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And then there were sixteen

June 26, 2010

Not this time for Cannavaro - but who will take his place as World Cup-winning captain?

The group stages are over. Much of the matches so far have been drab, lifeless affairs that only threatened to excite when players started kicking each other (Portugal seem to either score 7 or play out goalless draws full of bad challenges). There has some good football played, though, particularly as the group stages progressed and teams needed three points to avoid leaving anything to chance. In the knockout stages it will be interesting to see which approach teams take – not concede for 60 minutes then go for it, or throw caution to the wind early on?

Many of the teams still involved have demonstrated flair and attacking prowess, as those who largely intended to contain won the odd battle but are no longer with us (Switzerland, Algeria, North Korea, Greece). Two former champions are out – even if, despite ITV’s dramatic proclamations, Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro is not about to ‘disappear, possibly forever’. In four days time we will know the final eight. Here’s how The Videprinter sees it panning out:

Uruguay should be celebrating again come 5pm -

Group A winners Uruguay should have enough to see off South Korea this afternoon. Diego Forlan put in the best individual performance of the tournament so far as the South Americans demolished South Africa on an Wednesday evening ten days ago. The Koreans have been impressive, particularly against Greece on the tournament’s opening weekend, but if Forlan is given any space he usually makes it tell. Uruguay to progress.

For some, USA winning Group C was a surprise, and it means they are rewarded with a match against Ghana rather than Germany. Tonight’s clash is tough to call; Ghana’s best showing was against Serbia, and they pass the ball around very well at times. Yet the USA are a solid side who should hold their own in the middle of the pitch and look slightly more dangerous going forward. It’s a tough one to call, but we’re going for the USA.

Then there’s what many simply refer to as ‘the big one’. We won’t bore you with a catalogue of tiresome World War references; you have a TV and can tune in on Sunday afternoon to hear all those. The game itself sees a resurgant England against a Germany side who stuttered after a brilliant start. The midfield battle will be crucial here; England have the potential to dominate and deal with Mesut Ozil, Germany’s best player of the opening stage. England of course have their problems, and there must be some reservations about England’s second centre-half (King, Upson, or Carragher) against Klose and Podolski, and you should, of course, never write off the Germans. But England to edge it.

Will Wesley Sneijder lead his side to glory?

After that match we’ll see Argentina, who have become favourites in many people’s eyes after an excellent group stage, albeit against weak opposition. Under the stewardship of Maradona, – who certainly puts the round into round of 16 – they won all three group matches. However they should face a tougher task against Mexico, who deservedly punished France for their manifold inadequacies and look good all over the pitch. Argentina should, though, progress with their attacking options – questions remains over the defence and it must surely be exposed soon – and we predict no different. Argentina to go through.

With half the quarter-finalists decided, the Netherlands will take on Slovakia. The Dutch easily cruised past their group stage rivals as they battled to take points off each other and are clear favourites. With Arjen Robben to come back they should move througth the attacking gears as the tournament goes on, though Slovakia have shown excellent movement in the final third and Martin Vittek is joint top scorer, having bagged 3 already. Netherlands to progress by one.

Brazil have so many World Cups they now give them out to fans -

Then the really big boys come in. Chile v Brazil should be an attacking festival of football, but then Brazil v Portugal and Portugal v Ivory Coast should have been as well. Chile, in particular winger Sanchez, look excellent and caused problems for every side they played in a group involving favourites Spain and a resilient Switzerland. Brazil have shown flashes of brilliant yet do not look a tournament-winning side just yet. They shouldn’t fall at this hurdle, but they will need to be better than they were against Portugal yesterday.

Joining them should be Paraguay, who are a better side than the Japanese, their opponents on Tuesday afternoon. Japan seem to be the only side who can take free kicks with the Jabulani and Paraguay have not yet excelled in an odd group. They look dangerous from set pieces themselves though and they should have enough to progress.

Then, Spain v Portugal on Tuesday night to finish off the second round. Spain recovered well from the defeat to Switzerland whereas Portugal are yet to concede. This is a tough one – both would have hoped to get to at least the quarters but Spain were always likely to face a tough second round tie against either Brazil, Ivory Coast or the Portuguese. Ronaldo’s yet to excel for longer than a few minutes and David Villa looks sharp for the Spanish. But Portugal’s defence is better and in what would be – for some – a premature exit for the European champions, Portugal to go through.

So there we have it. Eight exciting games (hopefully) to come over four fun-filled days.

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