World Cup 2018, Last 16 Review

While we had been producing daily reviews during the group stage, in the first knock-out round we had writers covering every match so it wasn’t necessary. You can find our ‘Round of 16’ collection here, and we’ll just take a quick look at some of the overall top performers here.

The Sergios dominated at the top of the charts; Ramos of Spain earned the most points in total, whereas Aguero of Argentina topped the points per minute ladder.

Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed something in Ramos’ dashboard – namely a penalty scored in the shootout. These go into the players’ tallies, so anyone whose side didn’t settle their tie in 120 minutes can have a bit of an advantage here.

Unless they miss that is. Right, Jordan?

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Sweden 1-0 Switzerland: the Swedes can deliver more goals

The pattern is familiar throughout football. A player shoots over and the crowd sighs, the people watching at home swear and the TV commentators say that “at this level” the finishing has to be better.

This was the picture for Sweden in the first half against Switzerland, as it had been in their first half against South Korea and Mexico. Sweden had created chances but they hadn’t been converted. The worst culprits, singled out by the pundits at halftime, were Emil Forsberg and Marcus Berg. Why do they keep missing or having their “weak” attempts saved? And quite soon the talk turns to a certain rather tall gentleman who now plays his club football in Los Angeles. The cry is the same as it has been since 2002: “in with Zlatan”!

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Colombia 1-1 England (3-4 pens): Unrecognizable Colombia flying home

From a tactical perspective, it was not the brightest match from the Cafeteros. Pekerman’s strategy was to stop the ball circulation from England’s midfielders and that was crucial for a team with such offensive vocation.

We saw in our previous analyses how Juan Quintero plays a central role on Colombia’s team, and how all the build-up thinking passes thorough him.

Well, when Colombia most needed the football from his ball wizard, Quintero had his worst performance in the tournament. Aggravated by the absence of star man James Rodriguez, we saw a Colombian team worried more about American referee Mark Geiger’s actions rather than it’s own football playing.

Quintero scored 662 points in 88 minutes, an average of 7.5 points per minute, and he only played one important pass on Twelve’s dashboard (worth 86 points at minute 75). A very poor production from such a key player.

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Brazil 2-0 México: The elegant gentleman strikes again

Brazil faced Mexico with awareness. Juan Carlos Osorio is a master of the unpredictable, and his mutant team is able to show different faces in the field. What never changes is the velocity with which they exchange passes and positions.

México came with high pressing commanded by the trident Lozano-Chicharito-Vela. It gave Brazil a hard time for the initial 20 minutes, especially because they inverted sides when attacking, with many diagonal balls. However, Thiago Silva and Miranda stood steadily through the storm, and when it stopped, it became clear that the match was about Brazil getting the spot in the quarterfinals.

That made an Argentinian on Twitter write this funny conclusion after half an hour:

“México is that poor guy that fell in love with his friend but never dares to tell her. His sneaking attempts are in vain, he knows he can’t make it, yet never surrenders, while Brazil is this elegant gentleman who conquers her only by smiling.”

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Belgium 3-2 Japan: Martinez saved by stunning subs

Belgium managed to become the first side since West Germany in 1970 to recover from a 2-0 deficit in the knockout stages as they beat Japan 3-2.

From the get-go, Japan started the game extremely brightly which took the Belgians by surprise. They held onto the ball well and created a number of chances with their high energy passing and dribbling.

Belgium looked very depleted and slow on the ball, struggling to find the right ball in the final third. When they did get their chance Romelu Lukaku scuffed his lines yet again, missing a tap-in from five yards out when the ball got tangled in-between his legs. The first half finished 0-0 in a rather disappointing fashion.

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Spain’s and Iniesta’s exit signals time to break the mould

For too many times over the entire 120 minutes, that familiar arc in front of Russia’s box showed up from Jordi Alba to Nacho (Dani Carvajal replaced him in the 70th minute) via the supremely talented midfielders; the ball shifting from one Spanish boot to another.

That Spain raked in 1029 passes would not have been entirely surprising, this was a team ingrained with the culture of passing teams to submission. They had been very successful with it at the Euro 2008, World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012, so it was only logical when Fernando Hierro at his first news conference as the coach of Spain said he was going to change as little as possible.

How much could he realistically change? He had only come in to the side on the eve of the World Cup after Spanish federation president Luis Rubiales sacked Julen Lopetegui two days before the opening game against Portugal.

The Spanish team did not hit the pre-tournament height that was expected with their assortment of well-blended technicians. The exciting opening game draw against Portugal showed cracks in the side, the suspect defending and disappointing goalkeeping.

The win against Iran was labored and the goal was as ‘Unspainly’ as ever; a clearance that went in off Diego Costa. It took a bit of VAR magic for the side to battle to a draw against Morocco. The signs were there.

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Croatia 1-1 Denmark (3-2 pens): Error 404 – Eriksen not found

In a match which finished 1-1 and had plenty of drama, Croatia held off both it’s nerve and Denmark 3-2 in penalty kicks with the veteran shot-stopper Danijel Subasic stepping up at the right time. After Russia’s goalkeeper made two big penalty saves to help the hosts shock Spain in the round of 16, Croatia’s goalkeeper put on his own world-class display, saving three penalty kicks to guide Croatia past the Scandinavians.

The second-smallest nation left in the competition squandered a chance to win the match with 116 played after Kasper Schmeichel superbly kept out Luka Modric’s penalty and saved two more later in the shootout. Croatia will now return to the quarterfinals for just the second time in history, and the first time since the 1998 tournament in France.

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Spain 1-1 Russia (3-4 pens): Form Loses to Essence as Hosts Shock La Roja

If football is more than merely a sport – art or even a way of life – then a philosophical description of the match at Luzhniki between Spain and Russia is befitting.  

Aristotle and Plato were the first ones to touch on the subject of essence, which in philosophical terms is the property that makes substance what it is in it’s fundamental core, compared to form which in the simplest of terms is a reflection of essence.

Apply it to the match in which the host nation of the World Cup successfully eliminated one of the remaining favourites to lift the title and you’ll see a victory of essence over form in a dramatic penalty shootout. Read More

Uruguay 2-1 Portugal: Duos are making the difference.

On the same day Messi was sent home by France in Argentina’s loss, the other “GOAT” at this tournament was also eliminated. And it was only two weeks ago that Cristiano Ronaldo scored a hat trick in the same stadium against Spain, stroking his chin after the first goal to imply he was the “greatest of all time.”

This time it was Cavani who instead took the spotlight. He combined with Luis Suarez to complete a series of precision passes to give Uruguay the early advantage with a header in the seventh minute.

In this map from OPTA, we can see how Cavani starts the build-up play from his own half, and attacked the space on Portugal’s six yard box to receive the assist from Suarez. Great goal. In fact, the ball hit his face and bounced in but the combination play was still something to savour.

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Portugal exit the World Cup with a strange feeling of being better

Two goals from Edinson Cavani lead Uruguay to the World Cup quarter-finals, and sent Portugal home with a strange feeling of being better.

Better than in the previous games, first of all, but the bar was so low that playing more effectively than in the group stage was insufficient to continue in the tournament. And Portugal may have left with the feeling that it was better than Uruguay, that they deserved another outcome, but that was the bitter conclusion reached by many of their opponents in Euro 2016 or this World Cup.

The truth is that Cavani’s first goal, with just seven minutes played, made Uruguay extremely comfortable. Sitting in the armchair, with a beer can in the hand, watching a World Cup match. Óscar Tabárez’s side retreated for the last 30 meters with a ‘do not disturb’ sign on the edge of the area. And Portugal respected this request in the first half: they settled there, in the offensive midfield, but practically did nothing to bother goalkeeper Fernando Muslera.

Even with constant exchanges of positions between João Mário, Bernardo Silva and Gonçalo Guedes, the European champions were attracted to the outside and restricted to crosses, which was to Diego Godín and Jose Maria Giménez’s immense satisfaction.

Curiously, it was from a set-piece that Portugal scored the equalizer, at minute 55, with Pepe taking advantage of the fact the Uruguayan duo were more worried about Cristiano Ronaldo.

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