Last 16 Preview : 8 Matches In The First Knockout Round

World Cup 2018 Preview
Last Updated : 26th June, 2018 By Peter Roberts

Event Venue: Russia, June 30th at 3pm to July 3rd at 7pm. Live on BBC and ITV.

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Saturday 30th June

France v Argentina

This looks to be one of the most glamorous last 16 ties possible at the World Cup this year, but in truth, it is between two teams that have looked pretty poor so far in Russia. France are undefeated with two wins and a draw, but have not looked especially convincing at any point. They scraped past Australia with a dodgy penalty and an own goal, edged out Peru 1-0 and played out a goalless draw with Denmark. Hardly inspiring. Argentina, though, have been even worse, drawing with Iceland, being hammered 3-0 by Croatia and pinching a late winner against Nigeria to sneak through.

Argentina have an excellent record against France, only losing twice in 11 meetings, never competitively and not since 1986. However, you could not confidently back them to beat anyone at the moment and that is why they are second favourites at 27/10 with bet365. France look likelier, but what looks a better bet is both teams to score. Both sides have exciting options going forward, with Messi, Aguero, Mbappe and Griezmann four of the best strikers on the planet. Argentina will be buoyed by their last win and will offer a threat, meanwhile their defence always looks susceptible. Both Teams to Score looks excellent value at 6/5 with William Hill. 

Uruguay v Portugal

Another very tasty contest for the last 16 between two of the dark horses for the tournament, but both have been nothing more than functional through the group stages. It is very hard to criticise Uruguay as they have won all three of their matches without conceding a single goal, the only team in the competition that can say that. However, they were narrow wins over Egypt and Saudi Arabia that wouldn’t really scare any prospective opposition. Portugal have also flattered to deceive, also unbeaten, but picking up draws with Spain and Iran whilst getting lucky to edge out Morocco 1-0. With Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani on show there should be some thrilling attacking football, but it might be better not to expect that in Sochi as a cagey affair seems a lot more likely.

Uruguay’s defence is clearly extremely solid and if they can shackle Ronaldo (easier said than done) then Portugal do not offer much of a goal threat from anywhere else. Portugal’s defence looks a lot easier to get at, with the creaking bodies of Jose Fonte and Pepe at centre-back which Suarez and Cavani will be very excited about getting at. Uruguay’s midfield is the weakest part of their team and that will end up costing them against the very highest level of opponents, but Portugal are not that and a solid defence and ruthless attack will be enough to see off the European champions. Uruguay are the rightful favourites for this one but they still look very decent value at 17/10 with Ladbrokes.

Sunday July 1st

Spain v Russia

Spain eventually won Group B but it required a late equaliser against Morocco which was given after consultation with VAR to finish ahead of Portugal in second place. The match between the Iberian nations in the first group phase was one of the matches of the tournament. Spain were better than Portugal for long periods but Cristiano Ronaldo dragged his country to a draw with a wonderful converted free-kick which tied the scores at three-all. Spain have not looked outstanding in the narrow win against Iran and draw with Morocco. However, the 2010 World Cup winners are strong in all areas and they should have enough to beat the hosts, Russia.    

There was very little optimism about Russia’s prospects coming into the tournament. They were on a poor run of form and results and the squad lacked confidence. However, two good results against Egypt and Saudi Arabia raised expectations. However, Russia were well beaten by Uruguay in the last group fixture and the 3-0 reverse is more indicative of the quality of the squad than the easier matches earlier in the tournament. If Spain and Russia had met before the World Cup there would only be one winner. In fact very little has changed so Spain are the team to win this match in 90 minutes and that outcome is 6/10 with Ladbrokes. 

Croatia v Denmark 

Croatia won Group D with three wins and maximum points so progress to play Denmark who finished second in Group C. One of the best performances in the World Cup was Croatia’s three-nil win over Argentina. It was an impressive effort in midfield but the game changed on a ridiculous error made by Argentina’s goalkeeper. Croatia took advantage of the extra space in midfield but Argentina played poorly and Lionel Messi did not make a significant contribution. Croatia have great team spirit which could take them far and at least into the quarter-finals as they should win the tie against Denmark and result that can be backed at 2/5 with William Hill.  

Denmark are a team not suited to chasing a game but having two banks of players set up to prevent the opposition scoring. This tactic worked in their final group match against France which was the first goalless draw of the tournament. In Christian Eriksen Denmark have a match winner but he has had few opportunities to influence matches due how the team is set up to be difficult to beat.  Denmark are a powerful unit who defend crosses well but are too dependent on one player and Croatia should have the quality to find a way to score at least one goal without reply. A key defender is absent through injury and Croatia have the skill to beat Denmark.

Monday July 2nd

Brazil v Mexico

Brazil may not have been especially impressive in the group stage but they came through undefeated and move into the knockout phase as the tournament favourites at 15/4 with Unibet. A draw with Switzerland was a slow start whilst they needed two injury-time goals to beat Costa Rica. The men in yellow were more comfortable in beating Serbia 2-0 and may just be warming up as we move towards the business end. Mexico, on the other hand, seem to have been going the other way and deteriorating as the World Cup has progressed. They opened with a stunning win over Germany and were last hammered 3-0 by Sweden, which is a serious downturn in form. After gaining substantial momentum in the first two games, they have lost it all in the final match.

This has the potential to be a highly entertaining contest between the attacking threat of Brazil and the counter-attacking skills of the Mexicans. Brazil’s defence has been criticised, but has actually been fairly sturdy so far, only conceding once in three games. However, the pace of the Mexicans on the break is sure to give them trouble in Samara. It would seem nigh-on impossible to stop the Brazilians from scoring, but Mexico could thrive with the South Americans coming at them. It is a bit of a stretch to see the Mexicans winning this contest, but they should certainly have some success. Both Teams to Score looks tremendous value at 6/5 with William Hill.

Belgium v Japan

Only three teams got through the group stage with a hat-trick of victories and Belgium were one of them, coming out as one of the most impressive sides in the competition so far. The Red Devils have scored nine goals and kept two clean sheets and have an in-form striker in Romelu Lukaku on their hands. The Manchester United striker has scored four times in the two games he has played and had the England game off to recover from a slight injury he had picked up. In contrast, Japan really scraped through Group H, battling to a win over Colombia and a draw with Senegal to qualify on behalf of picking up fewer yellow cards than the African side. They ended the group stage with a defeat to already eliminated Poland and that was a pretty dreadful sign going into the last 16.

There is little comparison between these two teams with Belgium a far superior side to the Japanese outfit. The Asian team have done wonderfully well to escape from their group, but they were also fortunate to do so and the last 16 is where their World Cup will end. The two teams actually met as recently as November of last year and Belgium won 1-0 thanks to a Lukaku goal in Bruges. We can expect something similar on Monday in Rostov, if not a much more comfortable win for Roberto Martinez’s men. Belgium are rightfully the runaway favourites but they look excellent value to win the game to nil at 11/10 with Ladbrokes.

Tuesday July 3rd

England v Colombia

England had an up-and-down group stage which saw them scrape past Tunisia, hammer Panama and then lose to Belgium with a second string team. It was impressive at times, but also slightly concerning in terms of cohesion at the back and an inability to keep hold  of the ball, even against much weaker opposition. Colombia were also entirely inconsistant through Group H, like England they won two and lost one, but were not convincing at all. Their crucial victory over Senegal was especially lucky after being thoroughly outplayed in the first half, only to sneak a 1-0 win thanks to a header from a corner. Neither side has set the world alight so far, but which one can improve as we head into the knockout stages?

Although there is not much in it, England do appear to have the higher ceiling than their South American opponents. With fitness concerns about James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao now firmly past his best, Colombia's vaunted attack is not actually as threatening as it might appear. There is no doubt that Harry Kane is the best forward of the 22 players that will take to the field and he may well be the difference in Moscow. Colombia have never beaten England and unless they significantly improve their level of performance that is not about to change. With most of England's key players rested against Belgium they will return fully fresh with the verve they showed against Panama and the Three Lions look very decent value to win the game at 11/10 with Coral.

Sweden v Switzerland

Arugably the least glamorous tie of the last 16 sees two workmanlike sides go up against each other with a very rare quarter-final on the line for the winner. Sweden last managed a quarter-final in 1994, and that is their only progress to the last eight in 60 years, whilst Switzerland have not made the quarter-finals since they hosted the tournament in 1954. There are bound to be plenty of nerves on show in Saint Petersburg as both teams get a bit of a nosebleed at this stage of the competition. Sweden topped their group, against the odds, thanks to wins over South Korea and Mexico, whilst Switzerland came through Group E undefeated, with draws against Brazil and Costa Rica and a narrow victory over Serbia.

The head-to-head record between these teams is fascinating. They have played each other 27 times since thier first meeting in 1920 and both teams have won 10 matches, with seven draws. They are very evenly matched teams with similar skill-sets: well-organised, hard working, decent at the back, but lacking creativity and a talented forward line. Switzerland are the favourites, and that is understandable as they competed so well against Brazil, but Sweden's 3-0 battering of Mexico was impressive and gives them the momentum going into this. With little to choose between the sides, this one looks destined for extra-time and possibly penalties. The draw looks far too good to turn down at 2/1 with Betfair.

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  • There were 122 goals in 48 matches in the group stages at an average of 2.54 per match. 
  • The hughest scorers were Belgium with 9 goals.
  • There was only one goalless draw.
  • Both teams scored in 21 matches.
  • There were 26 wins to nil.
  • The favourite won 26 times and the underdog won 113 matches.
  • Argentina and France qualified for the last 16 despite scoring just 3 goals. 
  • Germany are the third holders in a row to be eliminated at the group stage.
  • The highest scoring team in one match was England (6-1 v Panama).
  • Harry Kane was the leading scorer in the group stage with 5 goals.  

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