Everybody rested? Hydrated? Croissant-ed?
Good. The knockout rounds of the World Cup are here. This is where stuff gets real. This is where the tears really start flowing. This is where dreams go to die.
No big deal, right?
Here are my predictions for the start of the knockout rounds.
Germany vs Nigeria
I lowkey love Nigeria. I was thrilled when they made it into the knockout rounds, despite getting three points and only going through as one of the third place teams. I can’t fault them too much for their performance in the group stage— being in a group with France and Norway is hard, it turns out— and the fact that they got through anyway speaks to everything the Super Falcons have going for them.
But the fact of the matter is, they have to play Germany. Ranked #2 in the world, won every game in their group, finished with a +6 goal differential. They’re one of two or three teams at this World Cup who could realistically go toe-to-toe with the US in a Final. Nigeria simply don’t have enough in the tank to win this one.
Prediction: GER 3-0 NGA
Norway vs Australia
Sam Kerr. Sam Kerr Sam Kerr Sam Kerr Sam Kerr Sam Kerr Sam Kerr. Sam Kerr? Hmmmm, Sam Kerr.
Australia are higher ranked but also had a much tougher road to the knockout rounds than Norway did, owing to a very shaky back line. There’s exactly one reason why the Matildas qualified for the knockouts directly, and her name is Sam Kerr. As Kim noted, she’s basically carrying this team right now, and she’s good enough to actually pull it off. I don’t know that they’ll be able to reach the Final on bad defending and Sam Kerr’s heroball, but I think it’ll be enough here.
Prediction: NOR 0-2 AUS
England vs Cameroon
This is distressingly similar to Germany vs Nigeria. Cameroon are fun to watch, and their late win over New Zealand to put them through to the knockout rounds was absolutely thrilling. I would’ve loved to see them have a deep run in this tournament.
Unfortunately, they have to play England. There’s just no getting around that.
Prediction: ENG 2-0 CMR
France vs Brazil
Brazil have their share of problems, for sure, but having Marta and Cristiane around makes up for a lot of them. They ended up in a tough group, and the fact that they had to go through as a third place team undersells them a bit. Their performances in the latter two group stage games is a little worrying— giving up a 2-0 lead over Australia and losing 3-2, then only beating Italy because of a late-ish penalty. Still, on paper, they’ve got the goods to make a deep run.
But I don’t think they’ve got enough to beat France here. The hosts are just a little too strong and a little too confident. They’re one of the other few teams who could maybe beat the Americans. I think France are coming out on top here.
Prediction: FRA 2-1 BRA
Spain vs United States
Oh, Spain. I’m sorry. I am so, so sorry.
Prediction: SPA 1-5 USA
Sweden vs Canada
On paper I think this is a toss-up. Sweden did well in their group— even their loss against the United States was a fairly strong performance— and I think they’ve got the squad for a deep run. Canada also had a decent showing in their group, minus a loss to The Netherlands in which they probably should’ve done a little better. In my head, either team can win this thing.
In my heart, it’s gotta be Canada. Our love for Christine Sinclair here at AfXI is as boundless as the sea, and we want her to have two of every good thing.
Prediction: SWE 1-3 CAN (with a Sinc hat trick)
Italy vs China PR
On the one hand, China were in a tough group, and the fact that they got through at all is commendable. On the other hand, four points and one (1) goal doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence. Part of me would really like to see China have a deep run in this tournament. I think if the bracket were a little kinder, maybe they could’ve.
As it is, Italy are just a little too strong. They’re not invulnerable— Brazil showed how the Azzurre can be shut down. But I think they’ve got this.
Of all the R16 match-ups, this one has the best chance for an upset. I still think Italy’s going to pull it out, but I’m also ready to eat my words on this one.
Prediction: ITA 1-0 CHN
Netherlands vs Japan:
I really want this to be a toss-up. I like Japan, a lot, and I almost always peg them to go deep in the World Cup. I’d love to write off their relatively weak group stage performance— four points and just two goals, one of which was a penalty— as an aberration and that they’d pull it together for the knockout rounds. I’d love to see them back in the Final this year.
But I think the Netherlands have a little too much firepower. Japan might be able to fend them off for a while, but eventually the Dutch are going to break through. You hate to see it.
Prediction: NED 3-1 JPN
What are YOUR predictions for the Round of 16? Let us know in the comments below!