High quality of football witnessed in the group stage was maintained during the Round of 16 of the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Three games were concluded with penalty shootouts, goals were pouring in almost every game, and heavyweights Spain, Argentina and Portugal are out. Others like Uruguay and Brazil have picked up steam.
We are eight games away from crowning a new world champion. A win in the next stage of the tournament will mean a World Cup medal is within reach.
Reaching a quarter-final requires more than just luck, meaning only the best teams are still in the tournament. We look at the four games in the next stage expecting more drama and goals to come.
Uruguay vs France (France reach semi-finals with 2-0 win over Uruguay)
3pm BST, 10am ET - Friday, July 6
Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod
Prediction: Uruguay 1-2 France
Uruguay’s route to the quarters: 1-0 vs Egypt, 1-0 vs Saudi Arabia, 3-0 vs Russia (1st in Group A); 2-1 vs Portugal
Uruguay stunned Portugal with an electric performance in the last 16, beating them 2-1 thanks to a brace from Edinson Cavani.
Although the Uruguayans looked clunky in the group stage, they jumped on the European champions from early on and were incessant till the final whistle.
A telepathic partnership between Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani resulted in two exquisite goals from the Paris Saint-Germain man, proving La Celeste will aim high in the next stage.
The key to stop France will be to diminish Les Bleus' offensive superpower and avoid mistakes while defending set pieces. Uruguay will also need a fit Edinson Cavani who limped off the pitch in the second half with a worrying calf injury.
(REUTERS/ Pilar Olivares)
France’s route to the quarters: 2-1 vs Australia, 1-0 vs Peru, 0-0 vs Denmark (1st in Group C); 4-3 vs Argentina
France’s young, hungry-for-goals squad seemed revitalised in the Round of 16 after a fairly average performance in the group stage.
In their 4-3 Round of 16 win against Argentina, France looked lethal going forward, mostly thanks to the historical performance of Kylian Mbappe who scored two goals as the first teenager since Pele in 1958.
The game was labelled as the best of the tournament so far although it exposed France’s defensive weaknesses. Avoiding fluctuations in their rhythm of play seems crucial in the game against seemingly dangerous Uruguay.
View our Uruguay vs France Preview
Brazil vs Belgium (Belgium reach semi-finals with 2-1 win over Brazil)
7pm BST, 2pm ET - Friday, July 6
Kazan Arena, Kazan
Prediction: Brazil 3-2 Belgium (AET)
(REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)
Brazil’s route to the quarters: 1-1 vs Switzerland, 2-0 vs Costa Rica, 2-0 vs Serbia (1st in Group E); 2-0 vs Mexico
Brazil repelled an early charge from Mexico in the Round of 16 and grew confident with every minute, resulting in a comfortable 2-0 win.
The Brazilians played beautifully, emptying a bag of football tricks during the game to daze Mexico. Neymar led the show, scoring the first goal, assisting another, and constantly pestering the Mexican defence.
The five-time World Cup winners were also admirably calm at the back, proving the demons of the 7-1 defeat inflicted by Germany four years ago have been left behind.
Consistency will be key for Brazil as with their Round of 16 performance they seem to emerge as the main candidates to the title.
Belgium’s route to the quarters: 3-0 vs Panama, 5-2 vs Tunisia, 1-0 vs England (1st in Group G); 3-2 vs Japan
Belgium were on the verge of joining the other big teams heading home early despite being an obvious favourite in their second round clash. After a mundane first half, Japan shocked Belgium with two early and crafty goals and were close to recouping their fans for a farce ending of the lost game to Poland.
However, Belgium snatched a historical win from under Japan’s nose thanks to a bizarre header from Jan Vertonghen and Roberto Martinez’s tactical changes, resulting in Nacer Chadli scoring in the last second of the game after coming on for Yannick Ferreira Carrasco in the second half.
Defensive mistakes are a worry for the ex-Everton coach. Martinez, however, should be heartened by his team’s ability to get up and regain control in a difficult situation after the Japan game.
View our Brazil vs Belgium Preview
Sweden vs England (England reach semi-finals with 2-0 win over Sweden)
3pm BST/10am ET - Saturday, July 7
Samara Arena, Samara
Prediction: Sweden 0-1 England
Sweden’s route to the quarters: 1-0 vs South Korea, 1-2 vs Germany, 3-0 vs Mexico (1st in Group F); 1-0 vs Switzerland
Sweden sent lacklustre Switzerland home in the Round of 16 after a game that won't live long in the memory.
The Swedes struggled offensively, wasting so many good scoring opportunities and probably making Zlatan Ibrahimovic squirm in his viewing chair.
However, their solid defensive play was enough to continue their surprising World Cup campaign which the likes of Germany, the Netherlands and Italy fell victim to.
Efficiency in front of the goal should be the biggest concern for Janne Andersson ahead of the England game.
England’s route to the quarters: 2-1 vs Tunisia, 6-1 vs Panama, 0-1 vs Belgium (2nd in Group G); 1-1 vs Colombia (4-3 on penalties)
England came out victorious from the Colombia game that bore more reminiscence to an ancient gladiator battle than a football match.
The Three Lions resisted Colombia's brutal game in Moscow. They didn't crumble following the South Americans' late equaliser and then won the penalty shootout for the first time in history, breaking their World Cup curse.
Improving creativity and trying to increase the number of scoring chances from open play should be a priority for Gareth Southgate ahead of the painstaking play of Sweden.
View our Sweden vs England Preview
Russia vs Croatia (Croatia reach semi-finals with 4-3 penalty shootout win over Russia)
7pm BST, 2pm ET - Saturday, July 7
Fisht Stadium, Sochi
Prediction: Russia 1-1 Croatia (2-3 on penalties)
Russia’s route to the quarters: 5-0 vs Saudi Arabia, 3-1 vs Egypt, 0-3 vs Uruguay (2nd in Group A); 1-1 vs Spain (4-3 on penalties)
The Russians firstly scored an unexplainable own goal only to shock Spain in the shootout later in what seemed to be a demise of tiki taka in the Round of 16 clash in Moscow.
Stanislav Cherchesov, wary of both Spain’s quality and off-the-pitch troubles, set their team ultra-defensively on purpose causing a surprise similar to Germany’s early exit. That effectively neutralised Spain's possession football making them look clueless.
Russia showed they will do whatever it takes to continue their World Cup dream on home soil, also showing some offensive potential in the group stage.
Even though Croatia dropped in form in the game against Denmark, Russia still need to be cautious as the Croats have shown they are capable of playing sharp and offensive football.
Croatia’s route to the knockouts: 2-0 vs Nigeria, 3-0 vs Argentina, 2-1 vs Iceland (1st in Group D); 1-1 vs Spain (3-2 on penalties)
Croatia’s Round of 16 game against Denmark started on a high following two goals in the first four minutes. The rest of the regular time, and extra time, became however, a show of two goalkeepers.
Croatia looked tamed in the round of 16 compared to the steamrolling football they played in the group stage. However, they now know Danijel Subasic is in great form and will be a strong asset in Croatia’s journey in Russia.
This game might come down to the first mistake made or last another 120 minutes followed by a shootout. Zlatko Dalic should probably think of an extra penalty shootout practice session.
View our Russia vs Croatia Preview