We’ve made it through the group stage of the World Cup. Our 16 remaining teams are set, with the eight matches starting tomorrow to determine who moves on.
These matchups run the gamut from “drop everything you’re doing and get to a TV now” to “sure,” but there isn’t a bad one in the bunch.
Let’s rank all eight of the remaining games by watchability:
Saturday, June 30 at 2 p.m. ET
I fully understand that this is a game that features Cristiano Ronaldo. And Luis Suarez. And Edinson Cavani. These are all exciting, wonderful players I usually adore watching. But mark my words: This game is going to be a nightmare. These are two teams that do not give a crap what anyone thinks of them. Both will sit back, and foul, and pull all sorts of shithousery, and be content if their strikers get one or two chances.
This match has all the makings of one in which someone is going to bite someone else, and I am not at all limiting that to Luis Suarez, who has bitten plenty of people. There might be multiple bites in this game. It might end with everyone chomping on one another, like some FIFA-Walking Dead crossover special.
Sunday, July 1 at 10 a.m. ET
If Russia get an early goal, this could be a fun one, but right now I’m just seeing Spain passing the ball around for 90 minutes while the Russians chase them around, and Spain will win, 2-0, and we’ll all look at their side of the bracket and realize, oh man Spain are going to win again, aren’t they?
6. Sweden vs. Switzerland
Tuesday, July 3 at 10 a.m. ET
This game could get a bit kicky, but both have players who can make stuff happen, Sweden will be riding high off that 3-0 win, and Granit Xhaka is due either for a 40-yard strike in the top right corner or a ridiculous red card for something unbelievably stupid, and either of those will make me happy. Plus, Shaqiri.
Monday, July 2 at 2 p.m. ET
I want to rank this game higher, but after watching the dispiriting display Japan just put on to get out of the group stage, I’m worried they’re just going to put 10 men in the box and we’re going to sit and watch Hazard and Lukaku firing shots off people’s faces for an entire game. Then again, Belgium have broken down teams trying to do that to them already this tournament. If Belgium get an early one, and Japan are forced to attack, this could get interesting.
Sunday, July 1 at 2 p.m. ET
The Velvet Underground game of the Round of 16. Might not appeal to the masses, but the true soccerheads will love it — a midfield battle featuring Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, and Christian Eriksen is one that should not be missed.
Saturday, June 30 at 10 a.m. ET
This game might not be so fun from a pure entertainment standpoint, but from a perverse fascination standpoint there might be no better matchup in the Round of 16. Will France actually attack, or will Didier Deschamps remain content to grind out wins? (This man is taking a Ferrari of a team and using it to haul groceries. Yes, it can get you to the shop and back, but, for the love of God, Didier, it can do so much more.)
On the other side, with Argentina, we have no idea. No idea. Argentina might figure out their lineup, free up Messi, and go on to win the entire tournament. Argentina’s players might all renounce their citizenship in the 30th minute and forfeit the match. ANYTHING IS IN PLAY HERE.
Tuesday, July 3 at 2 p.m. ET
England lost to Belgium in a nightmare of a match on Thursday, thus ensuring that they’re on the weaker side of the World Cup bracket. But being on that weaker side comes with a price — they have to play Colombia in the opener.
Colombia looked a bit lost without James Rodriguez, who exited their previous game with an injury in the 31st minute, but he might be fit enough to give it a go, and they’re dangerous everywhere even without him. England are coming in looking relaxed, playing beautiful, attacking football and actually threatening to make a run at things. If football is indeed coming home, it starts here.
Monday, July 2 at 10 a.m. ET
When these two teams have been on, they are the two most exciting teams in the World Cup. Mexico have already taken down one giant in Germany by going right at them, pressuring high and overwhelming them in the midfield and attack. Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio fears no opponent, and (I imagine) will try and beat Brazil the exact same way — by punching them in the mouth.
Brazil coach Tite will have options to counter what Mexico do, though. He could pack the midfield with ballwinners, plugging in Casemiro, Fernandhino, and Paulinho and getting physical. He could put Coutinho and Firmino on with Neymar and say “We’re going to pick you apart.” I’m getting fired up about this match just thinking about the lineup options, let alone what’s actually going to happen on the field.
Two of the most passionate fanbases in the world, two of the most thrilling teams in the tournament. It almost has to be good, doesn’t it?
(Cue 0-0 draw and it goes to penalties.)