And so finally on to the single-elimination, March Madness-style portion of the proceedings in South Africa. At this point, even we are forced to admit that things get iffy, mostly because of the way the bracket gets seeded. The first place team from each group will play against the second-placed team from another group in the Sweet 16. But the first-place team from a given group is placed in the opposite half of the draw from the second-place team in that group, to avoid rematches of group stage games as long as possible.
This means that even for groups where you can be pretty confident of which two teams will advance, it’s still hard to project how they’ll do in the knockout round because flipping the finishing order of the top two teams creates an entirely different path to the finals for each. Regardless, we’re going to try to power through. Here are the matchups (and a minimum of commentary), with projected winners bolded:
Just a pause here to note an absolutely fascinating possible matchup between two talented teams that have underachieved going in to the tournament. If we’re right, one of those teams will back into the QF almost by accident. One of the two best matches of the round.
And here’s the other. Seriously, CdI could win this game, especially with the crowd likely to be on their side. We are really tempted to pick them, in fact. It’s just that Spain hasn’t lost a non-trap game in years, literally. We think the winner goes to the finals no matter who wins. It’s tough to see how there could be a better Sweet 16 game.
Or except no, it isn’t tough at all, because peep this. We have CdI coming second in the Group of Death. But what if the group plays up to its billing, and CdI or Portugal steal some points off Brazil? If Brazil ended up in second in the Group of Death (and Spain wins its group as expected), we’d be looking at a Spain-Brazil R16 game. As you’ll see, we think that would be a waste of a perfectly good final.
Mexico/England (there will be at least one player sent off)
Netherlands/Brazil (over under: 3.5 goals)
Argentina/Germany (rematch of ’86 final)
England/Brazil (Brazil won a recent exhibition 2-0 in Dubai)
Spain 2-2 Brazil (Brazil win on PKs)