World Cup Last 16 Preview: Hosts’ Party Set to End While Former Champion Bows Out

5 months ago

There have been cheers, tears, terrific goals and tantrums, and enough VAR-led controversy to keep pundits, punters and armchair supporters talking about World Cup 2018 for years to come.

The group stage is all but over, and so the identity of the vast majority of the last 16 of the competition is known. We’ve waved goodbye to Germany, the reigning world champions, and another former World Cup winner will bow out with France and Argentina paired in arguably the tie of the round.

From a purely entertainment perspective Brazil vs Mexico could be a cracker, while Uruguay vs Portugal and Sweden vs Switzerland could be rather more turgid fare.

Elsewhere Croatia, so impressive thus far, will be expected to progress at the expense of Denmark, while Spain are likely to end the party of hosts Russia.

To complete the draw, England and Belgium will take on Japan, Senegal or Colombia.

There will be eight last 16 ties and that means plenty of betting value to be had, but where does the best of it lie? Let’s take a look at the Round of 16 fixtures that have been confirmed so far.

France vs Argentina (June 30, 15:00 GMT)

These two teams have been conspicuous by their inconspicuous performances, and despite the galaxy of attacking talents at their disposal neither has really caught the eye.

At least the French went unbeaten through the group phase, but the fact they have scored just one goal in open play in more than 270 minutes of football suggests that Didier Deschamps still hasn’t struck upon a winning formula for his talented squad.

Likewise Argentina, who may have Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Paulo Dybala and co at their disposal but still needed an 85th minute goal from defender Marcos Rojo to finally get over the line against Nigeria in their all-or-nothing group encounter.

Rumours of discontent in the Argentine camp – with some players allegedly calling for Jorge Sampaoli’s head – leave a bitter taste, and showcases two teams in relative states of disarray.

Backing Both Teams to Score: No at 7/10 with BetBright is the only solution for punters here.

Uruguay vs Portugal (June 30, 19:00 GMT)

Cristiano Ronaldo has been making the headlines, as he tends to do, with a series of fine performances for Portugal, but that only serves to paper over the cracks of what is a wholly mediocre outfit.

The Portuguese were indebted to a super-human performance from their talisman against Spain, and otherwise struggled to break down Morocco and Iran; indeed, they were rather fortunate to escape from both of those matches with positive results.

There is something of the Atletico Madrid about Uruguay, and not just the presence of Diego Godin at centre-back.

They just have a way of grinding out results – it helps when you have Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani up front – and they are yet to concede a goal in Russia.

Atletico Madrid are the masters of knockout football, reaching two Champions League finals and winning the Europa League in recent times despite meagre means, and if the Uruguayans can serve up something similar then they will be very tough to beat.

As such, punters are advised to follow the Uruguay Draw No Bet line at 5/6 with Sun Bets.

Spain vs Russia (July 1, 15:00 GMT)

Perspective is everything in life, but you can forgive Russian football supporters for getting a little carried away.

Given little hope prior to the tournament, they watched on as their heroes handed out hammerings to Saudi Arabia and Egypt; expectations were now suitably increased.

But their bubble was burst somewhat in a 0-3 defeat to the first decent side they’ve come up against in Uruguay, and now a healthy dose of reality has returned.

Anybody that has watched their games will perhaps agree that Spain’s results don’t reflect how well they have been playing. Downed by a rare David de Gea error against Portugal, they eventually found their way through an Iranian wall before taking their foot off the gas against Morocco, a game in which they still fashioned 16 shots at goal.

Don’t expect the Spaniards to go quite so softly on the Russians, who will work hard but perhaps lack the quality to see off a team of Champions League and La Liga winners.

Spain’s odds of 8/13 with bet365 suggest an implied probability of 61% of them winning this game inside 90 minutes, and that seems more than fair to us.

Croatia vs Denmark (July 1, 19:00 GMT)

Are Croatia a surprise package at World Cup 2018? Perhaps, although they do possess plenty of quality in their squad.

Maybe it’s the manner in which they’ve gone about their business – three games, three wins, seven goals scored, one conceded – that impresses the most.

Contrast that with Denmark, whose stodgy performances have yielded just two goals scored and one conceded in 270 minutes of football.

The Danes possess the undoubted talent of Christian Eriksen but little else, and you would surmise that they lack the necessary creativity to trouble the Croats.

Momentum is crucial in sport and especially tournaments like the World Cup where the matches are played so close together. Croatia have bags of it, and their odds of 5/6 with SportNation suggest they have just a 54% chance of beating Denmark – the bookies have woefully undervalued their class.

Brazil vs Mexico (July 2, 15:00)

We’ve written about momentum, and it comes and goes very quickly in elite-level sport.

Brazil, for example, produced their best performance of the tournament on Wednesday in downing Serbia in a must-win game, while Mexico served up their weakest showing in the 0-3 tonking at the hands of Sweden.

Most pundits reflect upon the efforts of Neymar when analysing this Brazilian team, but that underestimates the input of Philippe Coutinho, who is surely one of the best footballers currently roaming the planet.

A game against the South Americans suits Mexico, who can sit deep and then counter-attack with gusto just like they did in victory over Germany. They will, however, be without key defender Hector Herrero, who is suspended.

Brazil’s match odds of 1/2 imply a relative walkover, which simply doesn’t sit right, and instead taking Both Teams to Score at a surprise odds-against price of 11/10 with Betfred is worth a try.

Sweden vs Switzerland (July 2, 19:00)

This is a game that is almost too close to call – a point reflected in the bookmakers’ odds – but you perhaps have to just give the Swedes the edge based upon the two teams’ last group games.

Sweden defeated a decent Mexico side 3-0, and while a reliance on goals from ‘other’ sources (two of their five goals in World Cup 2018 have been penalties, another an own goal) will be a concern for their fans, they would be unbeaten at this point but for a fantastic strike from Toni Kroos in the 95th minute of their clash with Germany.

Switzerland were comprehensively outplayed by Costa Rica on Wednesday. The Central Americans hit the woodwork an incredible three times, and outdid their opponents 6-3 in terms of shots on target.

Captain Stephan Lichtsteiner and Fabian Schar, both key defenders, are suspended for Switzerland too, and so there is no harm in taking the 19/20 available at JetBull on the Sweden Draw No Bet.

Share

Written by Craig Simpkin

A sports journalist with a smorgasbord of experience writing for a variety of publications, Craig is a Leicester fan hoping that England can also achieve the impossible this summer.