Last 16 Round-up
If you didn’t catch our previews for this round of games, then you probably won’t want to now. But just in case – they’re here.
The round of 16 missing Germany didn’t disappoint. After it, we’re missing at least one more big contender.
Russia v Spain
Spain are boring. We asked to be woken up after they were out. And while we said this game would be tight even we didn’t expect quite that quick a nap. It’s a game we’re quite pleased to have slept through though. Spain out. You could pin it on Lopategui’s departure or on Florentino Perez for orchestrating that, but really this just felt like the end of an era, and not too soon.
Russia stuck to a game plan, worked hard and got a couple of breaks – notably the penalty not given via VAR (we are saying nothing.) What can Russia do in this tournament now? A semi? England? VAR? Yeah, we’ll leave that there.
Denmark v Croatia
The most interesting thing to come out of this game might be a rule change… maybe that’s unfair, it might well have produced a World Cup finalist.
It was a dull game improved by the drama of a shoot-out. A day for the goalkeepers (will Kasper really want his man of the match award though?)
Back to that rule change though. Jorgensen did what any of us would do – that really shouldn’t be forgotten. But the debate has really focused around the punishment. Should he reallyhave been given a red immediately? Or should it only be a red if the resulting penalty is missed? Does football need a penalty try equivalent where such offences are punished simply by the award of a goal?
All of these have been suggested. But a rule change would surely miss the point. We all accept that 20-30% of penalties are missed. We’re happy to decide games on the premise that a penalty might be missed after extra-time. Is it really so different ten-minutes before that?
Back in the here and now - can Croatia go all the way? They weren’t stellar, but neither are the teams who stand in their way.
Uruguay v Portugal
What. A. Goal. The first Cavani goal is, personally, my favourite goal of the tournament so far. Pavard’s was * objectively * better, but did it come off a face? Did it look like there was only him, his mate and a goalkeeper knocking the ball about in a park? Did it lift a game that would otherwise have been, well… ?
Aside from that, this was a game noteworthy for Ronaldo’s exposed undershorts (and thighs.) Magnificent if ridiculous. An instant meme.
France v Argentina
We are all living in Kylian’s world now. With a pump of his thighs, a flash of his grin, a flick of his boot he can turn any one of us into gurning, grasping, desperate Marcos Rojo.
He wouldn’t do it to you unless you made him though, would he? Look at that smile. There was a video of PSG teammate Thiago Silva giving him a TMNT mask. Did you make him angry, Thiago? Are you going to be playing a semi against him, Thiago? Are you a very silly boy, Thiago?
Oh yeah, and then Pavard took some time out from his DJing to bang that one in the top corner. Argentina made a game of it, but it just wouldn’t have been right in the end.
Belgium v Japan
Oh Japan. 2-0 isn’t the worst scoreline in football, and for that reason the cliché that it’s the most dangerous is often mocked. But it is dangerous. Japan got tired and began to sit deeper and deeper on their two goal lead rather than continuing with the pressing that had got them that far.
Martinez chucked his principles behind the advertising hoardings and got on with fully utilising Belgium’s height advantage. The first goal was a fluke. The second was… Fellaini.
And then Kevin de Bruyne did what Kevin de Bruyne does. Irrepressible running. The inch perfect pass. Romelu Lukaku did half of what he always does. Exquisite movement and then the hi- except he didn’t hit it. Instead, with force of his own will he overcame his natural instincts as a striker to hit the ball, and what must have been an aching personal desire to be the man who won it. Chadli might have scored, but in leaving it, Lukaku was that winning man just as much as if he’s stroked it into the back of the net himself.
Belgium will have to be better, especially at the back. But you get the sense they might be. They’ll be better prepared, more alert surely, and also lifted by winning in that fashion. Belgium vs Brazil on Friday night. Apologise to any ‘friends’ who don’t like the football now.
England v Colombia
Gareth Southgate’s England revolution arrived in Moscow. And was. And wasn’t. And then was again. Fans of Russian revolutionary history might recognise that trajectory. England absolutely deserved this victory. And they deserved to win the shootout. They stayed cool despite provocation, largely getting involved in the shithousery on their own terms – I’m looking at you Jordan Henderson and Harry Maguire (dive and shootout celebration). This was a tournament performance to banish ghosts and instil belief. Would Colombia have played better, or even differently, with James Rodríguezin the side? Maybe, but that’s not really the point.
Read our player ratings for more detail (featuring an apology).
Sweden v Switzerland
A fairly tawdry affair. Sweden won but Switzerland offered next to nothing. That means we don’t know much more about Sweden than we did after the group stage – which, in turn, felt like almost nothing. It was too far in the future to think about at the time, but writing now, after * that * shootout, what kind of opponents do they make for England? They defended resolutely and looked dangerous on the counter. There’ll be a full preview to come for this one, don’t panic.
Brazil v Mexico
Mexico came out of the blocks as they have done all tournament. With a bang. Lozano and Vela looked dangerous early on, but couldn’t find the net. Brazil have only conceded 6 goals in 25 games, so that shouldn’t have been a surprise. There was always a man there at the last. And then, as the game went on, Brazil really started to play. Neymar started to pass. Willian didn’t stop running. Ultimately Brazil and France look the strongest teams on this side of the drawer, and if Brazil can blunt Mbappé, which they’re capable of on this evidence, then they’ll follow through on their pre-tournament favourites tag.
There was a question about whether this round might let down an excellent group stage. It didn’t. Twenty-five goals. Three shootouts. The rise of a superstar. On to the next one.