England v. Germany (10 AM ET)
England finally managed to get their weight back on the front foot in their final group game, beating Slovenia 1-0. James Milner (whose former club coach at Newcastle infamously once said “We’ll never win anything with a team of James Milners”) proved the difference, giving the team width and good crosses. Getting the stolid Emile Heskey off the field helped as well. But the team still looked a little iffy at the back, which is perhaps unsurprising given that they were down to their 4th-string choice for John Terry’s central defense partner. Jamie Carragher returns from suspension for this round, though it’s unclear whether that does anything to improve the situation, given that he only just came out of international retirement for this World Cup .
Slovenia didn’t have the team speed to exploit that weakness at the back, something that clearly won’t be the case for Germany so long as Memet Oezil is around. The little German (well, Turkish) attacker has been one of the revelations of the tournament, as we don’t see who on England is going to be able to match up against him, unless Gareth Barry is suddenly all the way back from injury. Oezil will combine with German (well, Polish) strikers Miloslav Klose and Lucas Podolski to present an attacking threat England hasn’t seen yet. Germany’s defense is a bit of an unknown though, and is very young for a team with Cup-winning aspirations.
Both teams will be well supported, England with jingoistic lager lads, and Germany with a more mixed crowd that will be baffled by England’s jingoism, given that England actually won the war.
Prediction: England 1-1 Germany (Germany advance on penalties. Germany always advance on penalties.)
Argentina v. Mexico (2:30 PM)
Another great game, and a rematch of a 2-1 Argentina victory from the last World Cup. Argentina have had trouble getting all the way into top gear, in part because Leo Messi hasn’t gotten the ball into the back of the net. He has played about as well as an attacker can play without scoring, though, and Argentina had more than enough residual quality to top their group. If there are concerns, they’re at the back, where Martin Demichelis is terrifying all Argentines, and notional all-field CM Juan Veron is proving unable to get up and down the field. Even with that, Argentina have been on the very short list of elite teams at this tournament.
Mexico have been getting lots of good press for their attractive, attacking play, but have not been getting results to match. They were outplayed by Uruguay, and gave up a bad tying goal to South Africa, which is how they ended up facing Argentina this early despite being a popular second-choice team. We think they really need to bite the bullet and start Javier Hernandez up front. Yes, that will leave them with a starting attacking trio with an average age of about 22. But we’d rather talent than anything else, especially when up against the ridiculous top-to-bottom talent of Argentina. If Hernandez starts, we’ll see goals. If not, it could be yet another pretty defeat for Mexico.
Prediction: Argentina 3-1 Mexico