Niall: The French possess a host of young exciting talent going forward, but so far this tournament they have been disappointing. Despite all their attacking prowess, France barely scraped by Australia and Peru before settling for a goalless draw against Denmark. They may have been one of the pre-tournament favourites heading in, but right now nobody fancies them to go all the way.
Argentina’s group stage was almost a complete shambles. They were starring at an early exit from the competition before Marcus Rojo volleyed home a late winner against Nigeria to send the Argentines through. Jorge Sampaoli has lost the dressing room with many claims that Lionel Messi is coaching the team and that is not a good position to be in. Argentina possess a lot of talent themselves but they are also yet to gel and defensively they look vulnerable.
And defence will be the difference here. France have looked way more solid defensively than Argentina and with the South American’s defensive issues, Les Bleus will get plenty of chances on goal. Messi could drag Argentina through, but France should be favourites to advance to the last eight.
Prediction: France 3-1 Argentina
Neil: This is an extremely close call for me. Argentina have been as poor as I predicted them to be pre-tournament but have scraped somehow through to the last 16. France has underwhelmed me hugely for all their attacking talent at their disposal and I have may doubts that France have the creativity in the final third to get the job done here, when they need to go through the gears.
Messi and co. have been woeful up to now, but if there is one man you would want to haul you through a clash with the potential world champions in Les Bleus, the man from Rosario is he.
I fancy this to be a real belter and there could be a few cards flying around. Before the World Cup if you had asked me to call this I’d say France unequivocally. Now however, I just get the feeling Argentina might stun Didier Deschamps’ men and cause what would be a massive upset for me. Though, I’m still not quite sure how they’ll get it done.
Niall: Uruguay are very much dark horses to win the World Cup. The two time champions progressed from Group A with a perfect record and no goals conceded despite not looking their best in the three matches. With Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez at the back they have a World Class pairing who work together at club level too. Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani are both top class strikers up top too, so this Uruguay side do have goals in them despite their defensive approach.
Portugal are another difficult team to break down but offensive they rely on one man, Cristiano Ronaldo. The Real Madrid player netted four times in the group stages, including a memorable hat-trick against Spain in their opening fixture. The Portuguese’s chances rest on how well Ronaldo plays and his struggles against Iran and Morocco ended up with poor performances from the team.
This is one of those matches that could be defined by one moment of brilliance or one mistake at the back. Chances will probably be at a premium and a goalless draw is a big possibility. Extra time or penalties could be on the cards here and it will be decided on fine margins. Godin and Gimenez have the ability to keep Ronaldo quiet so I am picking Uruguay to edge in in extra time.
Prediction: Uruguay 1-0 Portugal AET
Neil: This likely to be a battle of defensive wits in Sochi, in which the referee could have a very busy night for one reason or another. Suarez and Ronaldo will take centre stage for both nations, but it will be the performances of messrs Godin, Gimenez, Pepe and Jose Fonte that may determine the winner.
I have been very impressed with Biancocelesti up this point having yet to concede a goal this tournament, but I expect the Uruguayan boughs to be broken here. For me this screams penalty shoot-out after a very cagey extra time period, and if that does come to pass, I would firmly back the European champions. But again, this is a close one with a potential Messi v Ronaldo showdown in the quarter-finals.
Prediction: Uruguay 1-1 Portugal (Portugal to win on penalties)
Niall: The Spanish impressed despite drawing 3-3 against Portugal in their first match, but against Iran and Morocco they struggled. As both sides sat back, Spain struggled to break them down and defensively they have looked vulnerable. Isco have been their best players so far and most of the Spanish attacks will come through him and Andres Iniesta as they look to unlock opposition defences. Diego Costa has chipped in with three goals so far, but the Atletico Madrid striker was left frustrated in his last two matches. Can they get him involved against Russia?
The hosts have been one of the surprise packages so far with back to back wins against Saudi Arabia and Egypt in which they netted eight goals. However they struggled when they had a step up in competition against Uruguay and fell to a 3-0 defeat. The home crowd have helped them over-achieve to this point, but will it be enough against Spain?
The Spanish will dominate this game as you would expect, but Russia will have a go at their defence and may see chances come their way. However, I believe we are yet to see the best of Spain and they will grow as the tournament progresses. Russia could be dangerous but Spain will have too much quality for the hosts.
Prediction: Spain 2-0 Russia
Neil: The Russian bear was found out against Uruguay in their final group game, but in front of 70,000-odd fans at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, this will be a tricky one for Spain to overcome.
The hosts rested star man Aleksandr Golovin against Uruguay, but can he influence the game enough to cause La Roja problems? I have my doubts. Isco has been the star man for me for Spain and if Fernando Hierro’s men are to progress the Real Madrid schemer will be central to their fast-passing, intricate build up.
I do think Russia might score against a Spanish defence who have looked decidedly shaky particularly against Morocco, but I do believe they will have enough to progress.
Niall: Croatia have been one of the most impressive teams so far. They came through a difficult group without dropping a point and looked comfortable in doing so. Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric have bossed the midfield and defensively they have looked solid with only one goal conceded in the three matches they have played so far.
Denmark are one of the weakest teams left in the competition for me. They were rather fortunate to come through against Peru despite being second best in their match and have overall looked rather lacklustre. Christian Eriksen is key to their chances and his performance could be a deciding factor in this match.
Croatia are a quality side that could go very deep into the tournament if they continue to perform well. They have the advantage over Denmark in every area of pitch and I believe they will come through this match without many issues.
Prediction: Croatia 2-0 Denmark
Neil: As I expected, Croatia have been mighty impressive up to now. As one of just three teams to record three wins out of three in the group stages, Vatreni look like they could go all the way in Russia.
This is one of two last 16 matches I predicted before the World Cup began. Though I could see the Danes reaching the last eight, I am hard pushed to see how Denmark can get past Zlatko Dalic’s men here and will need to be on point offensively to cause a stir.
I still see this as a very intriguing clash and expect the Danes to put up a decent fight, but Croatia look like they can take on the best this tournament and I expect them to book their quarter-final berth against Spain.
Niall: Out of all the ‘big teams’, Brazil have arguably been the most impressive. They limped their way to a draw against Switzerland, but as the tournament has progressed, the Brazilians have looked better. Philippe Coutinho has been their best player so far and we are yet to see the best of Neymar and Gabriel Jesus. This Brazil side have looked solid without getting out of second gear yet, which is a scary thought for the rest of the teams in the competition.
Mexico really impressed with their wins over Germany and South Korea, but their collapse against Sweden was a worrying sight for them. The Mexicans missed the chance to top the group with that loss and face a much difficult route through as a result. Hirving Lozano was a player to watch going in and so far has impressed in his debut World Cup and has looked dangerous in the front three.
This match-up should favour Mexico as they have looked more impressive on the counter. Brazil will control possession so we could see a match-up similar to Mexico vs Germany. Brazil have looked much more solid than Germany though and I think they will step up a gear in this one.
Prediction: Brazil 3-1 Mexico
Neil: Had this game come around before El Tri’s final group game, this might have been a heck of a Latin-South American clash. Indeed, it still might be. Mexico have a decent record against Canarinho in recent games and have the players to hurt Brazil that is for sure.
As for Brazil, their showing against Serbia was the first real indication that Tite’s machine is started to tick into the upper gears, but his charges need to be wary of the pace and power of Mexico’s dynamic front three in Lozano, Carlos Vela and Miguel Layun.
For me, this could be the game of the last 16 and both sides will likely leave it all on the line. I see Mexico scoring – perhaps more than one – but Brazil’s fruits are surely too rich to stumble here and should set up a mouth-watering clash with Belgium next Friday.
Niall: The Red Devils’ starting 11 has yet to be tested in this World Cup. In truth, both Panama and Tunisia were poor sides were got swept a side without much issues, and against England they fielded a second string side. Romelu Lukaku is their top scorer with four goals in two matches but his fitness is a concern heading into this match.
Japan were fairly lucky to get through to the last 16 on fair play. Despite beating Colombia, they have not been overly impressive and were probably the third best team in the group behind Senegal. That said the Japanese do have quality in their ranks with Shinji Kagawa, Takashi Inui and Kensuke Honda being key players.
Belgium should sweep them aside though. Japan are a neat side when on the ball, but Belgium will have too much firepower up top and will have enough defensively to keep the Japanese from really threatening them.
Prediction: Belgium 3-0 Japan
Neil: For the Red Devils, it is hereon in that Belgium will be judged. After surprisingly topping Group H, Japan have been dealt a raw deal in facing the potential champions elect – knowing that England were their possible alternatives also however.
Having rested many of his starting XI versus the Three Lions, the Belgians will be raring to go. Japan have their own threats and will be well organised but I just don’t see how Roberto Martinez’s men will fail to advance to the next round.
Niall: The Swiss have once again been solid this tournament with their come from behind victory against Serbia being the key reason they progressed beyond the group stages. Switzerland are a defensively solid side with enough quality going forward to cause problems. They are a difficult side for anyone to face as shown with their 1-1 draw against Brazil in their opening fixture.
Many expected Germany to be in this position, but their shocking performance paved the way for Sweden to top their group and meet the Swiss here. Sweden have also been a very solid side who like Switzerland are better as a whole than the sum of their parts. Their 3-0 win over Mexico was particularly impressive and their best performance of the group stages.
Like Uruguay vs Portugal, this match will be tight and decided on fine margins. Neither side will give much away and it could go to extra time and possibly penalties. There is usually one that does go all the way to penalties and this one will probably be that match.
Prediction: Switzerland 1-1 Sweden AET (Switzerland to win on penalties)
Neil: I wrote off the Swedes to advance from the groups stages, but after Germany’s capitulation Sweden’s defensive capabilities have come to the fore and deservedly topped the group after taking advantage of a Mexican off day in the group’s climax earlier in the week.
Not only has their defensive back line stood both literally and metaphorically, goals have also come from the same avenue. Andreas Granqvist has become his country’s designated penalty maestro, but full-back Ludwig Augustinsson supplied the opening goal versus El Tri on Wednesday afternoon also.
Sweden lack a real threat from the striking department, but that is unlikely to the main focus here. This will likely be a very tight affair, but if the Swiss score early it could become a surprisingly open encounter. I am sticking to the cagey nature in proceedings however, but whilst Niall is tipping the men in red, I fancy the Blue-Yellow to edge into the last eight possibly via spot-kicks.
Niall: It is hard to judge this England team based on performances against Panama and Tunisia, but what we have seen has largely been positive. Harry Kane is the top scorer in the tournament with five goals and England have looked quick and dangerous going forward. Defensively there has been some small issues however and that will be tested to the full against Colombia.
Colombia have been rather hot and cold in the tournament, but when they are at their best they are a brilliant side. James Rodriguez is their best player and most of the creativity will come through him, but he may be a doubt after going off injured against Senegal. Radamel Falcao up top is still dangerous though and defensively the Colombians have looked solid when they have had 11 men on the field.
The fitness of Rodriguez is huge in this match. If he is fit then Colombia may have too much quality for the England defence, but if he misses the game England will be favourites. Right now it looks like he may not feature so the Three Lions may edge a close encounter.
Prediction: Colombia 1-2 England
Neil: Thursday night was uncomfortable viewing. England have bared the brunt of criticism that they lacked a cutting edge and a spark, but for me it is a simple as this; the Three Lions were simply content with the position they were in, and at 1-0 down were happy to finish runners-up.
As a result of finishing second, a harder tie in Los Cafeteros now awaits before even considering plotting a route to Moscow on July 15. As we have documented, Jose Pekerman’s side are no mugs and can trouble Gareth Southgate’s men no end. Whilst the chat continues to be the availability of the indispensable Rodriguez, it is Juan Quintero who could be the difference between the two sides.
However, Colombia’s ball retention has been poor thus far in the World Cup and that should be a more decision factor here. England will play the high press once again, and despite fears momentum has been lost, Southgate’s charges should have enough to squeak through against a resilient defence of Spurs’ Davinson Sanchez and the ever improving Yerry Mina of Barcelona – the latter of whom has scored in his last two games. It will of course be a tense affair.
Prediction: Colombia 1-2 England
The last 16 of the World Cup begins on Saturday as France take on Argentina in Kazan, Russia at 3pm BST, with England facing off with Colombia for a quarter-final berth on Tuesday evening at 7pm BST in Moscow.
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