Denton, Texas-With 48 games gone and 16 more to go, we get into the harsh reality of the World Cup, the knockout stages. 16 teams will now fight it out for the most coveted piece of silverware football has to offer with 16 teams already sent home to watch for the comfort of their couches wishing they were under the lights of the most important sporting event of the year.
One team that is boarding the plane home are reigning champions Germany, their 2-0 loss to South Korea saw them finish bottom of Group F with only 3 points out of a possible 9 and a negative 2 goal difference.
The usually organized and clinical Germany squad were anything but that, finishing only 2 of their 21 shots on target and conceding their final goal of the tournament when former Ballon d’Or runner-up Manuel Neuer was caught in the other half of the pitch, allowing an open goal for Tottenham Hotspur striker Son Heung-min and the embarrassment of sending the reigning world champions tumbling out at the group stage.
So with the favorites out of the tournament who do I expect to go on and win the biggest prize in world football? Well if you go by the oddsmakers you would expect Brazil to come out as 6 time world champions with them currently priced at 7/2 by Irish betting company adds Power, their ferocious attack and solid backline has already displayed skill that no other country can come close with, scoring 5 goals and conceding only 1 on their way to topping Group E on 7 points.
The country and world superstar Neymar has not go onto a flying start, often being criticised for his diving and easy to push around sense, he has only scored 1 goal so far with that goal coming in the 97th minute of a game against Costa Rica who they failed to score against until the 91st minute through a Philippe Coutinho strike. Coutinho has found himself as Brazil’s biggest asset during this World Cup with 2goals already to his name and a nation on his back.
What other teams should you be looking out for? Well, there is a few teams that have a chance of making a deep run into the later stages of the competition,
Spain has been an enjoyable and exciting team to watch through the tournament even with late drama as former manager Julen Lopetegui got fired 2 days before the tournament began after having secret talks and agreeing to become manager of football’s most successful club side Real
Madrid. He has replaced with Spain legend Fernando Hierro who has guided Spain to top group B above close rivals and reigning European champions Portugal. Both teams played out an entertaining 3-3 draw with Portugal captain and current Ballon d’Or holder Cristiano Ronaldo scoring all 3 of his countries goals, they will have to rely on his spectacular form to carry them through this tournament but I wouldn’t be put off by them being the dark horses of this tournament.
Speaking of dark horses we should look at the two teams that qualified out of group A. Top spot went to 2-time winners Uruguay, their formidable defense and ruthless attacking presence has seen them score a total of 5 goals and conceding none. If you were to ask most people about Uruguay before the tournament began they would compliment the attack the talent of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez but their defense has been extraordinary. Not
conceding a goal in 270 minutes of football in an achievement in this World Cup and if they defend the way they currently do they could very well play a boring, defensive game of football all the way to the final. The second place team in this group was Russia.
As the hosts and complete underdogs of this tournament, Russia has shown how much home advantage means but picking up wins against both Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the latter being a 5-0thrashing in the opening game of the tournament.
A couple of other standout teams for the tournament would be France, Croatia, England, and Belgium.
The French were one of the favorites coming into the tournament but with arguments and disagreements breaking out between the camp, the way they play has been messy, to say the least. Although they have one of the best squads in terms of depth they are extremely attacking with Didier Deschamps reluctant on changing from the target man in the center of attack, this is stopping both Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappé being as creative as they are for their club sides.
Croatia has come through this tournament looking much better than anyone would expect. their squad is built with a passing structure centered around their two world-class talents, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic playing for Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively.
These clubs have been convincing and dominant over the 3 games they have played, even recording a 3-0 win over 2014 finalists Argentina who themselves have floundered, leaving Lionel Messi’s last chance at World Cup glory right at the bottom of the sea, not looking as if it can be salvaged.
England and Belgium are the final two teams that are most likely to make a splash at this World Cup, they played out a 1-0 win to Belgium in their game leaving Belgium finishing top of group G and England coming up in second place.
England has started off well during this World Cup and have the entire nation and its media behind them, current top goal scorer Harry Kane has been in sublime form scoring 5 so far adding these goals to a tally of 37 he
has scored for Tottenham Hotspur this season. They have gained confidence through their2-1 win over Tunisia and their 6-1 thrashing of Panama, the highest scoring game of this tournament so far.
Belgium has been marked as the dark horses for both the 2014 WorldCup and the 2016 European Championships and now are being asked to show what they are made of this year, comfortable wins over both Panama and Tunisia have shown the strength of this Belgium squad with Manchester United forward Romelu Lukaku scoring 4 so far. The golden generation of Belgium has to show up now or never and have the perfect tools to succeed but will need to employ them to all work together.
So my prediction, although I have praised many teams throughout I am going to say that Brazil will win this World Cup, Coming off the disappointment of 2014 when they hosted in their home country Just to be humiliated by Germany 7-1 in the semi-final, they will look to enact revenge and take this World Cup by sheer dominance.