The first 16 matches are complete and there has still only been one major surprise: Ghana over Germany, 2-1 in the sixth match of the tournament. The first round was not without drama, however.
Referees clearly took FIFA’s mandate on tighter control of on-pitch behavior to heart. An astounding nine red cards were shown in the first 16 games, including three in Chile’s harrowing 2-1 victory over defending World Cup champions Spain. In that match, the Chileans played the final 14 minutes (plus stoppage time) down to 9 men, defending their slim lead. Spain took 5 shots in that time, but couldn’t put a single one on frame. Chile will face the host nation, Brazil, in the next round.
Other outstanding matches included extra-time thrillers, Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Nigeria and Switzerland vs. Ecuador. The Swiss victory over Ecuador came in the 119th minute when the Swiss Captain, midfielder Gokhan Inlercollected a rebound in Area B and fired into the inside post, besting Ecuadorian ‘keeper Alexander Dominguez with the 18th shot against him on the night. Nigeria needed a 94th minute stunner to beat a Bosnian side that played the entire second half its match a man down.
In other WC dramatics, Greece and Ivory Coast were tied 1-1 until the 88th minute when Salomon Kalou headed in a perfectly placed corner kick to earn the orange-and-green a Round of 16 match against England.
The outstanding individual performance of the round was undoubtedly Steven Gerrard, Captain and icon of the perennially under-performing English side. Gerrard scored a hat-trick en route to the round’s most lop-sided result: a 5-0 drubbing of Costa Rica. The loss was devastating to the Costa Ricans, whose squad was touted as among the most well-rounded of the tournament.
France’s performance against Honduras should be mentioned, too. In the 1-0 victory over the South American side, the 1998 World Cup champions had 66.5% of the possession and allowed Honduras to take ZERO shots. Rated a “5” on team defense, France will hope to continue their reign of dominance behind the ball in the upcoming fixture against Nigeria.
Now that the field has been narrowed by half, in the upcoming Round of 16 we’ll see some fantastic matchups. Here they are, in the order in which they’ll be played:
17. Brazil vs. Chile
18. France vs. Nigeria
19. Argentina vs. Switzerland
20. Netherlands vs. Mexico
21. Columbia vs. Uruguay
22. Ghana vs. Algeria
23. Belgium vs. United States
24. England vs. Ivory Coast
Six of the eight matches are exactly the same as the real-life 2014 WC Round of 16. The two differences are Ghana vs. Algeria (Germany vs. Algeria) and England vs. Ivory Coast (Costa Rica vs. Greece).