Brazil.
Outside of Brazil v. Chile, I think this will be the best game of the Ro16. Though Belgium has more talent, I think the US matches that with determination and strength. Maybe even some skill of our own. I pick the USMNT to advance, but it will be almost as tough as beating Germany. Which we didn’t do.
I’m excited for Tuesday’s game. I think it will be a great match. And, I believe that we will win.