Before we get going, you need to study the bracket
. As I wrote with Brazil in one of the rankings, in modern World Cups, the winners have usually only had to defeat two major powers in order to take the Cup. Barring major upsets, Brazil and the Netherlands have that, with non-powers in their first match, then each other, then a semifinal with the Uruguay/Ghana/Korea/USA quadrant. England and Germany, on the other hand, are almost certain to have to play a major power in each remaining round, which will be extremely difficult.
Speaking of the Uruguay/Ghana/Korea/USA quadrant, one of those teams is guaranteed a berth in the semifinals, which means that unlike in 2006, this World Cup will revert to form and have a surprise team in the semis (Colombia 1990, Sweden/Bulgaria 1994, Croatia 1998, Turkey/Korea 2002). I'd say Uruguay is the favorite of the group, but not by very much - the USA are entirely plausible.
For this ranking, since we're losing half the teams, I went back and checked out my predictions. I ended up doing quite well. Italy and France were massive disappointments, but they were always the most likely flameouts. I did underestimate Japan and Slovakia, but I doubt I'm alone there. I put my rankings so far in the list so you can decide if you agree or not - the second number is the most relevant, as it's the last pre-tournament prediction. Round of 16 Previews
(ranked in order of interest) England v. Germany
- If it were simply soccer history, this would be a titanic match. England beat Germany in the 1966 final for their only World Cup. More recently, the Germans knocked the English out of Euro 96 on English soil. England returned the favor in Euro 2000 and again in World Cup qualifying the next year, whipping the Germans 5-1 in Munich. In English football culture, Germany is The Enemy. Darth Vader. And that's not even getting into the World Wars between these two.... The soccer should be good. The intensity will be incredible. Prediction
: England 2-1. The Germans will miss Schweinsteiger too much. Argentina v. Mexico
- As I mentioned last week, this is a rematch of one of the best matches of World Cup 2006. These are two similar sides, in that they both have a lot of talent, especially on attack, but big questions about chemistry and defense. Argentina are the favorites, but it would be no surprise if Mexico pulled it off. Prediction
: Argentina 2-0. Too much quality. Spain v. Portugal
- The Iberian rivals may have a match to compete with England-Germany for emotion, but Portugal's stalling, fouling, diving, and whining may break up the rhythm. I expect a repeat of the "Battle of Nuremburg
." I'd love to be wrong, but Portugal has yet to convince me they can play with anything but cynicism and arrogance. Prediction
: Spain 2-1. My head says Portugal on penalties, but I'm listening to my heart. Brazil v. Chile
- Chile won a lot of fans with their attractive, attacking football, but didn't win enough games, and now take on their South American rivals. Brazil have a side designed to crush attacking opponents. Brazil won both qualifying matches with ease, 3-0 and 4-2. If Chile pulled it off, it would be a major upset. Prediction
: Brazil 3-0. If I'm wrong, this could be a classic. I hope I'm wrong. USA v Ghana
- The Americans have demonstrated that a bit of flair and a lot of spirit can make for really exciting soccer matches. Ghana, meanwhile, have been involved in a grand total of four goals in three games - 1-0, 1-1, and 0-1. The fans will be behind Ghana, the last African team in the tournament. This will be a tough, physical, low-scoring match. Prediction
: 1-1, Ghana on penalties. It'll really be a sign that soccer has made it in America when we lose on penalties in the World Cup. Uruguay v. Korea
- Two hard-working, well-organized sides with a bit of extra skill and flair. Uruguay has the stars up front, and that may be the difference. Prediction
: Uruguay 1-0. Forlan with a bit of genius, and the defense holds on. Paraguay v. Japan
- One of the reasons I love the World Cup? Pairings like this. The Japanese have been the big surprise of the tournament, and their two beautiful free kick goals against Denmark, and Keisuke Honda the possible breakout star. Paraguay are solid, yes, but haven't really been threatened. Prediction:
Japan 2-0. The upset for the upstarts! Netherlands v Slovakia
: I haven't been impressed by Slovakia, and the Netherlands are just getting going. This would be a massive upset if Slovakia won, and a surprise if they keep it close. Stranger things have happened at the World Cup, but not many - especially if Arjen Robben is getting close to full strength. Prediction
: Netherlands 2-0. A scoreline which flatters the Slovaks.