Friday, June 29, 2018
My World Cup 2018 Knockout Bracket Predictions
We waited four years for sport’s greatest tournament, and now we’ve reached the dramatic knockout round. (And somehow or another, this is my first soccer blog post ever!)
Before I lay down my picks for the rest of the tournament—which I thought would be fun—it’s worthwhile to note who I am inclined to root for since that can reveal a bias in my picks. Now that my beloved Perú is eliminated (boohoohoohoo), this is a breakdown of who I’ll be cheering going forward, akin to what my Peruvian literary nemesis, Daniel Alarcón, put down on his Twitter:
1. México (due to my place of birth, my undying love of mole, and the compact and obligations of marriage)
2. Colombia & Uruguay (yes, it’s a tie)
3. Brazil (teams that play beautifully should be rewarded, even if they’ve won the Cup five fucking times)
4. Any team that has never won the World Cup
5. Spain (they won the Cup in 2010; if they hadn’t, I would have them higher)
6. Other European teams that have won the Cup (i.e. France and England)
7. Any team other than Argentina (sorry Pulguita; nothing against you)
Even though I’m just some dude who occasionally wears a Peruvian soccer jersey, here are my picks:
Uruguay vs. Portugal
I haven’t seen Uruguay play a single game, but I know their defense is quite sturdy. They didn’t have any world beaters to contend with in Group A, but they haven’t conceded a goal yet. I missed Portugal’s epic opening game against Spain, but I know that’s a cohesive, well-coached team with one supernova of a player. I’ll take the team with the better defense y Luis “El Pistolero” Suárez (which is a kinder nickname than “Horsejaw” or “The Biter”).
France vs. Argentina
There’s not much to say here. Argentina’s been a pitiful, disjointed team with a crap defense who somehow or another advanced out of their group. After watching Les Bleus play against Perú, it’s clear to me that they have top-tier talent on offense, a respectable defense, but overall they’ve been underwhelming thus far. I don’t think they’re a championship-level team, but I think they’ll do enough to win this game.
Brazil vs. México
I picked Brazil to win the tournament before it began. (This article from The Ringer makes a strong case for why they should be the favorites.) In World Cup qualifying, they finished an impressive 10 points ahead of any other team in South America, which always has its share of potent teams. They’re back to playing a beautiful style of soccer again unlike that abomination of a team in 2014, and their defense has been absurd. In twenty-four games and counting under the guidance of Tite, they have not conceded more than one goal in a game.
Hasta la vista, México.
Belgium vs. Japan
Japan is the first World Cup team to advance to the knockout round due to the yellow-card tie break. That’s a pretty weak-ass way to qualify for the big dance, but they’re not going to last long. Thus far, Belgium has arguably been the best team in the tournament; they are a World-Cup-leading +7 in goal differential. By now, I think they’re well past being a dark horse to win it all.
Spain vs. Russia
Spain hasn’t impressed me, but they still have way too much talent to lose this game. If their defense can shore up, everybody better watch out for them.
Croatia vs. Denmark
With a +6 goal differential, Croatia has been one of the other most impressive squads in the World Cup. Alexi Lalas—who knows a lot more about soccer than me!—says they probably have the best midfield in the world with Real Madrid’s Luka Modrić and Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitić. They look like a great solid all-around team. Conversely, Denmark trudged into the round of 16. They didn’t impress me at all in group play.
Sweden vs. Switzerland
Switzerland seems like a very average, lackluster team. Sweden impressed me with their performance in the group stage; they annihilated a capable Mexican squad and should have beaten Germany. Emerging from the 2018 Group of Death is no small feat, and beating Italy in a playoff to qualify for the World Cup should have been the first clear sign that this team should not be discounted.
Colombia vs. England
If I had to bet, I think this game might be the best one in the round of 16. After their improbable opening-game loss to Japan, Colombia kept their cool, rebounded, and won their group. Falcao, Quintero, the sublime James (author of two of the top-10 goals in the 2014 World Cup), and Cuadrado can be a beastly attack. The hilarious Roger Bennett from the Men in Blazers podcast has been talking up Harry Kane and this youthful British team.
I’m not missing this game.
Uruguay vs. France
I want to pick Uruguay because I happen to have an affectionate spot in my heart for the people of that nation. (Generally, they strike me as such a down-to-earth, practical, and friendly country.) But somehow or another, I think talent will ultimately dictate the outcome of this match.
Brazil vs. Belgium
Goddamn, I am not missing this game either. With all due respect to the other teams remaining in this tournament, I think this match might pit the two strongest teams left.
Spain vs. Croatia
This should be a damn fine game too. (If it happens!) Based purely on what I’ve seen thus far, I’m picking Croatia because they have easily been the steadier of these two teams.
Sweden vs. Colombia
My South American bias is probably coming through on this one.
Brazil vs. France
Croatia vs. Colombia
Brazil vs. Croatia
Yeah, that’s right, I’m picking Croatia to go all the way to the Final. I don’t quite believe it myself, but that side of the knockout bracket appears to be an easier path to the Final, like the playoff bracket for the NBA’s Eastern Conference. I know most folks will be picking a Brazil vs. Spain final, but Spain has just shown too many weaknesses for me to overlook.
But we shall see!