With me being sick as a dog, I’m trying to play catch up here to I will bundle the Round of 16 games here.
Let’s start with France turning up a gear with an exciting 4-3 win over Argentina.
The Good: Hello, Kylian Mbappe. No player has risen to prominence faster in the last 18 months than him and it seems to be the bigger the stage, he comes out to perform when needed. Eleven minutes in, he ran through the defense virtually the whole length of the field before Argentina defender Marcos Rojo knocks him down unnecessarily in the box, paving the way for an Antione Grizemann penalty conversion. Minutes before halftime, Angel Di Maria hit a wonderstrike from distance tying the game. Argentina takes the lead off a set piece that Lionel Messi brings down, hits, and Gabriel Mercado deflects the ball past French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. With France on the ropes, defender Lucas Hernandez whips the ball in the box, bounces outside the 18, where fellow defender Benjamin Pavard pivots his body to curve it in the top shelf to tie the game. Then Mbappe gets the the ball after some deflections in the box and hits the ball low and hard to make it 3-2 France. Their third goal in 10 minutes came of the counter where Olivier Giroud passed him the ball on the outside of the 18 and again placed it low and hard to make it 4-2. Argentina pulled one back late, but it wasn’t enough as France move on to the quarterfinals.
The Bad: Messi didn’t really show up. The French defense didn’t back down and were able to contain Argentina’s pace of play, mainly through the works of Blaise Matuidi and N’golo Kante. This freed up space for Paul Pogba to make his presence felt offensively for their great counter attack play. The defense also failed him and they gave up all four goals due to France speed. Javier Mascherano was a shadow of his former self and the writing was on the wall. He retired from international duty following the match, and rightfully so. He did more yelling at the refs than stopping France’s offense all game.
The Ugly: This is the last time we’ll see one of the five greatest players of all time in their prime. Messi was given peanuts for a team around him. People forget that he had to put on an all-time performance just to get to the World Cup and they still picked this side to win the whole thing. This goes to show you that one man can’t carry it all, but this extends his streak of having never scored in a knockout stage. Will he come back for one more go around in 2022 or will this be the end of a chapter of a player who will be second-fiddle in his own country?
Up Next: France moves on to the quarterfinals, Argentina is eliminated.
In the second quarterfinal game, Uruguay dispatched Portugal 2-1 in an exciting game to the finish.
The Good: Edison Cavani. The tandem of Cavani and Luis Suarez, might be the best striker duo in the tournament and they are continuing to head up. In the seventh minute, Cavani switches the ball across the field to Suarez, who then takes a few touches and squares in up to Cavani on another cross to nail it home and give Uruguay the lead. Pepe was able to tie the game for Portugal in the second half with a great header off a set piece, but Cavani comes in the clutch for the two-time World Cup champions minutes later. Cavani gets a perfect ball passed low and hits it first-time to bend it past Portugal goalie Rui Patricio to clinch the passage to the quarterfinals.
The Bad: Cristiano Ronaldo. Like Messi, he didn’t have a great game. He tries to lead his team back, but just wasn’t able to get it done. You could blame it on the extra games he’s had over the last three years with Real Madrid going deep in Champions League play or the fact that he’s getting older, but after the magic of the first two games, he just didn’t have it. Considering the lack of depth of this team, I would say Portugal did the best they could.
The Ugly: Social media crushing Ronaldo for assisting Cavani off the field when injured. I get that he wanted to hurry up the game, but it’s not like Cavani refused the offer. Social media has it’s ugly side as a whole, and I can understand the reasoning to a point. We later find out he is really hurt, so that gives kudos to Ronaldo in my eyes.
Up Next: Uruguay take on France while Portugal is eliminated.
We now discuss Russia’s not-so-shocking upset over favorites Spain on penalties.
The Good: Igor Ankinfeev. He was clearly the best of the two goalkeepers on the night. After giving up an early goal, it seems that Spain was returning to form at the right time. Just when they came knocking, Akinfeev was there to keep Russia in the game. Pique’s handball in the box allowed Artem Dzyuba to nail home a penalty to tie the game. Spain recorded over 1000 passes (yes, that’s right) and didn’t really push the pace. Russia hunkered down defensively for the next 80 minutes to bring in to penalties, where Akinfeev came up huge.
The Bad: This was coming from a mile away for Spain. When re-picking the knockout stage games, Russia being the hosts against Spain had shades of South Korea 2002 where, along with some controversial calls, allowed the hosts to advance on penalty kicks. You could say there could have been VAR on the Sergio Ramos fall in the box, but I wasn’t shocked they didn’t use it. I’ve said it many times before, if you need a referee decision to help you win the game, you probably didn’t put yourself in a great enough position to win the game.
The Ugly: For Russia, this was an ugly win. They got the tying goal and hunkered down defensively. However, Spain had 74% possession, 25 shots on goal, over 1000 passes, and could only get one goal in, which was really an own goal by Russia? I’m sorry, but this team should’ve done more. This can all go on the Spanish FA for firing Julen Lopetuegi two days before the start of the tournament due to having taking the Real Madrid job. The Spanish FA said this was in the best interest of Spanish football, which obviously was the wrong decision. If they had any interest in winning the World Cup, you keep the manager that had not lost a game for you yet. Simple as that.
Up Next: Russia move on to the quarterfinals, while Spain is eliminated.
In the second penalty shootout of the day, Croatia finishes off daring Denmark.
The Good: The first four minutes of the game. Within that time frame, each team scores as Mathias Jorgensen puts one in a minute into the game off a throw in, while Mario Mandzukic scores on a Danish deflection. Kasper Schmichel had a phenomenal game, even stopping Luka Modric’s penalty in extra time to get them to a penalty shootout. Both Schmichel and Danijel Subasic were excellent in net during the shootout, but Ivan Rakitic sealed the game for Croatia with a clutch kick, sending Croatia to the quarterfinals.
The Bad: The next 116 minutes. Other than Luka Modric missing a penalty, there wasn’t too much excitement. I expected more from a Croatia side that cruised through their group without any issues and when facing a tougher defensive minded Denmark side, it seemed the quality in the last third of the field was hard to come by. For Denmark, they had only scored two goals up until Jorgensen’s goal, so it looked promising. Seems that was not the case as Subasic wasn’t challenged much until the shootout.
The Ugly: For Denmark, I feel bad for Schmichel. Getting player of the match on a losing side has to be a rough experience. He kept Denmark in the game to penalties and his stops in the shootout almost gave them the win, but Subasic was just slightly better in getting his team more stops.
Up Next: Croatia takes on Russia in the quarterfinals, while Denmark is going home.
We now take a look at Brazil’s 2-0 win over Mexico.
The Good: Brazil is starting to look like the team we thought they would, but Mexico made this game challenging. For the first 20-25 minutes, Mexico creates some dangerous opportunities and made Brazil respect their counterattack. Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa also had a stellar game, keeping a clean sheet in the first half. In the second half, Brazil turned on the second gear and some great passing by Willian in the box allowed Neymar to slide in and open the score. Mexico continued to attack, but Brazil was able to ice the game with Neymar’s shot deflected by Ochoa but landed at the feet of Roberto Firmino, who hit it home and landed Brazil a spot in the quarterfinals.
The Bad: Mexico’s tactics. Coach Juan Carlos Osorio is notorious for not playing the same lineup in consecutive games and started 39 year old Rafa Marquez at defensive midfield. He tired out at halftime and had to be replaced by Miguel Layun, who should have started to begin with. They were caught out of position twice in the second half and paid for it.
The Ugly: I feel bad for goalkeepers who put on a great performance, but their offense can’t get it done. Ochoa had played Brazil twice in the last two World Cup and has been outstanding, but Mexico can’t seem to generate enough offense to close out the game. Since 1994, Mexico has been bounced out of the last seven tournaments in the Round of 16. Tough ending for a team that started out so great this time around.
Up Next: Brazil moves on to the quarterfinals, while Mexico is going home.
We now discuss Belgium’s exciting come from behind win over Japan.
The Good: This was the best game in 90 minutes of the Round of 16. From the get-go, you had action and free flowing soccer from both teams. Kawashima and Courtois weren’t called upon too much in the first half. Ths second half was the best track meet you’ll ever see. Japan was able to get behind the Belgian defense and Genki Haraguchi nailed home a shot from a tough angle to give Japan the early lead. They were able to double their lead less than five minutes later from a strike from outside the 18 from Takashi Inui. That’s when most thought (myself included), this was over and Belgium’s golden generation choked once again. Then, Jan Vertongen was able to get a header that looked to be sent it in the box, but instead ended in the back of the net. Minutes later, Marouane Fellani was able to make an impact off the bench with a header off a cross from Eden Hazard, bringing the game level. In the last minute of stoppage, Belgium’s dangerous counterattack game was too strong as Nacer Chadli finished the comeback for Belgium.
The Bad: Japan blowing a 2-0 lead. It’s been about 50 years since a team blew a lead that big in the knockout stages, so it was highly unlikely the would come back. Japan should have kept their foot on the gas instead of playing conservatively and not fouling on the last play of the game cost them.
The Ugly: How Belgium gave up two goals in that manner. Roberto Martinez, however, was able to make the necessary adjustments and brought on Fellani and Chadli, who scores the tying and game-winning goals. Brazil is a much better team than Japan, so if they go down early, it won’t be a pretty sight for Belgium.
Up Next: Belgium takes on Brazil in the quarterfinals, while Japan heads home.
Moving on to the last games of the Round of 16, we start with Sweden’s 1-0 victory over Switzerland.
The Good: Hard to find a lot from this game that had as almost as many fouls as shots. Yes, Emil Forsberg scored the game winning goal, but it was off a deflection away from Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer’s trajectory. Once they were up, Sweden played their traditional tough defense to hang on for the win.
The Bad: Two teams that play similar styles of defense on the same field meant for a slow paced game, which is not what we’ve been accustomed to this World Cup. Both had their opportunities in the second half to take the lead, but it’s on Switzerland not having the consistent talent to really challenge Swedish goalkeeper Robin Olsen.
The Ugly: Sweden’s victory. If they look to advance in the competition, they need a full game like they did against Mexico in their 3-0 victory: great offense and suffocating defense. If they do that, this team has the potential to go far.
Up Next: Sweden moves on to the quarterfinals, while Switzerland is going home.
In the last match of the Round of 16, England finally breaks their penalty curse against Colombia.
The Good: England survived their first tough challenge of the World Cup. Harry Kane was able to bury his sixth goal of the tournament after he was brought down in the box by Carlos Sanchez. Colombia was able to tie the game in the dying minutes of stoppage time with a header by Yerry Mina. Colombia had all the momentum throughout extra time, but were not able to put a goal behind Jordan Pickford, who came up huge down the stretch and again during the shootout with great stops, allowing England to move on to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2006.
The Bad: Colombia had the opportunities late in the game and extra time to win the game, but Pickford shut them down. If they had James Rodriguez, who was out with a calf injury, this may have changed the game. That being said, Radamel Falcao and Juan Cuadrado were not an effective as in the group stage games.
The Ugly: England won an ugly game and broke their penalty kick shootout curse as they won for the first time in World Cup history in this scenario. They had lost all three of their penalty kick shootouts, with the most recent in 2006. If England is to progress, they will need to put together a complete game against Sweden.
Up Next: England takes on Sweden in the quarterfinals, while Colombia heads home.