The knock out stage of the World Cup is well underway, with only eight teams now left in the competition.
Only five of the world’s top ten sides remain in contention: Brazil, Spain, Holland, Germany and Argentina. Portugal and England fell in the first knock out round, while France and Italy failed to get that far, and Croatia did not even qualify for the finals.
The outsiders are Uruguay at 16th, Paraguay 31st and Ghana 32nd
The first round of group matches averaged just over two goals a game. In the last 16 we saw 23 goals in 8 games, taking the average just a little higher.
In the race for the Golden Boot, Gonzalo Higuain of Argentina. Spain’s David Villa and Robert Vittek of Slovakia remain at the top of the pile. All three have now scored four goals, as each netted in the last round, although Vittek won’t be adding to his total after his side’s defeat to Holland.
On three goals and still in the tournament are Brazil’s Luis Fabiano, Luis Suarez of Uruguay and Thomas Muller of Germany. And several top strikers have scored twice including the likes of Tevez, Podolski and Forlan.
A few more for the stattos: Lionel Messi has so far had 23 shots at goal without scoring. Kaka and Muller are the top of the tree when it comes to assists with three each. And Mesut Oezil of Germany is the most flagged player, having been caught offside six times so far.
Not surprisingly Spain dominate in passes completed, with Xabi, Xabi Alonso, Busquets and Pique in the top four places.
The quarter final line up is intriguing.
There is a mouth-watering clash to kick us off: Holland v Brazil. The pair last met in the 1998 semi-finals with the Brazilians winning on penalties. The Dutch have eased through the competition without ever hitting top form and will need to improve substantially if they are to progress. Brazil have been impressive so far, combining an unusually solid defence with some fine attaching football, and I expect them to move into the semi-finals.
The surprise tie of the tournament is up next when Uruguay take on Ghana, who needed extra time to overcome the USA. The South Americans will be favourites to knock out the last remaining African team from the competition. With Forlan and Suarez both looking sharp up front they should win this one.
Argentina v Germany should be a classic encounter. Both teams have played good football and have key players on form. Both adopt an attacking approach to the game so there should be goals in this one. These two nations met at the same stage in the last World Cup and Germany progressed after a penalty shoot-out. I’m taking Maradona’s men to get their revenge in a tie that may go all the way once more.
And finally Spain take on surprise side Paraguay, victors over Japan in the only penalty shoot-out so far. This could be something of a repeat of Spain’s quarter final victory over Portugal, as they take on a defensive side that will be intent on stopping them playing. But with Villa on top form the Spanish should manage to carve out the chances they need to take care of their South American opposition.
So I’m looking at a semi-final line up with a Latin feel to it: Uruguay v Brazil and Argentina v Spain.
And the final? Well, I’m sticking to my pre-tournament prediction of Brazil to beat Spain and take the trophy yet again.
This hasn’t been the greatest of World Cups so far. Many of the big stars have failed to perform and the European sides in particular have disappointed.
Perhaps now that we have reached the business end of things the quality will improve and there will be some matches to remember.