Friday was an off day, did you catch up on your sleep? Maybe watch a match or two that you missed? Explained to your kid or your parents why there wasn’t soccer on TV today? Good, because we are back and the soccer gets even better from here on in.
Throughout the first round games only Uruguay, Croatia and Belgium finished with a perfect nine points. The biggest upset of the opening rounds was Germany not making it through the group, they had been in every World Cup quarterfinals since 1954 coming into the tournament.
With the group stage behind us, let’s take a second to look back at how the confederations fared. Teams to make it through the group to the knockout stages: UEFA 10, CONMEBOL 4, CONCACAF 1 (Mexico) and AFC 1 (Japan). It was a predictably good showing from the home confederation while Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Uruguay made it four out of five from South America to make it through (sorry Peru).
France vs. Argentina
Time: 7:00 AM
Location: Kazan Arena, Kazan
TV: FOX (English) and Telemundo (Spanish)
Announcing team: JP Dellacamera and Tony Meola (English)
Some people save the best for last, apparently not the FIFA World Cup planners in Russia because the first of eight Round of 16 matchups is quite possibly the best one.
Argentina barely squeezed into the knockout rounds needing an 86th minute Marcos Rojo goal to seal the 2-1 win over Nigeria that saw them advance. Lionel Messi opened the scoring in that game with what might have quite possibly been the single best show of touch over a two second sequence when he took down a sixty yard pass over the shoulder off the thigh to the foot in stride with the ball still in the air and finished with his off foot. Like every game Messi plays from here on out, this might be his last game for Argentina. Because of that, every match seems like a referendum on his legacy since Argentina has not won a major trophy with Messi despite finished as runners up in the last World Cup and two Copa America’s.
France could possibly be the most talented team in the tournament sporting a front six of Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, Kylian Mbappe, Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele and Olivier Giroud. But despite having six incredible talents they have not looked all that good together in Russia only scoring three goals combined in the group stage against Australia, Peru and Denmark.
France does have one statistical oddity on their side, they have not conceded a goal in their last seven World Cup matches against South American opposition. A 757 minute stretch that dates back to 1986 when Brazil’s Careca scored.
Uruguay vs. Portugal
Time: 11:00 AM
Location: Fisht Stadium, Sochi
TV: FOX (English) and Telemundo (Spanish)
Announcing team: John Strong and Stu Holden (English)
What a warmup match that FOX TV has conveniently scheduled as a lead in for the Seattle Sounders hosting the Portland Timbers (also on FOX) on Saturday. Get to your pregame Sounders spot early and strap in for what might be a great match as clearly the top half of the World Cup bracket featuring this morning has some great games.
Cristiano Ronaldo finished the group stage with four goals for Portugal including a transcendent opening match hat trick against Spain in that 3-3 draw. If the Ronaldo from the Spain game can show up for two weeks then this team could back up their suprise EURO 2016 title with another trophy. But Ronaldo from the Iran game missed a penalty kick en route to a 1-1 draw with Iran. A win against Iran would have won them the group, putting them in what looks to be the easier lower half of the bracket.
Uruguay benefited from being in what was the easiest group of the tournament that included host Russia (a seeded team by virtue of being the host), Saudi Arabia and an Egypt team without a fully functioning Mo Salah. But Uruguay took care of business with a pair of 1-0 wins over Egypt and Saudi Arabia before finally shifting out of first gear in the group finale and beating hosts Russia 3-0. Uruguay’s keeper might be the least tested netminder of the tournament and they are definitely fresh heading into the knockout rounds with a lot of rest by virtue of being in Group A and playing early matches each round along with the three relatively easy wins.