The 2018 World Cup is now down to just 16 teams and every game is likely to be of high-quality. John Newsome runs the rule over 4 of the upcoming matches.
FRANCE v ARGENTINA
The Group games are over and the World Cup now gets serious with this last 16 opener being the start of some superb games. France have won 2 and drawn the last 1 to qualify without necessarily being in top gear. Having only scored 3 goals so far, they can be excused for the drab 0-0 draw in the final group game against Denmark after both teams made changes in what effectively was a dead rubber. Both teams knew that they were going to progress. Paul Pogba should return to the side and it’s whether French boss Didier Deschamps returns to a 4/3/3 or keeps Olivier Giroud in the side in a 4/5/1.
Argentina finally came to the party in their last group game against Nigeria. Having been very poor in the 1-1 draw with Iceland then being thoroughly outclassed against Croatia, the Argies needed to beat Nigeria to have any chance of progression. Lionel Messi scored a super cool goal, taking a long through ball on his thigh and coolly slotting home, surprisingly with his right foot as it’s usually just for standing on when Lionel is on the pitch. With time running out and a goal needed, Manchester United defender Marcos Rojo volleyed home to get the all-important win. Coincidentally Marcos also scored with his very unused right foot. This should be a cracker of a game to get the knockout stages up and running and could go to penalties.
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URUGUAY v PORTUGAL
This game feels as if it has come too soon in the tournament and could easily be a semi-final or final game. The unfortunate thing is that one of these teams are going home. Will it be Barcelona ace Luis Suarez leaving the party early or his La Liga rival Cristiano Ronaldo who departs?
Uruguay could potentially be the dark horses of Russia 2018 and are one of only 3 teams who have won all 3 group games. Easing into the tournament with a 1-0 win against Egypt, another 1-0 win against Saudi Arabia guaranteed them progression then finally beating hosts Russia 3-0. 3 games without conceding a goal.
Portugal played in the game of the tournament so far in their opener against Spain. Superstar Cristiano Ronaldo got a hat-trick in that game then scored his 4th in the 1-0 win against Morocco. In a controversial final game against Iran, CR7 missed a crucial penalty but ultimately Portugal held on to get a draw needed to progress, however, the win would have given Portugal the top spot in Group B and an easier game against Russia instead of this tougher game against the Uruguayans. With Uruguay having a stern defence, they could frustrate Ronaldo and Portugal and with Suarez and Cavani in great form can progress to the quarter-final.
Uruguay Win 2-0
SPAIN v RUSSIA
Spain’s opening game against Portugal is fast becoming remembered as a World Cup classic and will be shown over and over for many years to come. Which in a way is good for the Spaniard’s as their 2nd game was not a classic. After the 3-3 draw with Portugal, Spain scraped a 1-0 win against Iran with Diego Costa having the ball rebound off his knee into the back of the net. In their final game, Spain were losing 2-1 until former Liverpool star Iago Aspas got a 91st-minute equaliser by way of VAR. The goal had originally been disallowed for offside, but on viewing the replay, it clearly showed Iago was on side so the goal rightly stood. The significance in that goal was that Portugal were heading the Group and Spain would have had to play Uruguay. The Aspas equaliser married with Iran’s late goal meant Spain topped Group B and have this relatively easier game against hosts Russia.
After 2 great wins against Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Hosts Russia were well beaten by 3 goals to nil in their final group game against Uruguay. They could easily be excused for that result as firstly, they had already qualified and secondly, had a man sent off in the 36th minute when losing 2-0 so really it was damage limitation and eventually only losing 3-0 was quite acceptable for Russia. They will really need home support to be the 12th man in this last 16 knockout game as Spain should be too strong for the hosts. It’s whether President Putin has a Batphone straight to VAR to influence any decision that will decide Russia’s progress.
Spain Win 2-0
CROATIA v DENMARK
Croatia are the 2nd of the 3 teams who have won all 3 Group games. The significant fact in that, is one of their group games was against Messi and Argentina. The Croatians showed Lionel and Co no respect and brushed the Argentinians aside. Real Madrid ace and Croatian captain Luka Modric has been sensational in the 3 games and showed his true worth to his nation’s team. Luka scored in the opening 2-0 win against Nigeria, then notched in the emphatic 3-0 win against Argentina and upstaged El Classico rival Messi. Croatia beat Iceland in their final group game to top Group D with maximum points and set up this last 16 tie against the Danes.
Denmark are unbeaten but have not exactly set the tournament alight. After a narrow 1-0 win against Peru in their opener, they scraped a 1-1 draw against Australia then played out a turgid 0-0 decider against France having been virtually guaranteed a last 16 spot. Peru missed a penalty just before the break against the Danes with the score at 0-0 and if scored, could have changed the whole dynamic of that starter. That said, having scraped through to the last 16, Denmark have to improve to beat Croatia.
Croatia Win 3-0
Contact John Newsome, with your own predictions, requests and feedback, at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org