Round of Sixteen

There were no surprises in the round of sixteen of the World Cup.  How they got to the results was a surprise in a couple cases; how close the result was, in some cases, shocking.

Brazil beating Chile was certainly expected; when Neymar scored in the eighteenth minute, it seemed like a harbinger of more to come.

But when Chile stole the ball from the defense, fifteen minutes later, and promptly equalized, that was not at all expected.

The reffing seemed generally favorable to Brazil (as you'd expect); when Jo went flying into the goalie with his spikes extended, he got away with only a yellow.  But when Hulk used his mighty thews to knock down a ball in the offensive zone, preparatory to a scoring kick, I didn't expect the goal to be called back, let alone for him to get a yellow.

But basically all of the game, after Chile's equalizer, minus a couple brief forays upfield, was all Brazil hemming in their Spanish-speaking rivals.  But the Chileans held on, all the way to the end of regulation and stoppage time.  And then all through thirty minutes of extra time.

So it came down to penalty kicks.  Things really looked bad when Ceasar blocked the first two from Chile.  But the Chilean goalie stopped the second, and Hulk's shot in the fourth slot went over the net.  When Neymar nailed the fifth for Brazil, Chile needed to score to stay alive into sudden-death.

And the ensuing kick was beautiful, curling in to the inside of the right side post.  But it bounced out, curling around the far-size post and landing behind the goal line.  I suspect it was only millimeters from going in.  Such a disappointing finish for a really good game.

Uruguay's game against Colombia (the only one of the round I probably would have gotten wrong, if I'd done a bracket as planned) was a game of attractive, attacking soccer, with both teams attempting to break through via build-up.  But almost all of the shots were very long ones, from outside the box.

One that was a little shorter came from James Rodriguez of Colombia in the 28th minute.  He fired it off his right foot, on the half volley and right into the top of the net.  And it was shot so hard that the goalie got his hand on, but it was barely even deflected, let alone stopped.

The only other goal of the game also came from Rodriguez, and it was also pretty, but because of the passing that led to it, not the shot itself.  It was first crossed too high across the box, then crossed back to the far post, where it was headed into the middle, where Rodriguez was waiting.

Uruguay had a few chances, but they were largely outplayed.  And Rodriguez was electric.

The Netherlands v Mexico was one of the games I was most looking forward to, in the round.  And it was a build-up vs counterattack game, with the Dutch mostly sitting back.  And getting pretty seriously outplayed; their counterattacks were basically nonexistent in the first half.  I think RvP only touched the ball on one possession (for two touches) in the entire half.

Meanwhile, the Mexicans had a number of attacks that went all the way down to the endline but only managed a few shots off of them.

Offensively, the Dutch were mostly just playing back and forth, then trying to go over the top to connect with the offense.  Their few forays downfield were down the sides, with no results.

Holland's only real chance in the first half was when Robben was taken down in stoppage time in the box, but no call resulted.

In the second half, Mexico finally broke through when Dos Santos pulled the ball down at the top of the box, in the middle, drifted to the side a little, and placed an innocent-looking shot into the bottom corner of the net.

In the seventy-fifth minute, there was an official water break, and the Dutch coach showed why he was selected.  They abandoned their few attempts to build up, and went purely to the long ball.

That paid off in the 88th, when a cross in was headed out by a defender on the goal line, and the rebound went right to Sneijder, who put it into the left side of the net.  And then it paid off again in stoppage time, when Robben got the ball in the box, and took a complete dive to get the penalty call.

Huntelaar took the shot from the spot (van Persie had already subbed out), and ended the game in a bit of an anticlimax.

It really looked like Mexico was going to pull off the upset, and that was a really terrible way for it to end.  Very disappointing.

When Costa Rica and Greece faced off, I was feeling a little bit guilty.  The Greeks had played some impressive (for almost completely lacking offense) soccer to get to that point, and I'd been cheering against the all the way.  But Costa Rica had gotten there with some very impressive wins.

Ruiz scored first, for the Costa Ricans, with a shot from the top of the box that went into the side of the net.  It was uncharacteristically terrible defense from the Greeks, who neglected to cover him.

But things looked really bad for the Western Hemisphere when Duarte was sent off with his second yellow card in the sixty-sixth minute.

From there, it was just waves of Greek attacks, crashing against the buttresses of the Puerto Rican defense.  Every so often, one of the clearances would get to Campbell, and he'd attempt to make something out of it.

But it was a lot of defense for the Pura Vidans, and just as the commentator was saying how great they'd been, in stoppage time, the Greeks pulled down a ball bouncing around the attacking box, and Papastathopoulos put it past the goaltender.

That sent the game into extra time, with Puerto Rico still defending, down a man.  They even managed a couple of close chances while defending, but the game went into penalty kicks.  And my recording cut out a couple of minutes before that, so I didn't see Puerto Rico's 5-3 win there.

Not a good day for the Mediterranean.

The next day, things went a little better for Europe.  I don't have any notes on the game, as I watched most of it in a restaurant.  France beat Nigeria 2-0, but the game was much closer than that score indicates.  It took France close to 80 minutes to score, and they allowed many, many chances the other way during that time.  In fact, it looked like Nigeria scored, early on, but the offside flag was up (though on replay it looked like it should have counted).

All in all, France was the better team, and did deserve to win, but with a little bit of luck, Nigeria could have won.  And the game itself was one of the better-played ones of the tournament, with less diving, and both teams attacking constantly.  I would not have been even a little disappointed for it to go to extra time.

The late game, that day, had Germany versus Algeria, and the Algerian's definitely learned from the Americans game, and improved on the strategy.  Germany's attack was very much side-to-side, while Algeria was straight-forward, going over the top to turn it into a footrace with the German defenders.

Algeria never scored that way, but they forced Neuer to come a long way out of his net to prevent some of those passes from connecting.  Algeria definitely had, by far, the better of the play through the first half.

I'm not sure what the Germans changed at the half, but they did much better in the second half.  In the first ten minutes of the second half, they forced several good saves out of the goaltender; I don't think they managed to do that once in the first half.

But Algeria kept coming at them, and kept getting good chances.  Neuer was up to the challenge, mostly because he was so adept at reading the play, not because he was making such great saves.

Mueller probably would have scored in the 81st, if he'd been comfortable taking a shot with his left foot.  But his great job bringing a long pass under control only left him space on his left side, and he still tried to shoot with his right; it was not close.

But neither team was able to capitalize in the first ninety, so it went into extra time again.  Scoreless, instead of tied at one.

But it didn't stay scoreless long; the Algerians had already been looking tired, and allowed a goal less than two minutes in.  Mueller made a nice run down the left side, and crossed in to Schuerrle just past the near post.  Schuerrle slightly overran the ball, but managed to deflect it just enough with his trailing foot to send it in.

Algeria got a few more chances in extra time, but were unable to capitalize.  And Germany got an insurance goal in the final minute, as Oezil and Schuerrle combined to pass back and forth several times, shedding defenders, before Oezil put the ball in.  And my recording stopped just after the replay of that goal, so I missed Algeria scoring one to make it closer.

The final day had Argentina attacking Switzerland.  Unfortunately, I missed the first eight minutes, but what I saw was Argentina attacking hard, both with and without the ball.  Their aggressive defense resulted in Switzerland not holding on to the ball, and put them in good position on counterattacks.

Because of that, it took twenty-seven minutes for the Swiss to get their first chance (and only good one of the first half).  Meanwhile, the Argentines had a number of chances, twice forcing the Swiss keeper to come out to stop crosses into the box.

In the second half, chances were a bit more even (and Argentine defense was a bit more passive).  Di Maria did have one interesting run down the right hand side, but got to the end line and was unable to cross with his right.  So he tried crossing his legs to center with his left; it didn't work, but was an interesting attempt.

Shaqiri was certainly doing everything in his power to push the Swiss to the next round, but despite his best efforts, I think Benaglio felt like he was in a shooting gallery.  Thankfully for him, the Argentines put a lot of shots over or wide of the net.

So regulation ended scoreless again, and both teams looked really tired going into extra time.  In particular, there were a lot of wild clearances from the defenses, with fewer passes to the midfield.

And all of that resulted in getting to the 118th minute without a goal.  Then Messi made a run down the center, avoiding defenders, and passing outside from just above the box.  The entire defense had collapsed on him, leaving di Maria with an open shot to the far side of the net, and he didn't miss.

The Swiss got very close three times in the remaining couple of minutes (Benaglio was even in the attacking box a couple of times, and looked useful there.  And not just on their corner kick), but were unable to get closer than hitting the post from an in-close header (which bounced right back to the shooter, off his leg, and out of bounds).  I really felt bad for the Swiss, coming so close.

The final game did not go so well for the Americans, as they faced off against Belgium.  And basically, Belgium just ran over, around, and through them.  In the first half, the Flemish were one of eighteen on crossing attempts.  Good center defense to stop so many attempts; terrible outside defense to allow so many.

Howard certainly felt like he was facing a firing squad; he turned in the best goaltending performance of the tournament with sixteen saves.  He got them all the way to extra time (and almost to winning, but Wondolowski was unable to put a ball headed to him in the last minute or two of regulation into the net with the goalie out of position.  He kicked it over on the half volley from the inner box), but the Belgians kept attacking.

Origi was a beast during regulation, getting his first shot just forty seconds in and being a large part of the constant attack.  He shot several of those crosses, and headed a couple more towards net.  And had a couple other shots as well.

Fellaini was largely contained, due to Beckerman being benched and Cameron covering him.  That helped a lot with breaking up those crosses, but it definitely hurt the American attack, as his passes were much less reliable.

But despite his yeomanlike work in the center, the US was just getting used on the outside.  And that stayed the case all game.

But, as mentioned, the US managed to survive the barrage into extra time, but it took only two minutes for the Belgians to finally score.  Lukaku, who came in for Origi at the beginning of extra time, charged down the right and crossed in to de Bruyne.  He put several moves on the US defender, and finally got a clear shot from inside the box.  Howard had his first moment of weakness, and was off-balance when the shot finally came.

It took another twelve minutes, and a couple more saves for Howard, before the Dutch struck again.  And again, it was Lukaku leading the charge, this time down the left.  And this time he just took it himself to very close, and was able to beat Howard to the near post.

I actually turned the game off at that point (I'd promised to take my daughter bike riding), so I missed Green's gorgeous goal a couple minutes later (at a sprint, on a full volley, he kicked a ball coming over his shoulder from behind, into the net.  Give him ten more chances at that shot, and I'd be impressed if he could do it twice).  A friend texted me, though, so I watched the last few minutes (we'd gotten delayed from the bike ride).  But nothing more came of the last few minutes.

It was a disappointing end, but by no means was the loss undeserved (or unpredictable).  Belgium will be a handful for Argentina.  Perhaps it's just that the US isn't as good as their survival of the Group of Death would seem to indicate, but Belgium looked much better than they had in any of their earlier games (and they were one of two undefeated teams in the group stage.  Part of that might have been starting Origi instead of having him on the bench).

Anyway, France plays Germany tomorrow in the first quarterfinal.  Brazil will play Colombia later.  Saturday will start with Argentina facing Belgium, followed by the Dutch facing Costa Rica.  And as much as I've enjoyed watching Costa Rica, their magic runs out there.

I would pick Germany over France, but France has looked very good in this tournament.  I haven't really noticed how much speed France has up top, but if they have that, they can certainly win.

Brazil and Colombia will be an interesting match.  Rodriguez has been a match for Neymar so far, but the hosts have a much better supporting cast.  Like Costa Rica, I can see this one being a blowout.

I think Argentina and Belgium will be the most fun game to watch.  Neither team is particularly prone to diving, and both will be attacking with speed.  I'm looking forward to it.  I think the South Americans will win, but I wouldn't be surprised if it went 3-2 or 4-3.

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