France vs. Argentina: Saturday June 30th at 10:00 a.m. Eastern
In the first match of the Round of 16, we find two teams in the midst of an identity crisis. France are perhaps too reliant on their stars, such as Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann, to conjure independent moments of brilliance, instead of finding a suitable style of play that creates a fluid tempo for all of Les Bleus’ talented midfielders and attackers. Argentina are fresh off their miraculous win against Nigeria, where they demonstrated the potential of player power tactics and that Lionel Messi can still provide the goods despite immense national pressure. However, The Albiceleste still displayed massive holes in their defense, and if a youthful, speedy French frontline sporting the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele can run at the aging defending duo of Javier Mascherano and Gabriel Mercado, then Messi and company are in for a long 90 minutes. France looked the more secure side on both sides of the ball in the group stage, and they will do just about enough to send La Pulga packing.
Prediction: France 2-1 Argentina
Uruguay vs. Portugal: Saturday June 30th at 2:00 p.m. Eastern
Cristiano Ronaldo and the reigning Euro 2016 champions take on perhaps the most solid defense in the tournament, while looking to keep the dangerous duo of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez at bay. The Uruguayan strikers looked a tad rusty against Egypt and Saudi Arabia, scoring two late goals to secure victories against both mediocre sides, as there were serious claims being lobbied against the match fitness of Suarez. However, against Russia, we finally saw the clinical and robust Uruguay in full flow, delivering a 3-0 smackdown to the high flying hosts. This Uruguay team is exceptionally balanced from front to back, being anchored by experienced Atletico Madrid center backs Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez, who are all too familiar with Cristiano Ronaldo. Portugal, who looked unsteady against a plucky Iran side, will look to maintain their dominance on the wings using the flair and creativity of Ricardo Quaresma and Bernardo Silva to create opportunities for CR7. William Carvalho and Adrien Silva have been exceptional at breaking up play in the midfield and will look to prevent balls being played in to Suarez and Cavani. Portugal often leave it late (see Ronaldo’s epic late free kick against Spain). They have the quality and the steel to snatch a win from Uruguay.
Prediction: Portugal 1-0 Uruguay
Spain vs. Russia: Sunday July 1st at 10:00 a.m. Eastern
In arguably one of the most lopsided fixtures of the Round of 16, Group B winners Spain face Group A runners-up Russia. After an impressive start to the tournament for Russia with a 5-0 blowout against Saudi Arabia and a tidy 3-1 victory over Mo Salah’s Egypt, Uruguay brought the home nation back down to earth with a 3-0 defeat. Spain meanwhile have struggled to put together complete performances but nonetheless topped Group B after an error-laden 2-2 draw against Morocco. Expect Spain to attack Russia from the start, but also be aware that Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, and David De Gea may play a little timidly at the back after a rocky group stage. The Uruguay game exposed Russia as pretenders, but with national pride on the line, this game could get chippy. In the end, Spain should run out comfortable winners.
Prediction: Spain 2-0 Russia
Croatia vs. Denmark: Sunday July 1st at 2:00 p.m. Eastern
Perfect in the group stage and topped off with a marquee 3-0 rout of Lionel Messi’s discombobulated Argentina, Croatia are riding high into the Round of 16. While Denmark finished second in Group C behind France, they did not do so in impressive fashion. With two goals for and one against, the Danish have a solid defense but also an offense that is over-reliant on the individual brilliance of Christian Eriksen. “Golazo,” as he is referred to at his club Tottenham, won’t faze Croatian trio Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, or Marcelo Brozovic. Barring some set piece wizardry from the Dane, Croatia and its world class midfield will fancy their chances of progressing.
Prediction: Croatia 2-1 Denmark.
Brazil vs. Mexico: Monday July 2nd at 10:00 a.m. Eastern
Mexico have drawn the most difficult opponent in their chase to get to El Quinto Partido: the almighty Selecao. Mexico have the claim of being the surprise package in the tournament so far; however, their 3-0 loss to Sweden is very worrying. To make matters worse, star center back Hector Moreno will be suspended for this match after picking up a second yellow card in that same defeat. The tactical approach to this match will be very similar to the one used by manager Juan Carlos Osorio against Germany with Chicharito and Carlos Vela checking into the midfield to unsettle Brazil’s midfied and counter with the pace of Hirving Lozano and the creativity of Vela. It will be no easy task against Philippe Coutinho and Paulinho, who have looked unfazed throughout this tournament and have each scored crucial goals and played crucial passes to get Brazil to this point. If Neymar can continue to be as unselfish as he was against Serbia, and striker Gabriel Jesus can find his finishing boots, Mexico will be looking to Qatar 2022 in search of El Quinto Partido.
Prediction: Brazil 3-1 Mexico
Belgium vs. Japan: Monday July 2nd at 2:00 p.m. Eastern
For Belgium, its been all about the goals. Five against Tunisia, three against Panama and multiple chances to bury England have displayed that the Red Devils are in full flow as an offensive unit. With Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard rested against the Three Lions, they will be 100 percent healthy to deal out some punishment against Japan. Although the Samurai Blue narrowly made it past Senegal, Takashi Inui has looked a very consistent threat coming down the left; however, I’m not sure the aging Maya Yoshida at center back will be able to contend with this team of Premier League all stars. If Japan can exploit Yannick Carrasco’s lack of skill defensively, they might have a chance, but they’ll be too busy handling the explosive Belgium attack for it to make a difference.
Prediction: Belgium 3-0 Japan
Sweden vs. Switzerland: Tuesday July 3rd at 10:00 a.m. Eastern
Likely the least interesting tie of the Round of 16 in terms of quality, Sweden versus Switzerland is also one of the hardest to predict. While Switzerland drew with Brazil in their tournament opener, they also had to settle for a stalemate against Costa Rica. Sweden were more consistent, beating South Korea 1-0 and dominating what looked to be an all-time great Mexico team 3-0. It also took a thrilling last minute free kick from Toni Kroos to down the Swedish against Germany. However, Sweden have noticeably less depth than Switzerland, and if the game drags into extra-time, the Swiss will likely gain the upper hand. One has to wonder what a player like Zlatan Ibrahimovic would have brought to this game had he been called up.
Prediction: Sweden 1-2 Switzerland after extra time
Colombia vs. England: Tuesday July 3rd at 10:00 a.m. Eastern
Colombia claimed first place in Group H but at great cost. When James Rodriguez limped off injured against Senegal, Colombia’s chances of progression to the quarterfinals took a huge hit. Although England lost their final group game 1-0 to Belgium while rotating heavily, prior to that fixture they looked not only capable but a team. The British press and public may be a little hyperbolic in saying “it’s coming home,” after wins against almighty Tunisia and Panama; however, for a fanbase so constantly dogged by negativity, the importance of the optimism in the England camp cannot be overstated. With Juan Cuadrado having to take some defensive responsibility covering England’s wing backs, Colombia need Juan Quintero to do his best James impression, otherwise the South Americans offense might stall.
Prediction: Colombia 1-3 England