We’re Down to the Final 16!!!

After 14 back-breaking days of merry-go-round action; after 32 teams, 48 games and 122 beautiful goals, we are now down to the final 16 in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. The second round starts the dreaded knockout stages. Where no quarters are given and no quarters are asked. Where a single error could lead to eternal damnation. Where a loss will mean goodbye. Where it’s either you live… or die.

– for a clearer view, just click on the pics

European countries dominated the qualifiers, with host Russia pulling the greatest upgrade with a distinct promotion to the elite 16 in the world football arena. It has never reached the Round of 16 since it competed as Russia in 1994. Other qualifiers include Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, England, France, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland.

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– Fox Sports Asia

But the biggest news here was not the entry of Europe’s best, but rather the exit of the defending champions and one of the early betting favorites, Germany. The jinx of the champion has struck the World Cup for the third consecutive time, as the Germans were unceremoniously bundled out in the Group stage. Consequently ending Germany’s record of having qualified for the round of 16 since it joined the FIFA World Cup in 1930. It is a national disaster for Germany, while the South Koreans – the team that struck the mighty German team down – may have been eliminated, but go home with their heads unbowed.

– for a clearer view, just click on the pics

As usual, football-crazy Latin America brought in their share of entries as well. Perennial crown challengers Argentina and Brazil, plus Colombia, Mexico and Uruguay qualified for the next round, although they too experienced some bumps on their road to the round of 16.

– for a clearer view, just click on the pics

Japan was the only country outside of Europe or Latin America to qualify for the knockout stage. And Japan barely made it as well, having been tied with Senegal with a win, a loss and a draw each. Eventually, it was the newly-introduced fair-play points system that catapulted Japan into the next round, depriving Senegal of the slot. This time around, no African team entered the next round.

– for a clearer view, just click on the pics

With the departure of Germany, the world is now preparing for the possibility of many more upsets. Argentina, runners-up in the last World Cup, almost got eliminated. Brazil was given an early scare by Switzerland before it buckled down to work. It seems that the soccer throne is up for grabs now. The talent in each country appears to have leveled off, and it is the synchronization of these talents that will matter most now.

For the round-of-16 match-ups,  I see Uruguay’s defense besting Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal, the steady French team kicking out Lionel Messi and his inconsistent Argentinian team, the colorful Neymar and Brazil topping upset-minded Mexico, and Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard of Belgium beating an upcoming Japan in the top draw.

– for a clearer view, just click on the pics

In the less-loaded lower draw, it will be Diego Costas and the veterans of Spain upending host Russia, team-oriented Sweden over politically-distracted Switzerland, the creative Luka Modric and Croatia outlasting the defense-minded Denmark, and systematic Colombia squeezing past ‘Hurricane’ Harry Kane’s resurgent English squad.

– for a clearer view, just click on the pics

With the match-ups, it looks like my prediction for a Brazil -Spain finals face-off is still looking good.  (See my previous article: Help!!! I Just Caught the World Cup Fever!!!) Mark those words very well. I foresee a South American team in the top draw against a European team in the lower draw making it to the Finals. And it will be Brazil’s turn once again to hoist the Cup.

Ciao!!!

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