Argentina vs. Switzerland Preview

Argentina won their group with a maximum nine points. They defeated Bosnia, Iran and Nigeria by one goal each. Switzerland was the seeded team in Group E but finished second. They beat Ecuador and Honduras with a forgettable showing against France in between.

The belief is that Argentina can play much better than they did in the group stage. Lionel Messi has scored four goals and is one of the only bright spots for Argentina. The defense has been vulnerable and there isn’t much service from the midfielder for strikers Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero. Ezequiel Lavezzi will likely start because Aguero is injured. Xherdan Shaqiri is Switzerland’s best player and he proved why with a hat trick against Honduras. Striker Josip Drmic and midfielder Granit Xhaka are players that could give problems to the Argentina defense.

Prediction: Argentina 2, Switzerland 1

I think Lavezzi will have a strong match for Argentina and play well with Messi. Argentina will score the first two goals and the Swiss will pull one back very late.

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Germany vs. Algeria Preview

Germany topped the “Group of Death” with seven points. They defeated Portugal and the United States, and drew Ghana. Algeria is one of the best stories this World Cup. They played Belgium tough in their first match but conceded two second half goals. The Desert Foxes beat South Korea handily 4-2, and mustered out a draw against Russia to progress to the knockout stage.

Germany is still one of the tournament favorites despite not playing with a true striker. Thomas Muller has four goals this tournament including a hat trick against Portugal. He will need support from Mesut Ozil and Mario Goetze. The Germany back line had a rough evening against Ghana in the group stage but responded well against the United States. They might be challenged more tonight if Algeria can get their counterattack going. Algeria striker Islam Slimani was the hero for Algeria in the last two matches. He scored the opening goal against South Korea and the goal to send them to this phase with a header against Russia.

Prediction: Germany 2, Algeria 0

I think Algeria will try to flood the central part of the midfield and make it tough for the Germans to attack. Germany will break through twice in the second half.

 

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France vs. Nigeria Preview

France was the strongest team at the World Cup after the first two group matches. They beat Honduras and Switzerland by three goals each and collected eight goals over the two games. Just needing a draw to win the group, they played Ecuador to a 0-0 stalemate in the last group match. Nigeria’s big result of the group stage was hanging on to a 1-0 victory against Bosnia. That match was sandwiched between a draw against Iran and a 3-2 loss to Argentina.

France has plenty of offensive options. Striker Karim Benzema is the focal point of the French attack. He is joined by Mathieu Valbuena and Oliver Giroud. Blaise Matuidi has been one of the best midfielders this tournament. After not scoring against Ecuador, expect France to be direct in their attack like what we saw against Switzerland. Nigeria played well against Argentina. Ahmed Musa scored both goals. Peter Odemwingie and Emmanuel Emenike will be key players in this match against France’s shaky defense.

Prediction: France 3, Nigeria 1

France gets back on track with goals from Benzema, Valbuena and Paul Pogba.

 

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Costa Rica vs. Greece Preview

Not many people expected these two teams to play at this stage in Recife. Costa Rica amazingly won their group that featured Uruguay, Italy and England. They recorded seven points including shock wins against Uruguay and Italy. Greece were in trouble after only managing a draw in their first two matches. Greece saved their best performance for the last group game against Ivory Coast. They scored a late goal in each the first and second halves to send them to the next round in dramatic fashion.

Costa Rica has been very organized defensively. Oscar Durate and Giancarlo Gonzales have turned in great performances in the back. Offensively, the Ticos have been inspired by 21-year-old striker Joel Campbell and captain Bryan Ruiz. Greece also are an organized side that defends well. They won’t make many mistakes and rely on a counterattck going forward. Georgios Samaras was the hero of the match against Ivory Coast. Captain Giorgos Karagounis was also inspirational that match. The 37-year-old is a valuable leader for the Greeks.

Prediction: Costa Rica 1, Greece 0

This will be a low scoring game and both teams will struggle to create chances. Costa Rica will break through in the second half.

 

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Netherlands vs. Mexico Preview

The Group B winners play the Group A runners up in Fortaleza. Netherlands recorded a maximum nine points from their group. They put on a clinic in a 5-1 rout of Spain. They followed that up with wins against Australia and Chile. Mexico grinded out a victory against Cameroon in the rain. They proved how well they can defend in a 5-3-2 formation against Brazil where they earned a draw. They scored three second half goals to defeat Croatia and make it out of their group.

Netherlands was a team built around three attacking stars in Robin Van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder. Van Persie and Robben have been superb this tournament. The question mark for the Dutch was an inexperienced back line. However, the youth defenders like Stefan de Vrij, Daryl Janmaat and Daley Blind have been serviceable. Mexico coach Miguel Herrera has pushed all the right buttons this World Cup. Starting goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa was his first of several great decisions. In-form striker Oribe Peralta has looked fine starting instead of Javier Hernandez. Center back Rafael Marquez has turned back the clock and is putting together a memorable tournament. The Mexico back line will be tested against the Netherlands attacking trio but El Tri have the personnel and tactics to get that done.

Prediction: Mexico 1, Netherlands 1 (Mexico advances 4-3 on penalty kicks)

I think Mexico will go the quarterfinals behind another strong defensive performance and some good fortune in penalty kicks.

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Colombia vs. Uruguay Preview

This is a tasty match between two South American heavyweights in Rio de Janeiro. Expectations for Colombia lowered before the tournament when star striker Radamel Falcao was ruled out with an injury. However, Colombia didn’t skip a beat with victories over Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan. Not the best opponents but they have put the world on notice with their stylish goals and celebrations. Uruguay had a roller coaster group stage. They were shocked by Costa Rica 3-1 in the first match but followed that up with wins over England and Italy. However, striker Luis Suarez is banned for the rest of the World Cup after biting Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini.

Colombia has had many contributors to their outstanding play. Veteran defender Mario Yepes has held up well and led the back line. Midfielder Juan Cuadrado has three assists this tournament. The breakout player on Colombia and maybe this whole World Cup is James Rodriguez. The 22-year-old has three goals and two assists. Uruguay will clearly miss Suarez for this match. Edison Cavani is a great striker but benefits from playing with Suarez. Diego Forlan could play a role in this match but he struggled against Costa Rica, and is past his best playing days. The center back partnership of Diego Lugano and 19-year-old Jose Maria Gimenez were strong against England and Italy. A lot will be expected from the two Atletico Madrid defenders against Colombia.

Prediction: Colombia 2, Uruguay 0

Uruguay will miss Suarez and I don’t see them rallying together after his hefty ban.

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Brazil vs. Chile Preview

The round of 16 starts with host country Brazil playing Chile in Belo Horizonte. The two teams met in this round at the 2010 World Cup and Brazil prevailed. Brazil didn’t play their best soccer in Group A. They defeated Croatia and Cameroon but were held to a draw against a courageous Mexico side. Chile defeated Australia and Spain to secure a spot in this round. They lost to the Netherlands with a chance to win the group.

Neymar has met expectations and has shined this tournament with four goals. He needs his teammates like Fred, Hulk and Oscar to pick up their play. Chile poses a tricky test for Brazil. Center back Gary Medal and midfielder Marcelo Diaz have quietly been key to Chile’s defending. Arturo Vidal rested against the Netherlands because of an injury that almost jeopardized his World Cup. Vidal should be able to test the Brazil back line with strikers Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas.

Prediction: Brazil 2, Chile 1; after extra time

I think this is a close match that will require 120 minutes. Neymar will continue his dominance with the game winning goal.

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Match Previews: June 26

The group stage comes to a close with four matches today.

Group G

This group has the potential to be decided in the final minutes of each match. Expect dramatic moments in this group that neutral fans will love. Germany and USA would go through with a draw. They would also both go through if Portugal and Ghana draw. Germany is in a good position because of their +4 goal differential. Portugal needs to win big and hope for some luck. USA controls their own destiny to advance but Ghana has played very well this tournament.

Match: Portugal vs. Ghana in Brasilia

What to watch for: There’s a lot of negativity in the Portugal camp going into this match. They got a last second draw against the USA after losing 4-0 to Germany. Cristiano Ronaldo doesn’t look healthy at all and the Portuguese haven’t gotten enough from other players. Ghana earned a draw against Germany and tested the German back line all second half. They are the more motivated team in this match. If Ghana scores an early goal, Portugal might not put much effort in this match knowing the mountain to climb will be even higher. However, Ronaldo has seen players like Lionel Messi, Arjen Robben and Neymar have great World Cups and he might want at least one more match to impress on the world stage. I think there will be plenty of scoring chances in this match and end-to-end action.

Prediction: Portugal 2 (Ronaldo, Eder), Ghana 2 (Gyan, Atsu)

Match: United States vs. Germany

What to watch for: There is a high sense of familiarity in this match. USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann played for and coached Germany. Current German coach Jogi Low was an assistant under Klinsmann in the 2006 World Cup before Low took over the reigns. Both teams would advance with a draw but you can’t expect that’s what both teams will play for. The beginning of the match might start slowly as both teams get comfortable by passing the ball around. I think the tempo of the match will pick up after the first 30 minutes as both teams want to win the group. I think the Germans will make the USA pay for mistakes in the midfield and back line. However, both teams will be happy after the match when they hear the news about the result in Brasilia.

Prediction: Germany 3 (Muller, Ozil, Kroos), United States 1 (Bradley)

Group H

Belgium haven’t played to their potential but have showed signs of brilliance in their two wins. They are through to the knockout stage and would win the group with at least a point. The question is which team will join Belgium in the next round. Algeria could join Costa Rica as one of the tournament surprises if they get at least a draw and South Korea doesn’t win. Russia needs to get three points to have a chance. South Korea must win and require some help to make it.

Match: South Korea vs. Belgium in Sao Paulo

What to watch for: Belgium has been very average for the first 70 minutes on each match. Maybe it was because they played defensive-minded sides in Algeria and Russia. They have elevated their play late in matches. Eden Hazard had a special 15-minute stretch where he took over the contest against Russia. He set up 19-year-old Divock Origi for the game winning goal. A possible change to the starting 11 for Belgium could be Origi for striker Romelu Lukaku, who has been poor this tournament. South Korea defended very poorly against Algeria. They did create a few scoring chances in the end but need to play more organized against a more lethal Belgium squad. I think this game will be high-scoring and Belgium will turn in a much better first half.

Prediction: Belgium 3 (Hazard, Kompany, Witsel), South Korea 1 (Chung-yong)

Match: Algeria vs. Russia in Curitiba

What to watch for: This surprisingly becomes the game of the group. Second place is likely on the line. Algeria are probably the most improved team from the 2010 World Cup. They didn’t score a goal that tournament and have five in two matches in Brazil. Russia has benched two of their best offensive players because they aren’t fits in Fabio Capello’s organized system. Playmaker Alan Dzagoev and striker Aleksandr Kerzhakov have been relegated to substitution roles. Capello might want to start one or both of them in a must-win situation.

Prediction: Russia 1 (Dragoev), Algeria 0

 

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Match Previews: June 25

Tuesday was an eventful day at the World Cup for good and bad reasons. Uruguay’s victory over Italy was overshadowed by Luis Suarez’s apparent bite Giorgio Chiellini. This story will continue all week and I assume there will be extra discipline for Suarez, who wasn’t punished at the time of the incident. Greece pulled off heroics in the later games of the day with a 2-1 win over Ivory Coast on a last minute penalty kick. They are through to the round of 16 to play Costa Rica. Group E and Group F wraps up on Wednesday.

Group F

Argentina are in the round of 16 and need at least a draw to win the group. Bosnia were surprisingly eliminated after only two matches. Nigeria will progress to the knockout stage with at least one point or a Iran draw or loss.

Match: Nigeria vs. Argentina in Salvador

What to watch for: Nigeria took advantage of a disallowed Bosnia goal, and held strong defensively to put themselves in great position to finish second in the group. The Super Eagles are fortunate to play Argentina in the last group match after earning four points in their first two games. Argentina hasn’t impressed anyone in their two wins at the World Cup. Their blushes were spared by Lionel Messi whose late moment of magic gave Argentina a 1-0 victory over Iran. La Albiceleste need Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria to play better. The Argentina defense looked vulnerable at times against Iran so Nigeria striker Emmanuel Emenike could have a few scoring chances. I think Argentina will struggle again but break through twice in the second half.

Prediction: Argentina 2 (Aguero, Higuain), Nigeria 0

Match: Bosnia vs. Iran in Salvador

What to watch for: Bosnia started well against Nigeria and scored a goal that was ruled out on a phantom offsides call. Then they conceded a goal shortly after and probably switched to a 4-4-2 too late in the second half. Iran defended so well against Argentina and created a few decent scoring chances of their own. However, they fell victim to a great shot by Lionel Messi and now need to win to stay alive. Bosnia has nothing to play for and Iran have trouble scoring. This feels like a goalless stalemate.

Prediction: Bosnia 0, Iran 0

Group E 

No one is this group has mathematically clinched a round of 16 berth or been eliminated from the tournament. France is on the verge with six points and a goal differential of +6. They will likely win the group and can make that official with a point. Ecuador and Switzerland have three points, and Honduras has zero. Honduras needs to win and have France beat Ecuador to give them hope.

Match: Honduras vs. Switzerland in Manaus

What to watch for: This is the fourth and final game of this tournament in humid Manaus. Honduras played better against Ecuador than they did against France, and were unlucky to not at least get a draw. Switzerland’s defense had a forgettable performance against France. They need to rebound with a win and help their goal differential just in case Ecuador matches their result. The two late goals against France could end up being big for the Swiss.

Prediction: Switzerland 1 (Xhaka), Honduras 0

Match: Ecuador vs. France in Rio De Janeiro

What to watch for: Ecuador got the necessary three points against Honduras after a heartbreaking loss to Switzerland. Now they face tournament darlings France who have been the best team of the World Cup through two games. Ecuador’s defense must be at their best to try to stop an attack led by Karim Benzema. France might play a safe game knowing they just need a point to win the group. Ecuador will play well but will be overmatched and eliminated form the World Cup.

Prediction: France 2 (Sissoko, Giroud), Ecuador 1 (Caicedo)

 

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Match Previews: June 24

Netherlands, Chile, Brazil and Mexico are set in the round of 16. Costa Rica and Colombia have booked their place in the next phase and they will be joined by two more countries todays.

Group D

Costa Rica shocked the world with wins over Uruguay and Italy in the first two matches, and are through to the knockout stage. This sets up a huge encounter between Italy and Uruguay. The Italians can get through with a win or draw, and Uruguay must win. Costa Rica just needs a point against England to secure first place in the group.

Match: Italy vs. Uruguay in Natal

What to watch for: There might not be a more valuable player in the world than Luis Suarez. If the EPL gave out a MVP award, the Liverpool striker would’ve certainly taken that silverware. He proved his importance for his country with two-goal performance to defeat England. Uruguay now controls their own destiny to get out of the group, which seemed unlikely after losing to Costa Rica with Suarez out of the lineup. Italy looked like a completely different team in their loss to Costa Rica. They were solid against England and need to rebound. Mario Balotelli wasted two early chances against Costa Rica and was frustrated. He needs to finish any opportunity he gets to match the level of his counterpart Suarez. Uruguay needs a win and I can see them getting it done in humid Natal.

Prediction: Uruguay 2 (Suarez, Rodriguez), Italy 1 (Marchisio)

Match: Costa Rica vs. England in Belo Horizonte

What to watch for: Costa Rica will be still motivated to win the group. Getting a point will make that a formality regardless of what happens in the other match. Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz have been breakout stars this tournament. The Ticos have only allowed one goal and that was through an Uruguay penalty kick. England disappointingly were eliminated from the tournament. They were unlucky to not get a result against Italy and had no answer for Suarez last Thursday. They are planning on starting nine new players so the Three Lions are already thinking ahead to the Euro 2016 qualifying cycle. Costa Rica would love to play the second place team in Group C so I think they at least get a point.

Prediction: Costa Rica 1 (Campbell), England 1 (Barkley)

Group C

Colombia haven’t officially won the group but have the two wins and a significant goal differential so they will likely top Group C. Japan and Greece need wins with help in the other games. Ivory Coast controls their own destiny to advance out of the group.

Match: Japan vs. Colombia in Cuiaba

What to watch for: Japan has been disappointing this tournament. The midfield duo of Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa had high expectations in Brazil but haven’t delivered. Japan played more than a half with a man advantage against Greece, and were not able to score. Colombia has looked great in stadiums with pro-Colombian support. They’ll know before the match who they can play in the round of 16. Japan’s goal scoring drought will continue and Colombia will top the group with a maximum nine points.

Prediction: Colombia 2 (Cuadrado, Gutierrez), Japan 0

Match: Greece vs. Ivory Coast in Fortaleza

What to watch for: Greece hasn’t scored in two matches but do have a point from their draw against Japan. Greece was in a similar situation at Euro 2012 when they only picked up a point in their first two matches. Then the shocked Russia, and finished second in the group with help from Czech Republic defeating Poland. This might be too much of a challenge for Greece against an Ivory Coast team who will probably just need a point. Didier Drogba hasn’t started a match yet but has been on the field for all three Ivory Coast goals as a substitute. He has been wisely rested because of his age and fitness but might get the starting call in this vital contest.

Prediction: Ivory Coast 3 (Droba, Toure, Kalou), Greece 1 (Mitroglou)

 

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