The World Cup started with eight groups of four, 32 nations in all seeking to make it to the knockout stage. Colombia and — just barely — Japan grabbed the two spots from Group H in Thursday's early matches, and England and Belgium sorted out the top of Group F later that night to solidify the field going forward.
Here's a look at what's next, starting with the round of 16 :
Group A vs Group B, Group E vs Group F
This half of the bracket features big names in two high-powered matches right out of the gate: A loaded France squad plays Lionel Messi and Argentina in Saturday's early game, followed by Uruguay and Luis Suarez against Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo, with the winners meeting on 6 July.
Belgium — one of the few top-tier teams to deliver on their hype so far — play Japan, who sneaked out of their group because they got fewer yellow cards than Senegal. Monday's later match pits Neymar and a Brazil lineup that seems to be finding its form against a mercurial Mexico squad that knocked off Germany and South Korea but got hammered by Sweden. The winners will play on 6 July.
France vs Argentina
Lionel Messi & Co were on the verge of elimination before Marco Rojos' 86th-minute goal against Nigeria. With an average age of 26, France is among the youngest teams, led by dynamic 19-year-old striker Kylian Mbappe. At 31, this likely is Messi's last chance for the World Cup title he needs to match Diego Maradona in the minds of many Argentinians. While Argentina struggled, France must awaken from a somnambulant group-stage finale against Denmark.
Uruguay vs Portugal
Cristiano Ronaldo, like Messi a five-time FIFA Player of the Year, has four goals in the tournament leads the European champions against a Uruguay team known foremost for the bite marks Luis Suarez left in Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini four years ago. Uruguay is the least-populous of the round of 16 teams.
Brazil vs Mexico
El Tri fans hope for the elusive "quinto partido" — to reach a World Cup quarterfinal for the first time since 1986, which was on home soil. This is their best chance in years, with an attack led by Javier Hernandez and Carlos Vela. Center back Hector Moreno is suspended for yellow-card accumulation. Brazilian players are trying to atone for the 7-1 humiliation against Germany in the semi-finals at home four years ago. Philippe Coutinho has become as important to the Selecao attack as Neymar.
Belgium vs Japan
Belgium were among three teams to go 3-0 in group play, joining Croatia and Uruguay, and No 61 Japan will be heavy underdogs against the third-ranked Red Devils. Star forward Romelu Lukaku started the World Cup with consecutive two-goal games but missed Belgium's group-stage finale with an ankle injury. If Belgium advance, it would be in what appears to be the more difficult part of the bracket, lined up against Brazil or Mexico in the quarterfinals, then France, Argentina, Uruguay or Portugal in the semifinals.
Group C vs Group D, Group G vs Group H
Sunday starts with Russia hosting Spain in Moscow's main stadium, with the late game pitting Denmark, who haven't lost since the fall of 2016, against Croatia, who eased through their group with three wins. The winners meet on 7 July.
England will carry high expectations into their match on Tuesday against a talented Colombia team after essentially choosing that matchup by fielding a squad of reserves in their last group game against Belgium. And the final game of the round of 16 features a Swedish side that won a tough group versus a Swiss team with issues in the back but enough talent up front to score against anyone. The winners play on 7 July for the right to go to the semifinals.
Spain vs Russia
World Cup hosts outside the football powers usually perform better than expected. Russia should have huge support at Luzhniki Stadium, making it closer than the 10th vs 70th matchup in the rankings. Andres Iniesta, who scored the goal that won Spain's first World Cup title in 2010, remains on a rebuilt roster that struggled defensively in the group stage.
Croatia vs Denmark
Tottenham past vs. Spurs present, with Luka Modric leading Croatia and Christian Eriksen sparking Denmark. Croatia were among the most impressive group-stage teams, beating Nigeria, Argentina and Iceland by a combined 7-1 scoreline.
Colombia vs England
Harry Kane, whose five goals lead the World Cup, heads a young England team that finished the group stage without a cleansheet for the first time. Los Cafeteros, led by James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao, advanced after beating Senegal and were the only team to reach the round of 16 after losing their opener. Rodriguez's calf injury is a concern after it forced him out in the first half on Thursday. By losing to Belgium, England face what appears to be an easier path: Sweden or Switzerland in the quarterfinals, and Spain, Russia, Croatia or Denmark in the semifinals.
Sweden vs Switzerland
In their first World Cup in the post-Zlatan Ibrahimovic era, Sweden are looking to get past the round of 16 for the first time since finishing third in 1994. Swedish midfielder Sebastian Larsson is suspended, as are Swiss defenders Stephan Lichtsteiner and Fabian Schar. Switzerland are led by midfielders Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka.
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Updated Date: Jun 29, 2018 16:37:42 IST