Brian Phillips and Greg Bartram answer my simple minded World Cup questions entering the knockout stage of the tournament. - Colin G.
1) After group stage, whose stock is rising and who is falling?
Brian - To me the knock out stage (16 remaining teams, single elimination) is all about match-ups. We're seeing parity in this year's field. No one's stock is falling faster than host Russia. Uruguay exposed them 3-0 in the group finale. Spain will make quick work of them. I'm certainly more intrigued by Sweden after what they did to Mexico.
Greg - Agreed with Sweden, but I also thing El Tri still has a trick or two up their sleeve. This is a team that made the US look disinterested at home here in Columbus, so I think there's more here. Russia made out like bandits umping out to an 8-1 goal differential, but I think that was the adrenaline of being at home. I expect them to crater. Speaking of stock falling...Argentina? They barely made it, and out of a perennial powerhouse like that with a player the caliber of Messi to stink up the joint that badly...
What games are you most looking forward to in the first knockout round?
Brian - Brazil/Mexico for me. Can Mexico return to the form they showed against Germany? Can Brazil stand up to the physical game they'll see from El Tri? A not 100% Neymar should expect to be knocked around again. Will the center ref offer any protection or let them play? I am also very curious about England/Columbia. Heavy expectations again on the Brits. Does Harry Kane have another goal or two in him?
Greg - Brazil/Mexico, as Brian says, but also and especially France/Argentina. I think France dominates this. Uruguay/Portugal...Sorry, Suarez...you go home sad, methinks.
Do you feel the use of replay has been a success?
Brian - I have loved the replay. The ones I've seen they've gotten correct, and in important spots. And they've been efficient in the process.
Greg - I think VAR has been effective. I haven't seen one that they got wrong. The goal against Germany would've been a crime to let slip away. Not too much to break up the flow, but keeping the game legal...I'm all about it.
What teams would you put your money on at this point?
Brian- I'm liking France right now., but I'm glad I don't have money on this. Expect some surprises. The final four will be all Europeans.
Greg - I was all about the Sons and 'Ssons of Iceland, and sorry they didn't advance. Portugal's an interesting story, underdoggy because of the country's size, but turning out some of the word's best...Ronaldo has been a machine. And here's your Michigan debate...you have Michigan, but you root for the B1G, right? Same thing for El Tri. The US looks better the deeper Mexico moves...maybe their defense should Build a Wall? I'm feeling Portugal