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  • Last Update : 10:24 am

Do-or-die as knockout stage begins Saturday

  • Published at 05:13 am June 30th, 2018
  • Last updated at 05:34 am June 30th, 2018

From Saturday, a brand new ball named Telstar Mechta with a new and vivid red design, inspired by the colours of the host nation Russia, will be used in the knockout-stage of the 2018 Fifa World Cup.

The name Mechta means “dream” or “ambition” in Russian and the ball has been constructed with the same design elements as the Telstar 18, the ball used throughout the group stage.

The new colour will reflect the added intensity and opportunity in the knockout stage where there is no scope for any margin of error for the qualified teams.

Here is how it stands before the start of the eight matches in the round of 16:

France v Argentina

Saturday, June 30 in Kazan

There is no better way to open the knockout stage. The two former champions have a lot to prove themselves when they meet in the first second-round match. Filled with many international stars, it will be the first high-voltage do-or-die showdown in Russia. Lionel Messi will undoubtedly be at the centre of focus. With the worst statistical record among the last 16 teams, the Albiceleste though have history on their side as they have won twice against Les Blues in the greatest show on earth. In contrast, France, who have had a far easier ride till now, boast a wonderful record against the other south American sides and are still unbeaten in their last eight matches.

Key players: Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe (France); Lionel Messi, Ever Banega (Argentina).

Uruguay v Portugal

Saturday, June 30 in Sochi

In another battle between the south Americans and the Europeans, an intense fight is expected in Sochi where the temperature is a bit higher than usual. While Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani will surely trouble the Portuguese defence, Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo will be a major threat for the Uruguayan backline. With four goals in Russia, Ronaldo will look to score again and carry his team to the quarters. With two goals, Suarez needs one more to equal Oscar Miguez as the Celeste's all-time top goal-scorer in the World Cup. Though this is the very first time both the teams will be facing each other in the World Cup, the players are familiar among themselves having played against each other in the leagues in Spain and Portugal.

Key players: Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani (Uruguay); Cristiano Ronaldo, Bernardo Silva (Portugal).

Spain v Russia

Sunday, July 1 in Moscow

The host, who made a dream start to the tournament and qualified for the knockout stage for the first time in history despite losing to Uruguay in the last group match, will get a reality check at the Luzhniki against 2010 world champion Spain. La Furia Roja won Group B dramatically after a late Iago Aspas goal saw them draw against Morocco. Despite enjoying a 23-match unbeaten run in international football, Spain will need to be on their guard to tackle Russia’s home advantage, often seen as a determining factor in the World Cup.

Key players: Isco, Andres Iniesta (Spain); Aleksandr Golovin (Russia).

Croatia v Denmark

Sunday, July 1 in Nizhny Novgorod

Croatia, led by their vibrant captain Luka Modric, were on a different level in the group stage, especially after thrashing last year’s finalist Argentina so convincingly. It is expected Denmark will be no match for the Croats. The solid midfield of the Vatreni give their fans high hope that they would go through to the quarter-final but in the game of football, especially when it is the knockout stage, the final destination will be decided by their performance on the pitch. The Croats know all too well about Denmark’s threat and they will need to be on their toes against Christian Eriksen, who is having a wonderful World Cup.

Key players: Luka Modrić, Ante Rebić, Ivan Rakitić (Croatia); Christian Eriksen, Pione Sisto (Denmark).

Brazil v Mexico

Monday, July 2 in Samara

Mexico started the World Cup brilliantly beating world champion Germany, which eventually saw the Die Mannschaft crash out of the tournament. But after getting hammered by Sweden in the last group stage match, El Tri now can take inspiration from their last World Cup encounter with mighty Brazil when goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa became the ultimate hero following a brilliant performance against the host in the group stage. Brazil suffered a heavy blow due to Marcelo’s injury but the other players have shown some form and class the other day, including Neymar, which will boost them to reach yet another quarter-final.

Key players: Phillippe Coutinho, Neymar (Brazil); Hirving Lozano, Guillermo Ochoa (Mexico).

Belgium v Japan

Monday, July 2 in Rostov-on-Don

The Red Devils were probably the most convincing side in the group stage, scoring frequently. And even with a second-string team they were able to beat England in the last group stage match, although the Three Lions made eight changes themselves. Facing this Belgian squad filled with so many international stars, Japan, the only Asian team alive in the tournament, will take some motivation from the 2002 World Cup when they drew with the Europeans in Japan.

Key players: Romelu Lukaku, Eden Hazard (Belgium); Shinji Kagawa, Takashi Inui (Japan).

Sweden v Switzerland

Tuesday, July 3 in St Petersburg

Both the teams have played some desperate football to qualify for the second stage. Switzerland qualified as Group E runners up after earning a wonderful draw against Brazil and beating Serbia. On the other hand, Sweden were denied a famous win after a last gasp Toni Kroos goal. The Swedes though eventually qualified with two wins against South Korea and Mexico. The Swedes should be fully aware of the threat posed by the Swiss.

Key players: Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland); Ola Toivonen (Sweden).

Colombia v England

Tuesday, July 3 in Moscow

Despite a bad start, Colombia were able to top the group comprising teams of the same calibre like Japan, Senegal and Poland. Though there is confusion regarding the fitness of captain James Rodriguez, the performance of their defender Yerry Mina in the last two games will inspire them to fight hard against the English. The Three Lions on the other hand, started vibrantly in the World Cup, riding on their captain Harry Kane, but conceded defeat against a second-string Belgian side. But a full-strength team, led by Kane, will surely give them hope of going far in this World Cup.  

Key players: Yerry Mina, David Ospina (Colombia); Harry Kane, Ruben Loftus-Cheek (England).

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