Five questions from the Round of 16
1. After an unpredictable group stage, are we back to predictability?
You’ll have seen everywhere since the Round of 16 concluded the stat that this is the first time since the World Cup became a 32-team competition that all the group winners have progressed to the quarter finals. It’s actually more impressive still – you can include the 24-team tournaments from 1986 to 1994, and it’s still the case. That was back when four of the best third-placed teams joined the top two of the groups in the around of 16 – overall the group winners took more of a battering in these tournaments too, despite playing some of those 3rd placed teams. Belgium in ’86, Argentina in ’90, Italy in ’94 for example.
Should be therefore expect the expected in the semi-finals?
2. Is one great in-form player enough to take a team all the way this year?
Neymar for Brazil, Messi for Argentina – both have delivered when their teams have been up against it this tournament. Both teams were widely tipped to featured in an all-South-American final, but with both surviving gruelling matches that went to extra time, you have to wonder how sustainable this is.
Put simply, neither team would probably be at this stage had either player been injured or out-of-form. How far can they be carried? You have to expect that something will need to change for either of them to go on and win it, as there have been too many bumps along the way so far to suggest they can keep getting away with it.
3. Are any of the European nations strong enough to make history?
France and Germany surged out of the groups following some encouraging performances, the Dutch dipped after their opening game heroics, while Belgium meandered their way through their group. In the Round of 16, we finally saw the Belgians in a more attractive and exciting style, though all four nations progressed after gruelling encounters against what should have been very beatable opposition.
No European nation has won a World Cup on South American soil – numerically, Europe is at an advantage, up 4-3. Having avoided the rigours of extra-time, you would assume that France and The Netherlands are perhaps best-placed to progress. France in particular looked a transformed side once Benzema was switched centrally, while RVP surely won’t be as anonymous in the quarters.
4. Can Costa Rica keep the underdogs dream alive?
You felt that as Greece squeezed home that injury-time equaliser that this was it for 10-men Costa Rica, that had their chance and blew it. But once again they were able to somehow find a result from somewhere – holding on doggedly, and following up with a penalty shootout display that would put most teams to shame.
They are the last true underdogs left. With the perceived injustice they dished out to Mexico through Arjen ‘wobbly-legs’ Robben, you can expect them to have most of the world behind them.
5. Can Colombia win it?
They have the tournament’s most impressive performer in James Rodriguez, the world’s most engaged football fans, and followed up their group domination by being the only team to ease through the Round of 16.
They’re at the quarter finals stage, and you don’t feel they are either phased, tired, or afraid. While the other favourites are falling over themselves to add doubt to their own chances with a mix of shaky performances, Colombia are the only team that have looked consistently impressive throughout. All this while missing their star player.
The quarter final with Brazil will answer this soon enough, and their record is not favourable. Plenty of draws recently, but only two wins in 25 – one in a friendly, one in the 1991 Copa America. History is not with them. But they are so far the tournament’s star performers…