Nobody would say the tournament format is perfect but, based on the first-round play, it’s hard to find teams that should have been in but are out, or vice versa. When the biggest injustice is Greece instead of Côte d’Ivoire, that’s not terrible. The exits of Spain, Italy, England, and Portugal are surprises, but I’d say the bigger story in 2014 is the ascendency of Latin-American football.
Brazil-Chile · The hosts are heavily favored, but Brazil just hasn’t, to my eye, really showed the brilliance I’ve seen from certain other teams. Their goal differential (+5) is tied for fourth (Netherlands & Colombia at +7, France +6, Germany +5). So is their Goals-for (Netherlands 10, Colombia 9, France 8, Brazil & Germany 7). So I think this game will be tough.
Colombia-Uruguay · Suarez is gone, good riddance, and the Colombians were obviously the class of their group. I can’t see this one being close.
Thus, Brazil has to get through both Chile and Colombia to play in the semis. If they didn’t, it’d be a surprise; but not that big a surprise.
Netherlands-Mexico · This is the big marquee matchup of the weekend; the Mexicans played balanced soccer against tough opponents and are tied for the Goals-against lead (at 1, with Costa Rica and Belgium).
Netherlands was terrifying in the group round, swatting their opponents aside. Oddly, if I had to pick the one defense in the tourney that just might be able to hobble Robben and van Persie, it’d be Mexico’s, with Ochoa at the back; no keeper has looked better. I like both teams so the result here is going to leave me sad. Except for, the winner is a pretty safe bet for the semis.
Costa Rica-Greece · I apologize to my Greek readers, but that team really shouldn’t have got this far. I don’t see them giving Costa Rica much of a workout. Which makes me happy, I love watching CR play and I’ll get at least two chances. Of course, the second will be against the Netherlands-Mexico winner; so sad.
France vs Nigeria and German vs Algeria · Two easy calls. Sad though it is to say, I’m afraid that African football will once again fail to make it through the round of 16; maybe in my lifetime.
But… the resulting France-Germany quarterfinal on July 4 should be titanic. Neither Germany nor France were actually tested hard in the group round by a team they’d taken seriously. I’d bet on that surgical German passing game to carry the day if I had to, but I’m unconvinced that any predictions about this match are worth much.
Argentina vs Switzerland · Yeah, Messi’s boys will probably win, but this might still be fun to watch. The Swiss have been kind of surprising, they can score, and if the Argentines don’t take them seriously the tournament could get a big surprise right here. Having said that, Switzerland has let in 6 goals to Argentina’s 3; so yeah, chances are this one is lopsided.
Belgium vs USA · Obviously the Euros are favored, but this is another to watch. Belgium looked good, but in the tournament’s weakest group. The Americans didn’t finish that well against the Germans, but they were on short rest and should be back to peak fitness. Also, Klinsmann is clever and sneaky, so the Americans won’t make obvious mistakes and might offer some surprises. Anyhow this one’s mostly for bragging rights because the winner is facing Argentina.
Looking forward · Me, I think the semis are going to be Brazil/Germany and Netherlands/Argentina. But Chile/France and Mexico/Belgium is not outside the realm of plausibility.