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Sunday, April 02, 2023

The Round of 16 (or Sweet 16 as I prefer to call it) is upon us!  Out of the sixteen teams who have made it this far, I correctly picked 10 of them.  Here are all the upcoming matches between the advancing teams:

Brazil vs. Chile (winner: Brazil)

Columbia vs. Uruguay (winner: Columbia)

France vs. Nigeria (winner: France)

Germany vs. Algeria (winner: Germany)

Netherlands vs. Mexico (winner: Netherlands)

Costa Rica vs. Greece (winner: Costa Rica)

Argentina vs. Switzerland (winner: Argentina)

Belgium vs. USA (winner: Belgium)

As you can see, my predicted champion (Italy) is not among these sixteen teams.  I was a little surprised to see the Italians exit so soon, but I’ve learned that nothing is guaranteed in the world of sports.

Just look at the United States and Costa Rica!  They were both given no chance at all in their respective “Groups of Death.” I know for a fact that I doubted them and I will own up to that and say I was dead wrong. Costa Rica shocked everyone by winning their group and the United States hung on by their fingertips to advance.  

Out of these two underdogs, I would have to say I have the most confidence in Costa Rica going forward. They defeated both Uruguay and Italy to dominate group play and their Sweet 16 meeting with Greece will be the first meeting between both teams in international play.  

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The United States, on the other hand, chose the more difficult path to the Sweet 16. After beating Ghana, they just needed to beat Portugal to secure a spot in the Sweet 16. They were winning 2-1 with 20 seconds left in extra time until Portugal tied it up on literally the last play of the game.  It was the most heartbreaking loss I had seen since watching the Gator basketball team lose in the Final Four all the way back in April. 

Now, with the pressure on, the United States needed to show up against a mighty German team. The United States lost 0-1 but after Portugal beat Ghana 2-1, they would advance out of Group G based on goal differential.  The United States now has a date with Belgium in the Sweet 16. Belgium went undefeated in Group H and is 4-1 all-time against the United States.  

The United States looked a little sluggish against Germany and that late game collapse against Portugal might still be in the deep recesses of the players’ minds. They will need to get it together and improve the quality of their play if they hope to win the first ever World Cup in American soccer history.

Their best finish up to this point occurred in the inaugural FIFA World Cup in 1930 when they finished in third place. It is also worth noting that this is the first time the USA has advanced to the Sweet 16 in back-to-back World Cups.

Among other World Cup storylines is the Luis Suárez incident. In Uruguay’s final group stage match against Italy, Suárez bit Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder.  This was the third biting incident of his career and it prompted FIFA to ban him for nine international matches. This means Suárez, who is Uruguay’s top scorer, will miss the rest of the World Cup. His absence severely hurts Uruguay’s chances of winning the tournament and the Uruguayans are very disappointed with FIFA’s ruling.

Here are some other things to look out for as the World Cup progresses:

  • Germany’s Miroslav Klose needs just one more goal to become the all-time World Cup scorer in German history.  He will also be tied with Brazilian legend Ronaldo for most World Cup goals with 15.
  • USA’s Jozy Altidore has not played since injuring his hamstring in the first half of the Ghana game and Jermaine Jones broke his nose in the Germany game.  It will be interesting to see if they are both healthy enough to play against Belgium on Tuesday, July 1. 
  • Lionel Messi and Argentina have been knocked out of the previous two World Cups by Germany.  With the Germans on the other side of the knockout stages this year, Argentina might be able to get to their first World Cup Final since 1990 (which they lost to Germany).

The stakes will only get bigger as the number of teams grows smaller.  Who will succumb to the pressure and who will make history?  We will just have to wait and see.

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