After what has arguably been the most entertaining group stage in World Cup history, featuring buckets of goals and dominant performances, the round of last sixteen has been a much cagier affair. Remarkably five of the eight fixtures went to extra-time, but despite how tight the games were, there was still no shortage of entertainment, with an average of two goals a match. It was a round in which the underdogs did much more than make up the numbers, pushing each of the big sides close, although ultimately all was for naught, as one by one they crashed out.
Of the big boys, only France and Colombia were convincing in their victories. Dechamps now looks vindicated in his decision to drop several big names, with his side showing a real collective spirit and playing with real flair and freedom. Although Nigeria had a goal narrowly ruled offside in the opening stages, with Ahmed Musa once again influential following his brace against Argentina, the French soon began to assert themselves, with the midfield trio of Matuidi, Pogba and Cabaye dictating play. Victor Enyeama continued a fine World Cup, in which he has proven himself to be the best African goalkeeper currently playing the sport, if not ever, with a number of fine saves, Pogba and Benzema both going close. When he was finally first beaten, the crossbar came to Enyeama rescue, after Yohan Cabaye struck a fantastic volley. France were not to be denied however, and it was Pogba who headed home the opener, following on from an excellent Valbuena corner.
It was the Marseille man who once again produced for France’s second, his well-placed crossed turned in by Joseph Yobo under pressure from Antoine Griezmann, to make the score line more reflective of the French’s dominance. Colombia won by the same score against Uruguay, a match very much decided by the brilliance of one man. James Rodriguez registered both goals of the game, first netting an exquisite volley with perfect technique, and then rounding off a magnificent team move by putting away Cuadrado’s headed cross. The match was fairly even in terms of possession, and Uruguay even registered more shots on goal than their opponents, but in reality it was a thoroughly deserved victory for the Colombians. With Suarez banned and Cavani underwhelming, Oscar Tabarez’ men did not have the piece of magic needed to unlock Colombia, David Ospina more than equal to those shots that were goal bound.
Colombia on the other-hand once again displayed their quite awesome array of firepower and were menacing every time they poured forward. Having now made it into the World Cup quarter finals for the first time, Colombia will now have real hope that they can put the twenty year shame of Andrés Escobar’s death behind them and create a new World Cup legacy. This is the undoubtedly the most talented generation of Colombian players since Escobar, Valderrama, Asprilla and co, and if they can overcome Brazil in the next round, Perkerman’s team will be confident of their chances of winning the whole tournament. Brazil struggled against a rugged, combative and talented Chile side, Sampaoli’s men taking the Selecao all the way to penalties once the in demand Alexis Sanchez had cancelled out PSG bound David Luiz’ opener. The match could well hang on a moment of genius by either Neymar or James Rodriguez; both have been brilliant in the competition just far, with the Colombian just that little bit ahead with five goals and two assists to his name.
On the same day as that matchup occurs, France will face-off against Germany, who were less than convincing against surprise package Algeria in their last sixteen tie. The Germans waltzed through the group stage, but found the North Africans to be sterner opposition, and in fact, it was the Algerians who nearly drew first blood, Islam Slimani twice carved out chances, and even had a goal correctly overruled for being offside. Joachim Löw’s side controlled possession and had plenty of shots on goal, but M’Bolhi was one of several ‘keepers to have a superb round, keeping the Germans at bay whilst Algeria continued to threaten on the break. Manuel Neur was vital as a sweeper keeper, having to regularly come out of his area to put in tackles or make a pass; he racked up 59 touches, 21 of which were outside of the box, passing the ball an impressive 11 more times than André Schürrle. It was the Chelsea man who eventually did break the deadlock, as German pressure finally told, scoring somewhat fortuitously with a back heel from a Thomas Müller pass.
The Algerians were out for revenge against Germany for the Anschluss incident of 1982, when West Germany and Austria played out a tepid and obviously agreed 1-0 win which saw them both progress through the group stage ahead of Algeria who had already beaten the Germans and looked likely to progress. They may not have gotten the win they wanted, but Vahid Halilhodžić and his team can be proud they took the strong favourites into extra-time. Ozil added a second for Germany, before Djabou added a late consolation. Algeria will likely take no solace from the fact that they had the chances to snatch the game, and their elimination marks the end of African participation in Brazil. Germany meanwhile will have to dramatically improve if they are to take on the in form French.