World Cup Round of 16, Day One: Brazil hosts Chile, Colombia vs. Uruguay

IMAGE, EMPIRE OF SOCCER

The World Cup took a breather on Friday after an exhilarating Group stage.

Now, the real nail biting begins.

The Round of 16 is set, drawing intriguing pairings along the way. Day one of the round brings four South American countries together in a competition for advancement.

BRAZIL vs. CHILE, Mineirao

Host nation Brazil takes on the high-octane, high-press style of Jorge Sampaoli’s Chile. As fate would have it, Chile are the one team Brazilian boss Luiz Felipe Scolari publicly said he would not want to face. That declaration came back in March on Brazilian TV’s Globo’s Esporte Espetacular.

“They are always a tough team,” he said, while acknowledging his desire that they be ousted in the group stage.

La Roja will certainly be tough once more. While Chile have looked good in wins over Austalia and Spain, Brazil have yet to put in a dominant performance as many expected. They beat Cameroon — the team with the worst performance record in the tournament — but struggled mightily against Mexico and, despite the scoreline, had trouble with Croatia as well.

One player that has lived up to his name for Brazil is Neymar, who has separated himself from the pack as the team star and goalscorer for the tournament. Chelsea’s Oscar has also been a brilliant and consistent performer. While given little attention, it is worth noting that Brazil’s burly defenders have only conceded twice in three matches.

Chile will look to change that. Unlike Mexico, Cameroon or Croatia, Chile will be on the attacking foot from minute one. Their three centerback alignment assures a consistent press from the forwards and midfield. Alexis Sanchez leads the pack, with Eduardo Vargas and Arturo Vidal on the flanks, ready to attack.

Chile presents another concern. While Sanchez may qualify as the star player in this bunch, in reality, they are team first in attack. That has led them to five goals this tournament, scored by five different people.

If Brazil hopes to contain Chile, they will have to put in a concentrated 90 minute performance. Thus far in the tournament, that has been a big ask of the host nation.

Prediction: Chile 2-1 Brazil

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COLOMBIA vs. URUGUAY Rio de Janeiro

Uruguay looked toothless without Luis Suarez to open the Group stage. Now, thanks to his infamous bite on Giorgio Chiellini, they will be toothless once again.

Suarez’s nine-match suspension puts him out of this match, and could cost Uruguay the tournament. Yes, they can still count on veteran Diego Forlan and Edinson Cavani, but neither has been able to show well in limited spurts during the Group stage. Cavani’s lone goal came on the back of a penalty. Forlan, meanwhile, did little in extended time against Costa Rica.

Uruguay, then, will be forced to rely on their other strength; physicality. Diego Godin and Diego Lugano will be important fixtures in front of Fernando Muslera. Egidio Arévalo will need to play it safe to add an extra bite to their defense against an inspired Colombian attack.

Like Uruguay, Colombia has played the entire tournament without their star striker, Radamel Falcao. Unlike Uruguay, they have found goals in his absence. Argentine tactician Jose Pekerman has the Colombian side playing inspired attack, scoring nine goals in three matches with relentless, unforgiving offense.

James Rodriguez has been the key distributor in the middle. Teofilo Rodriguez has not lit the scoreboard on fire, but his wing men Juan Cuadrado and Victor Ibarbo have provided pace and service, keeping opposing teams honest.

Even without Suarez, Uruguay will present Colombia their toughest opponent to date. That is not taking away from their achievements against Ivory Coast, Greece or Japan, but more a testament to the Uruguayan system. The veteran Colombian defense has not been tested like they will be Saturday evening, nor their attack bullied as they will be in Rio.

That may be enough to bring La Celeste success.

Prediction: 2-1 Uruguay


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  • Sam U El

    So much for your predictions for Day 1 Dave.


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