Well, that was crazy; two weeks of three and four matches a day, picture-in-picture dominating the TV, traditional powers struggling, Italy and France knocked out, all five South American teams qualifying for the Round of 16 (first time ever), the USA winning Group C, and finally, FINALLY, we reach the knockout stages of the 2010 World Cup. No rest for the wicked, though; the games kick off tomorrow, including a huge match for USA, who seek revenge on Ghana, the team that knocked them out of the 2006 World Cup. So, in lieu of a long, rambling post, because frankly, I've been living and breathing this Tournament so far and I need to take some time away from this computer, I wanted to go on the record with my picks for the Round of 16 with a short analysis of each game and some great images of the games so far. Here is how I see it going down:
Uruguay vs South Korea
With Uruguay not allowing a single goal in the Tournament and with Diego Forlan leading the line, I have learned my lesson; I can't bet against Uruguay. They look great so far; can they stop the all-hustle South Korean team? I think they can do enough, especially with Forlan on hand to produce his magic.
USA vs Ghana
Ghana is exactly the kind of team that scares the crap out of me; fast, young, unpredictable, emotional and playing for African pride, they have yet to score in the run of play. But the USA is the one team with which they match up well; our back four performed heroically last time, but can they do it again? Will it be Bornstein (oy) or Onyewu (argh) in the back? As much as I would love to see USA get through, I just think Ghana is too tricky for our defense; 1-0 Ghana on a penalty kick. It's just not in my nature to think my team will win; it's better for everyone this way, I promise.
Winner: Ghana (and may I be completely wrong)
Germany vs England
History tells me Germany, the absence of Schweinsteiger in midfield and the relative youth of Germany tell me England. I have to go with history; Wayne Rooney hasn't scored in an international Tournament since 2004 and without him firing on all cylinders, England have it all to do. Either way, is it possible that these two could avoid penalties? No.
Winner: Germany. On Penalties. (sorry England!)
Argentina vs Mexico
Mexico will spend most of the game chopping Messi down in the midfield and once again, Maradona's refusal to protect his player by putting him up top in the most dangerous areas will force Argentina's other players to win this match. Thankfully for them, they are loaded; look for Tevez to drive Mexico crazy and Higuain to bag a goal or two. Maradona's mistaken use of Messi won't catch him here. But it's coming.
Netherlands vs Slovakia
The Slovakian dream ends here; with Arjen Robben coming into the side, the Dutch are just getting started and no one has beaten them yet. Still, Van der Vaart needs to come out of this side, freeing up Sneijder, Robben and Van Persie to terrorize the Slovakian back four. It'll happen here.
Winner: The Netherlands
Brazil vs Chile
If familiarity breeds contempt, this all South American contest could be Godardian (a movie joke! Hey, gotta get a shout out for my film people). This one should be a real barn burner. Expect Brazil to win it in a testy battle between two good teams; Kaka is back, and they're just too talented to lose here.
Paraguay vs Japan
After two great matches, Paraguay went into the shell in their final match against New Zealand, and that does not bode well for this match against Japan. Japan have been creative and bright in this tournament, with Keisuke Honda turning into a genuine star with some brilliant play. They took apart Denmark, and while Paraguay are a tougher nut to crack, I think I believe in Japan to get it done here.
Spain vs Portugal
This one, coupled with England vs Germany, is the match of the Round; Portugal have played a tight, defensive game so far (their 7-0 rout of North Korea notwithstanding) and this one promises to be physical, tight and really, really close. In the end, I think Spain have more quality from more areas of the pitch and can get this done, although the Spanish defense is not nearly as accomplished as Portugal's. Still, expect some Spanish magic to take this one in extra time.
Winner: Spain. In Extra Time
There we go. I'm on the record. How about you? Use the comments and give us your winners. Buckle up; it's going to be a great four days...
Up Next: Day Fifteen: The Round Of 16