The fun and games of the World Cup are officially over. That was a really fun group stage by the way. Only one 0-0 draw is way below what the average should have worked out to through 48 games.
But that's what the group stages are supposed to be. Teams who haven't been to the World Cup in a decade or more bring their awesome fans (LOOKIN' AT YOU SENEGAL) and give it their best damn shot. Underdogs betray their titles and kick soccer superpowers out of the tournament for the first time since World War II. These games are all part of the World Cup story--as are the extracurriculars, like Diego Maradona showing us the many evolutions of a cocaine-type Pokemon.
But now begins the serious business of cutting 16 teams to one. Everybody's in it with a shot, but the odds favor some teams more than others.
Do not bet on...
Japan: I really can't see Japan getting past their first-round game against Belgium. It's no small achievement to make it out of a group with Colombia, Poland and Senegal. I hope y'all are good with that being your accomplishment this tournament, Japan.
Russia: Same deal, here. Russia's against a far superior opponent in Spain in the first round. Denis Cheryshev is in the running for the Golden Boot award for most goals in the tournament with three, but it'll probably stay at three unless the Russians pull off an enormous upset.
Denmark: The Danes are running up against a great Croatian team that features an absolutely filthy midfield while also showing a variety of formations in their first three games. Anything Denmark does will go through Christian Eriksen. But....yikes, man.
Switzerland and Sweden: One of these two teams has to make it past the first knockout round because they play each other in the first knockout round. Then they meet up against the winner of Colombia vs. England and I don't think Sweden or Switzerland is going to do that in this World Cup.
It's a long shot to bet on...
Mexico: If Mexico win this World Cup, they'd deserve it. They'd have to start by taking out Brazil, one of the favorites to win the entire tournament. Yikes. Then they'd get the winner of Belgium vs. Japan, which will probably be a very good Belgium team. Again, yikes. Then, they'd get Portugal, Uruguay, Argentina or France. Pick your poison! I know soccer is a team sport but Mexico would have to beat Neymar, then Eden Hazard, then one from Ronaldo/Suarez/Messi/Griezmann. This bracket is lopsided. And Mexico is in the harder half of it.
Colombia: Colombia topped a tricky group. What's more impressive is they did it while not leaning too heavily on James Rodriguez. They have great defenders in Davinson Sanchez and Yerry Mina to complement Radamel Falcao and Juan Cuadrado in attack.
Their first game against England is not particularly easy but they'd meet the winner of Switzerland vs. Sweden in the quarterfinals, which would be winnable. I don't think it'll happen, but it's not impossible.
Uruguay: Uruguay are also in the hard half of the bracket and get Ronaldo's Portugal first. Not impossible, but not likely. A front two of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez can get you a lot of places in soccer tournaments but that midfield is begging to be sliced up and Ronaldo is just the dude to do that. Uruguay won all three of their group games and that's probably it for them.
You can throw a bet on...
Argentina: The only reason this team is this high is because of Lionel Messi. Only reason. The team looks bad, Gonzalo Higuain has again proven himself to be bad at taking golden opportunities to score and they only squeaked through the group stage. Remember when they drew with Iceland? Not the kind of thing you're looking for in a World Cup contender. This team has been playing in the wrong formation (too defensive) while leaving Sergio Aguero on the bench. I don't understand. Again, anything can happen if Messi snaps.
Portugal: The other god-king of soccer can also drag his nation to glory. Fresh off a three-peat in the Champions League, Ronaldo really might snap and do it. They're in the harder half of the group and Ronaldo's run could go like this: Suarez and Cavani in the first round, Messi or Griezmann in the quarterfinals, then probably Neymar or Hazard in the semis? Tough run.
Ronaldo has it in him, but can the rest of the squad keep up with CR7? GOAT status is on the line, and the ultimate reality show in Russia could feature Portugal on the center stage.
Croatia: Always fresh jerseys on Croatia. Always. This year, they have a team to match it. Midfield with Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic and Ivan Rakitic? Buddy. Sign me up. Perhaps an underrated player on this team is Dejan Lovren. If you've watched any of his games before the last few months, you saw a physically talented but incredibly mistake-prone defender. That element of Lovren's game is gone (for now) and we could really see a great spine of this team carry Croatia to the final if they can top likely opponents Spain in the quarterfinals.
England: Buddy, I'm doing it. I'm talking myself into England being able to win the whole thing. Their first team is really strong, with Harry Kane leading the line and always looking likely to score. They're also on the easier half of the bracket with nobody likely to slow them down too much until the semifinals, where they could meet Spain or Croatia. England can beat Spain or Croatia. On their best day, could they beat a Brazil, Belgium or France? TBD.
France: This nation should be at the top of it all. Look at the talent on this roster. There is no team whose combined individual greatness comes even close to France. it's just the manager. Didier Deschamps has no clue how to line this team up. He's getting close to the right formations but the players are all in the wrong spots. I think that France's players can cope off of skill alone until the semifinals where they face Brazil. If the manager can summon up some kinda brilliance for that game, that's the biggest challenge France will face.
Bet a small fortune on...
Spain: Four years removed from one of the most disappointing exits in World Cup history, the soccer gods have smiled down upon Spain. They have wound up in a much easier half of the World Cup bracket than all of their challengers, so Spain should be able to make it into the semifinals if they're able to see off likely foes Croatia in the quarterfinals. Then, they get whoever survives the bloodbath in the hard half of the bracket. This lines up brilliantly for Spain. They definitely have the talent and they were fortunate. Keep Sergio Ramos from doing something stupid and who knows what happens.
Belgium: This was my pick going into the World Cup. I love this Belgium team because they have so many tall defenders who play with so much class. Vertongen, Alderweireld, Meunier, Vermaelen, Kompany. I like their attack and their midfield is decent too but the defense is so good here. Like France, Belgium have managerial talent problems but are also talented enough to overcome it. If I were at a sportsbook or a casino forum, I'd put down some dollars on some mussels from Brussels.
Brazil: They're probably the favorites by the books to go win it all. Phillipe Coutinho is as good an attacking midfielder as there is in the tournament. Neymar is embracing the dark arts to win advantages and to win however they need to. But, they still look vulnerable. Swap out Gabriel Jesus and let Roberto Firmino go and that's a World Cup in the bag.
"Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very
disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more
important than that."
Follow me on Twitter @cheedelt for more me.