The excitement of this year’s World Cup just keeps on building. With what has been statistically one of the greatest group stages to a World Cup in the history of the tournament, the round of 16 was even better. This is despite the fact that there were not any true upsets – the eight group winners were the eight teams to advance to the quarterfinals. However, five of the eight matches went into at least extra time, two of those going to penalties, and another match was decided in the final ten minutes of regular time.
The most thrilling matches of the round of 16 were also the two matches that went to penalty shootouts. The first, pitting hosts Brazil against a strong Chilean side, was a close match and once again demonstrated the weakness in the Brazilian side despite being on home soil. David Luiz put Brazil up early in the 18th minute, with a close range header after a curling corner from Neymar. Chile was not perturbed by the Brazilian goal and went back on the offensive. Alexis Sanchez equalized for Chile in the 32nd minute. The rest of regular time was a tense back and forth match, with both sides having several close chances on goal. Chile nearly made it through in extra time, as Mauricio Pinilla sent a long ball that sailed past Julio Cesar, but it struck the crossbar and went out. Julio Cesar became Brazil’s savior in the shootout, stopping two penalties and putting Brazil through to the quarterfinals. Chile has met Brazil in all of their four times making it past the group stage. Each time they lost; thrice including 2014 in the round of 16 and once in 1962 in the semifinal, but this is the closest the Chileans have been to overcoming the Brazilians in a World Cup.
The match between Costa Rica and Greece began with not much excitement, as both teams were dull during the first half. Costa Rica edged ahead with a goal from Bryan Ruiz early in the second half, but the game nearly turned sour for Los Ticos soon after. In the 66th minute, Costa Rica defender Oscar Duarte received his second yellow card for a rough challenge and was sent off, giving Greece a man advantage. Greece surged forward after this, but Costa Rica played a well organized offside trap to neutralize much of the Greek offense. Despite being a man up, Greece did not equalize until stoppage time with a goal from Sokrates. The match went into extra time, and Costa Rica valiantly held Greece to the draw for the extra half hour, sending the game to penalties. Costa Rica was 5 for 5 on their penalty kicks, while Greece only made 3 of theirs, so Costa Rica advanced to the quarterfinal for the first time in their history.
The two decisive matches of the round of 16 were Colombia defeating Uruguay and France defeating Nigeria. Both of those matches ended in 2-0 victories for the winning sides. For Uruguay, it simply looks like they are incapable of winning without Luis Suarez. Suarez was injured for the match where they lost to Costa Rica, and now he is suspended and they lose to Colombia. Meanwhile, 22 year old Colombian midfielder James Rodriguez continues to shine for his country scoring both goals against Uruguay. Rodriguez is now at the top of the scoresheet for this World cup with 5 goals so far in the tournament.
The rest of the games were all cases of near victories for the underdogs. Mexico pressured the Netherlands for much of the first half, and actually scored first in the 48th minute. But once they went up, Mexico began throwing balls away in clearances to the Dutch side of the field, allowing the Netherlands plenty of chances. Guillermo Ochoa played well as he had against Brazil, but the Dutch attack was too much. Sneijder netted the equalizer for the Netherlands in the 88th minute. Mexico tried to hold on for extra time, but gave the Dutch a penalty in stoppage time. Huntelaar converted the penalty, putting the Netherlands through. The other three matches between Germany and Algeria, Argentina and Switzerland, and Belgium and the United States all went into extra time. Germany defeated Algeria 2-1 with goals by Shurrle and Özil. Despite a valiant game from Algeria and a goal from Djabou in stoppage time of extra time, the Desert Foxes fell to the Germans. A goal by Angel di Maria in the 118th minute was all that separated Argentina and Switzerland, sending Argentina through despite a poor showing. Lastly, the quick pace of the Belgian team overpowered the United States to send Belgium to their second quarterfinals. A superb performance from US goalkeeper Tim Howard, who saved a record 15 shots during the match, finally broke in extra time to the relentless Belgians. De Bruyne and Lukaku put Belgium up 2-0 by halftime of extra time. However, Julian Green gave the United States a chance with a goal in the 107th minute. The USA picked up their offense in the final ten minutes of the match, but it was not enough to gain them the equalizer.
Now that the final eight teams have been decided, the quarterfinals are due to begin tomorrow. Here are my predictions of how the rest of the tournament will go from here.