It’s win or go home from here on out at the FIFA World Cup. We’ve reached the business end of the tournament as the field has been whittled down to 16 hopeful nations. The single-elimination knockout rounds kick off tomorrow, and there’s no longer any room for error.
The Round of 16 begins at 10 a.m. on FOX with France taking on Argentina, who have a new lease on life thanks to Marcos Rojo’s 86th minute winner in their final group stage game against Nigeria. They need to improve on their performances so far if they are to get past the French. Les Bleus have a myriad of world-class players on their roster, including midfielder Paul Pogba and forward Antoine Griezmann.
The overall bracket looks unbalanced on paper, with one side featuring most of the big names. The winner of the first match will face the winner of Uruguay and Portugal, meaning superstars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo could meet in the quarterfinals if Argentina and Portugal both progress. The bottom half of the left side of the bracket isn’t any easier, with Brazil, Mexico, Belgium and Japan forming a dangerous quartet.
The right half of the bracket appears considerably more friendly. Spain are the clear favorites to advance out of their section, with a quarterfinal matchup against Croatia or Denmark awaiting if they defeat Russia. Meanwhile, England have a realistic chance of making a deep run. They’ll play Colombia first, and should they win they would face either Sweden or Switzerland.
There are a lot of enticing games in the Round of 16, but Brazil and Mexico will be the most fun to watch. Knockout games are often tense affairs where both managers set up defensively for fear of conceding, but neither of those teams has shown an affinity for playing that way. It should be an open game and Mexico have a real chance at an upset.
The sleepers for a semifinal appearance are Croatia and Sweden, who both exceeded expectations with remarkable performances in the group stage. Croatia’s roster is laden with talent from Europe’s elite leagues, and midfielder Luka Modric has been the best player no one is talking about at the tournament so far. The Real Madrid maestro is the key to Croatia’s success, at times controlling the flow of an entire game with his passing and calm demeanor on the ball. They’re good enough to play with anyone and could give Spain a scare should they meet in the quarterfinals.
England’s Harry Kane currently leads the race for the Golden Boot (the tournament’s leading scorer) with five goals, but Ronaldo and Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku are hot on his heels with four each.
The World Cup Round of 16 starts tomorrow and wraps up on Tuesday, at which point only eight nations will remain. You can watch every match live on FOX43 and FS1.