The group stage was fun. The knockout rounds should be even better. There are no dead rubbers, no walkovers, and it’s winner-takes-all for the rest of the way.
This World Cup has been fantastic so far. Hopes for the last 16 are high, with plenty of potential for upset and superstars littered around the draw. Below are a few thoughts on Monday’s two matches…
BRAZIL vs MEXICO
Brazil haven’t been met with the same criticism as many of the other ‘big’ sides, which is not to say they’ve been great.
For all their attacking talent and flair, the most successful nation in World Cup history have not been as fearsome an offensive threat as many expected. The defence is far from flawless, either, and could have easily cost them against Serbia.
Mexico captured the imagination with their win over Germany. The disaster at the hands of Sweden gave a different reflection of this team. The first performance could give us an upset here, a repeat of the Sweden calamity might see Brazil reach double figures.
The quick transitions that made Mexico such a joy to watch could trouble this Brazil side, particularly if Tite opts for Paulinho to partner Casemiro in midfield again. Paulinho will be charged with making runs forward himself, which will leave space for Carlos Vela, Hirving Lozano and Miguel Layun to exploit.
Mexico’s midfielders will be just as worried about leaving themselves open to Philippe Coutinho – who has a good claim for Player of the Tournament thus far – and Neymar on the break. Coutinho is a great price at 14/5 to give an assist.
Goals are the best value here. Brazil are obviously strong favourites, but Mexico pose enough threat to make this a contest.
TIP: Over 2.5 goals @ EVENS
CORRECT SCORE: Brazil 3-1 Mexico (Priced at 13/1 with 888sport)
BELGIUM vs JAPAN
Belgium finished top of Group G after defeating England on Thursday. The victory from a cracking Adnan Januzaj strike set the Belgians up with Japan but puts them on a collision course with Brazil in the last eight.
Japan were in a farcical last group stage match of their own, as they riskily played out defeat against Poland in the knowledge that Senegal were losing to Colombia. It was a shame the group ended that way, particularly after Japan’s first two matches were so thrilling.
It’s no surprise that Roberto Martinez’s team are the strong favourites for this one. His starting line-up will be almost fully rested after the rotation for the England match, with Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Dries Mertens and Eden Hazard all to return to the line-up.
Lukaku already has four goals for the tournament and is a good bet to score any time - he is still in contention to win the Golden Boot this summer...
Japan have played plenty of nice football so far but have lacked ruthlessness in the final third. Shinji Kagawa is the man to watch in the middle of the pitch, and the former Manchester United man could be a real threat if he can find space behind De Bruyne and Axel Witsel.
Goals are always a solid bet with a Martinez team. This Belgium side are set up to outscore the opposition no matter how many they concede, which could make this a thriller.
TIP: Over 3.5 goals @ 5/2
CORRECT SCORE: Belgium 3-2 Japan (Priced at 33/1 with 888sport)
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*