A game between two of the most frustrating sides of the tournament. Both teams have all the attacking talent in the world but can’t seem to produce a minute of good offensive football at this World Cup. Argentina has used three different systems in three matches, using a classic 4-3-3 in their last game against Nigeria. It’s unclear who makes the calls now; various Argentinian media outlets have suggested that Javier Mascherano and Lionel Messi are now in charge of the line-up and not manager Jorge Sampaoli.
This will probably be a match where France has more ball-possession, with Argentina sitting a little bit deeper and trying to launch counter attacks via Lionel Messi and Ángel Di María. The French team has shown some problems when confronted with a very defensive side and Argentina still has world-class attackers who can demolish every opponent when given time and space on the ball. Our model predicts a close game, with a slightly bigger chance for Argentina (52% chance of winning).
Prepare for some ugly football in this one! (Uruguay had the lowest amount of shots conceded in the group phase of the World Cup.) They are also the only side that has not conceded a goal. Even though Group A was the weakest group, that’s still impressive. Their defence leans on Diego Godín and José Giménez and their midfielders are packed with hard workers who can also pass a little bit and of course, up front they have Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez.
Portugal has continued in the same fashion in which they won EURO2016. After drawing against Spain and scoring an early goal from a corner kick against Morocco, they have mostly defended deep and played on the counter-attack. This strategy almost saw them eliminated. Even though Portugal has fine midfielders to play in midfield in Bernardo Silva and João Moutinho, they have chosen to defend and counter-attack. In possession, the whole team is focussing on creating a chance for Cristiano Ronaldo.
So these are two sides that look pretty much the same: defend deep with the whole team and try to create chances for one of the best attackers in the world. This will probably be an intense, low scoring game that comes down to little mistakes and chances taken. Our model predicts a 50/50 game.
Spain has been good, but not great. Russia will probably not be a problem for them. When it comes to possession, nobody beats the Spanish team and they have been very comfortable in locking the opposition in their own half. What’s missing is a way to actually convert all that ball-possession in decent goal scoring opportunities.
Russia has scored eight goals in the group phase. Six of them were scored by Denis Cheryshev and Artem Dzyuba, who wasn’t even supposed to be in the starting eleven. Every tournament sees one team where things just click, Russia seems to be that team this edition. Their plan in possession basically is: hit it long to the gigantic Artem Dzyuba and try to win the second ball. It’s a good way to bully minnow sides like Saudi-Arabia and Egypt, but against Spain they will need a much better plan for effective counter-attacks.
This is the most lopsided match in the round of 16. Spain will have something close to 80% ball-possession and the best of chances. Our model predicts a whopping 90% chance that Spain goes through to the quarter finals.
Together with Uruguay and Belgium, Croatia has been the only team to collect nine points from their three group matches. They have occasionally pressed the opponent high up the pitch and like to have the ball. But as shown in their 3-0 win over Argentina, they are also comfortable if they have to sit back and focus on counter attacks as well. It’s very hard to press this team because they have two of the most press-resistant midfielders in the world with Luka Modrić and Ivan Rakitić.
Denmark mostly plays in a direct 4-2-3-1, but they are a very versatile team who can change formations and ways of playing. Against France, when they needed the point, Denmark played a 4-1-4-1 with defender Andreas Christensen as a defensive midfielder. The defence hasn’t been the issue for them at this World Cup; the big question for Denmark is if Christian Eriksen’s support cast is good enough. Pione Sisto hasn’t impressed, the fullbacks aren’t producing good crosses and Yussuf Poulsen is a striker fielded on the wing. If Eriksen can’t create, nobody creates.
Even though Croatia has the best players, a surprise may be possible here. Expect a match where Croatia dominates the ball and Denmark sit deep and hoping for some Eriksen magic on the counter-attack. Our model predicts a 71% chance of Croatia winning this match.
As shown in our blog about comparing clubs to countries, Belgium and England have been in a very easy group, so it’s fair to say that for both teams the World Cup really starts in the round of 16. Even though Belgium has looked great in attack against Tunisia and Panama, there are some doubts about the defence, with young defender Dedryck Boyata struggling in particular. Even against those lesser talented teams in group G, there were some problems in preventing chances.
Playing a mix of starters and reservers, Japan stumbled into the next round by losing 1-0 to a very mediocre Poland team. They are a fairly technical team with a lot of hard-working players. Keisuke Honda, once again, has been the standout player, while captain Makoto Hasebe has been a very solid midfield pairing with Gaku Shibasaki. Their goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima might be the worst goalie in the round of 16. Japan is not very good at defending as a unit and have conceded in all matches.
Belgium should win this, and our model also thinks so: a 89% chance for the Belgian team to advance to the last 8.
Together with Spain, Brazil is the only team to have shown why they are considered a heavy favourite to win the World Cup. Even though they have not been sparkling, they have won against Costa Rica and Serbia, and should have won against Switzerland. As predicted before the tournament, Brazil focuses on closing their ranks and speculate on the individual brilliance of Neymar and Coutinho. It’s a very hard-working team that doesn’t overcomplicate things.
What will worry Brazil’s manager Tite, is Mexico’s game against Germany. Mexico’s head coach Juan Carlos Osorio is a shrewd tactician and his plan against Germany was perfectly drawn up and executed. They nullified Germany’s playmaker Toni Kroos and after they won the ball immediately sought the spaces behind the defence so Hirving Lozano and Chicharito could become dangerous. Against Costa Rica and Switzerland in particular, Brazil had to concede some chances after losing the ball.
Our model predicts that Brazil go through, but make sure you put on your television for this one. This won’t be a match with a lot of goals, and if Mexico can score on the break, there might be a big surprise in store. Our model heavily favours the Canaries though: a 93% chance of winning.
Another even matchup to be played in the round of 16 according to our model. Switzerland is one of the few teams that actually try to press the opponent high up the pitch. They have a very good midfield duo in Granit Xhaka and Valon Behrami, creativity on the wings and a good mix of talent and experience at the back. Overall, it’s a very decent and complementary team that just misses a true striker.
Sweden is a hard-working team that relies on the basics. They play like Iceland; a 4-4-2 that gives no space to the opponent. It’s impressive that they made it out of the group with a striking duo consisting of Marcus Berg (who plays in the United Arab Emirates) and Ola Toivonen, who didn’t manage to score for Toulouse this season. Their only creative player is Emil Forsberg.
This has the potential to be a thrashing if Switzerland score early, but seeing as they don’t have a true striker, that might not be the case. Our model gives Switzerland the biggest chance of winning: 63%
For England, this is the first real opposition they face, as the last group match between Belgium and England turned out to be a game between reserves. England has looked good and scored eight goals, but it should not be forgotten that six of them came from set pieces. It’s questionable whether it was smart to give away a lot of set-piece routines away against opposition like Panama and Tunisia. Especially the wonderful free-kick routine that yielded the 4-0 against Panama could have better been saved for later in the tournament. England has played out from the back magnificent, but can players like Harry Maguire, Jordan Henderson and Kyle Walker also produce this against quality opposition?
Colombia is dangerous; they have only lost to Japan, a match in which they received a red card in the third minute. Yerry Mina has been rock-solid at the back, Juan Quintero is a standout performer who has been very creative in the final third and James is still one the worlds most complete midfielders. This should be a fun game in which England can prove its true value. Our model predicts: 79% chance of England winning this match.