16:00 Sweden vs Switzerland
20:00 Colombia vs England
All matches will be live on SuperSport and SABC 1. Times are listed as South African. 3
France 4-3 Argentina [Report and highlights]
Uruguay 2-1 Portugal [Report and highlights]
Spain 1-1 Russia, Russia won 4-3 on penalties [Report and highlights]
Croatia 1-1 Denmark (aet, Croatia win 3-2 on penalties) [Report and highlights]
Brazil 2-0 Mexico [Report and highlights]
Belgium 3-2 Japan [Report and highlights]
Probably not the first two teams you’d put down on the list when asked who’d make the knockouts, but it’s been that kind of competition.
Head-to-head, honours are even. Both sides have won ten and drawn seven of their meetings. They haven’t played each other since a 1-1 friendly back in 2002, though.
Sweden were surprise Group F leaders by the end of the preliminary rounds. They’ve not been emphatic in their approach, but the side have credited their results to a culture of teamwork and are daring to dream that they can emulate the 1994 squad that finished third.
Switzerland’s campaign has been marked by solid results, but also a few disruptions. The now-infamous “double eagle” celebrations in their win over Serbia saw three players fined but avoid bans. The Swiss will definitely be without captain Stephan Lichtsteiner, who is suspended anyway.
Things could get pretty awkward for England if they slip up here and Colombia will know that the Three Lions aren’t so good at coping with pressure. They were heavily criticised for their approach in their final group fixture. Gareth Southgate said after the loss against Belgium that he doesn’t know what it means going forward, but that’s a bit hard to believe.
Head-to-head, the two teams have played against each other five times. England have never lost, won three and drew two. They last met at a World Cup in 1998, England won 2-0.
It’d be a bit unfair to tag Colombia as the plucky underdogs, considering they made it to the quarter-finals in Brazil back in 2014, but they’re certainly the pluckiest out of the ragtag teams who have qualified. They showed immense character (and can say thanks for a bit of comical defending, again) to eke a win out of their final group game against Senegal, which is exactly what they needed in order to progress.
For the first time in the lives of many English fans, they experienced an entirely stress-free final group game. With qualification already in the bag, it was a chance to stretch and rest some legs as the long slog to the final begins. England have the firepower but the defence can be dubious. Not that it should matter too much given that the opposition from Group H has struggled to hit the net so far.
In a World Cup where almost everything has been unpredictable, pre-tournament favourites Argentina are under a Mont Blanc of pressure against a French side who have not yet hit their straps.
Head-to-head, the South Americans hold the aces with six wins, three draws and two losses. They’ve met twice in World Cups (1930 and 1978) with Argentina winning both matches.
Didier Deschamps’ team head into the fixture having played out the worst game of the group stages – a woeful 0-0 draw against Denmark. The coach doesn’t seem to know what his best line up is.
Under pressure and overshadowed by Diego Maradona’s strange behaviour and a reported, then denied, rift with their coach. Lionel Messi and Co have looked as disjointed as the headlines that follow them.
From a footballing perspective, Uruguay are intriguing. They are the only team yet to concede at the 2018 World Cup. But at the World Cup, it’s never just about what happens from a footballing perspective. This fixture is the perfect exhibition of pantomime villains. The two sides have only faced each other twice before, never at a World Cup and not at all since the 1970s. Portugal won one and drew the other.
Love him or hate him, Cristiano Ronaldo knows how the entertain. He certainly did in his side’s opening fixture, where he scored a hat-trick. But as the tournament has progressed, teams have shown that he can be contained. Iran kept him quiet and saved his penalty. Either Ronaldo will throw a massive tantrum and contribute nothing in this knockout clash, or he’ll be fired up with a point to prove. The latter is by far the more likely option.
Remember what we were saying about pantomime villains? Uruguay have looked the most organised of all teams at 2018 World Cup, even if they have resorted to some anti-football tactics at times. Luis Suarez has been somewhat subdued, but surely it’s only a matter of time before he finds his bite?
Written off as no-hopers before the tournament kicked off, Russia have been the surprise package so far. Spain, though, are on a different planet tactically and, after the hosts had a rude awakening in their final group game, La Roja could play cat and mouse all night.
Head-to-head, Russia have never beaten Spain. They’ve met on six occasions, never in a World Cup, with Spain winning four and drawing two.
Guus Hiddink, who as coach took Russia to the semi-finals of the 2008 Euros, paid a special visit to the team on Friday. But it’s going to take more than a speech from a former mentor to progress to the next stage of the World Cup. The hosts lack the tactical nous to contain Spain, but stranger things have happened at this tournament already.
Unsurprisingly, Spain dominate the passing statistics of the tournament having completed a whopping 2089 in the group stages. It’s the kind of thing that good counter-attacking sides can deal with if they stay patient, but Russia’s inexperience might prove costly.
Croatia were one of the most impressive sides in the group stage. It’s been two decades since the country’s golden generation, led by tournament top scorer Davor Suker, finished third at France 1998, but this crop are pretty decent, too. Denmark, meanwhile, have stretched their unbeaten run in all competitions to 18 and while they might have featured in one of the worst games of the tournament, they’ve promised a more entertaining approach as the competition heads to the business end.
Head-to-head, the two teams have played each other five times, but never at a World Cup. It’s odds even on their overall figures with both nations having won two, with the other fixture drawn.
Coach Zlatko Dalic praised Croatia’s defensive organisation after their 2-1 win over debutants Iceland and stated the team is completely different to the one that crashed out in the group stage at the 2014 tournament. Croatia, some might argue, have not been tested under pressure yet, though.
The Danes thrive when they are the underdogs and that’s very much the case heading into this fixture. The squad defended their snoozefest approach in the final group game against France and promised something different for the crunch match. The question is: where are their goals going to come from, especially if Croatia get an early lead?
This fixture is one of the most enticing in the last 16. Brazil threatened to find their samba in their last match against Serbia, but haven’t quite looked as enthralling as everyone expects them to be. That’s the weight of history for you. Mexico, meanwhile, have a point to prove after they beat Germany in their opening game before being hammered by Sweden in their last group fixture.
Head-to-head, the two sides know each other well. They’ve played 40 fixtures with Brazil winning 23, drawing seven and losing just ten. Their last World Cup meeting came at the 2014 edition, ending in a 0-0 draw.
Brazil haven’t set the tournament alight yet, which could mean that an earth-shattering performance is just around the corner. If you managed to look past all the falling-to-the-floor theatrics against Serbia, there were a few glimpses of showboating that hinted at what this team can do.
Mexico last beat Brazil in a friendly back in 2012, but their most famous victory against their South American opposition in recent memory came at the 2007 Copa America, when they won 2-0. Both teams have changed dramatically since then, though. The avalanche of emotion that came with the 3-0 loss against Sweden, where their passage to the knockouts was secured only thanks to Germany’s implosion, can’t weigh too much on their minds.
At first glance and considering how they have performed at the World Cup so far, this should be a straightforward win for Belgium. But don’t underestimate the madness of this tournament.
Head-to-head, the sides have met on five occasions. Belgium have won twice, drawn twice and lost once. That defeat came in a friendly last year and one of the draws came the last time the two teams met at a World Cup back in 2002. Shall we make a wild call for penalties?
The poor Belgians keep being lumped in the “dark horses” category but, as a team ranked third in the world, surely they are closer to favourites than in with an outside chance. They were one of the most impressive and consistent teams during the group stages and with some of their big name players having a nice little break before the round of 16, you’ve got to feel for the opposition.
Japan snuck through to the last 16, despite losing to Poland in their final group game. It was only because they had fewer yellow cards than Senegal that they were rewarded with a place in the knockouts. Still, it’s not how you get there, it’s how you go when you’re up against one of the most threatening teams of the tournament.
All photos by EPA. Form shows most recent first and tournaments include the 2018 World Cup. DM
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