World Cup Recap: Round of 16 recap

Quarterfinals set after England and Sweden round out the last eight

Neymar and Brazil took care of Mexico. Photo courtesy of Nike

The quarterfinals are set after England and Sweden rounded out the last eight. The quarterfinals in the 2018 FIFA World Cup kick off on Friday and the final spots were confirmed on Tuesday. Uruguay-France, Brazil-Belgium, Sweden-England and Russia-Croatia are the matchups that will decide the final four.

Brazil 2-0 Mexico

Samara Arena, Samara
Attendance: 41,970

For the seventh consecutive World Cup appearance, Mexico are heading home with a loss in the round of 16. This time it was Brazil - an opponent Mexico liked their chances against - after the quality of players like Neymar, Coutinho and company was too much to handle. The first half was a constant back-and-forth exchange of attacking opportunities. Mexico generated four opportunities with none on target while Brazil had 11 shots (three on target), forcing the Mexican keeper Guillermo Ochoa to come up with three saves.

Brazil were more involved in the second half and had the better opportunities. Neymar and company bombarded the goal, outshooting Mexico 14 to 9 and forcing Ochoa to make five saves throughout the second half. Ultimately, Neymar broke through with a goal in the 51st minute. From that moment on, Neymar controlled the game and dictated the pace. A fresh Firmino came on late in the game to score in the 88th and put the match out of reach.

Analysis: Brazil continue to ascend as they march through this FIFA World Cup, with their weakest showing coming in their opening match against Switzerland. With all their talented players, it’s no surprise to see why the Samba Boys are considered the odds on favorite - on top of being a traditional power. The real competition will begin for Brazil, however, as they have to go through Belgium and the winner of Uruguay-France to reach the final. If they do so, then there will be little argument to say they don’t deserve to lift the cup.

Mexico will feel disappointment after such a promising start to the tournament. Their fans will feel it even more as they continue to see generation after generation fail to get past the round of 16. In fact, the last time Mexico advanced in the knockout stage was in 1986 when they hosted the tournament. The question now will be whether the federation decides to continue with the Manager Juan Carlos Osorio or go a different direction - with recent Chivas Manager Matías Almeyda the leading candidate after becoming a free agent.

Notable stat: Brazil picked up their 19th clean sheet in 25 matches under Manager Tite.

Belgium 3-2 Japan

Rostov Arena, Rostov-On-Don
Attendance: 41,466

This one was one of the more surprising matches of the knockout stage, but in the end the expected winner goes through. Japan - having gotten to this stage by the narrowest of technicalities - showed the intensity to make the most of the occasion. The Samurai Blue withstood a good Belgium team and held them scoreless in the first half. Belgium may have had a bit of a transition period in re-incorporating their starters back after resting them in their final group match. The score was 0-0 at the half.

Japan would take the lead in the 48th minute with a great finish from Genki Haraguchi on a ball that gets past Belgian defender Jan Vertonghen. Takashi Inui extended Japan’s lead in the 52nd minute with a strike from outside the halfmoon. Vertonghen would make up for his defensive lapse with a lobbing header in the 69th minute. Marouane Fellaini would erase Japan’s lead with a header of his own, capitalizing on a great pass from Eden Hazard to tie the match in the 74th minute. The match was looking to head to extra time but Belgium would blaze forward one last time to take the lead in stoppage time, sending a dagger through Japan’s hopes. Belgium wins 3-2.

Analysis: Belgium had a close one. They were tested for the first time by a team who had the urgency - and quality - to look for a result. In this victory, however, Belgium flexed their muscles and showed us how good their talent is. They were caught by surprise but, in the end, had enough quality to overcome their mistakes. Their match against Brazil should be a fun one.

Japan gave a courageous effort and gave a fighting display. There is no shame in the way they bow out of the tournament after being beaten by a better side. The disheartening part will be that they were not able to capitalize on their lead and see out what would’ve been their most successful campaign at a World Cup.

Notable stat: Belgium are the first team to come from behind being two goals down in the knockout stage of a World Cup since West Germany did so against England at Mexico 1970.

Sweden 1-0 Switzerland

Saint Petersburg Stadium, St. Petersburg
Attendance: 64,042

This match was a fairly even affair between two European sides that featured similar playing styles. Switzerland were at a disadvantage because of two of their defenders were out because of suspension. Both sides generated seven opportunities in the first half but neither could get on the board. Switzerland actually looked the better side at times but neither Xhaka or Shaquiri could come up with the special play they needed to take the lead. Emil Forsberg, on the the other end, was able to thanks to a deflected shot that went to the back of the net in the 66th minute. The bad news for Sweden was the exit in the 82nd minute of defender Mikael Lustig due to injury. A runaway play in stoppage time awarded Sweden a free kick just outside of the box - originally ruled a penalty overturned by video review - to ice the game and see out the result.

Analysis: Sweden have advanced to their first quarterfinal since USA 1994. While Tuesday’s win did not come in the most conventional way, it did come thanks to solid defending. Sweden have been one of the better defending teams at Russia 2018 with two goals allowed through their four matches. Next up they’ll face England - another familiar foe from the European region - and will feel confident about their chances to frustrate the attack of the Three Lions.

Switzerland is another team that is going from bad to worse. They had a promising start in the 1-1 draw with Brazil before having to come back in a fighting effort against Serbia. Their last match, against Costa Rica, may have done more harm than help as they lost players to suspensions. Switzerland gave a valiant effort on Tuesday but will wonder what might’ve been with a full squad. Their last quarterfinals appearance was at Switzerland 1954.

Notable stat: Tuesday’s attendance from Sweden-Switzerland brought the all-time World Cup attendance to over 40,000,000 spectators.

Colombia 1-1 England (3-4 on penalties)

Spartak Stadium, Moscow
Attendance: 44,190

Quite possibly the toughest matchup to call turned out to be that close. Colombia - winners of H - were short handed with their #10 James Rodriguez ruled out for this encounter. England, on the other end, were coming off a loss to Belgium in the final group game. Every shot was contested and with passionate fans from both sides, every shot was accompanied with gasps from the crowd. Neither side could pull away from the other in the first half. England would take the lead in the 57th minute after Harry Kane converted on a penalty opportunity. Kane remains the leading scorer of the tournament, now with six goals to his name.

Needing to get on the board, Colombia were forced to push higher in attack. Radamel Falcao would carry the hopes of Colombian fans while another forward in Carlos Bacca was subbed in to look for better opportunities. The clearest opportunity for the South Americans came in the 81st but Cuadrado sent the shot off target. Colombia did manage to draw the game thanks in part to a last gasp shot from Mateus Uribe. The long range shot led to a corner kick that was headered in by Yerry Mina in stoppage time. The match would go into extra time and then penalties, where England were victorious 4-3 over Colombia.

Analysis: Colombia had it tough without their best playmaker on the field in James Rodriguez. The #10 has been the catalyst for Los Cafeteros and the attack dropped off a level without his presence. The Colombians gave a fighting effort but ultimately fell short of their goal. The question, as with many nations exiting the world cup, is if the federation will retain the current manager. Colombia’s focus now turns to next year South American Championship in Brazil.

England fans are ecstatic after their first win in the knockout round since Germany 2006. Gareth Southgate’s team continues to ride the wave of promise brought on by a younger England squad - only three players on the team are over 30 years of age. England will be favored in their following match, not an easy out, against Sweden but look poised to get to the semifinal. They’ll feel the good mojo even more so after breaking the “curse” of losing in penalty shootouts.

Notable stat: England won its first penalty shootout at a FIFA World Cup.

Programming note: Soccer Matters with Glenn Davis will be broadcasting from The Gorgeous Gael (5555 Morningside Dr. Houston, TX 77005) with a two-hour LIVE show, airing on ESPN 97.5 FM, at 7 p.m. on Thursday. There will also be a postgame show following Saturday’s Russia vs. Croatia match.

Recordings of every show are available on the Soccer Matters podcast, available on iTunes, Google Play Music and

Quarterfinal Matches (All Times CT):

Friday, July 6

9 a.m. - Uruguay vs. France (FS1, Telemundo)

1 p.m. - Brazil vs. Belgium (FS1, Telemundo)

Saturday, July 7

9 a.m. - Sweden vs. England (FOX, Telemundo)

1 p.m. - Russia vs. Croatia (FOX, Telemundo)

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Good news for Jose Altuve. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.

One never knows how things will play out but of the known General Manager candidates, Jim Crane nailed it in hiring Dana Brown out of the Atlanta Braves' organization where he was Vice President of Scouting. The 55-year-old Brown's scouting and development pedigree is stellar. The Braves have been a talent-producing machine in recent years. Obviously all the credit isn't Brown's but his four years with the Braves preceded by a productive pipeline he was part of in Toronto speak highly of him. Not that it was or should have been the guiding principle to Crane's decision-making, but the Astros now have the only African-American General Manager in Major League Baseball (Ken Williams is Executive Vice President of the Chicago White Sox).

Brad Ausmus is a super-smart guy, but if had he gotten the GM gig it would have been in large part because he was teammate besties with Jeff Bagwell. While “It's not what you know it's who you know” plays a role in many, many hires, it would have been a poor rationale for tabbing Ausmus. Maybe Ausmus would have done a great job. Maybe Brown does a lousy job. Brown was the much more strongly credentialed candidate. While Bagwell has moved way up Crane's confidante list, Brown played college baseball with Craig Biggio at Seton Hall.

Speaking of Halls…

If I could tell you as absolute fact that exactly two members of the 2023 Houston Astros will someday make the Baseball Hall of Fame, who are you picking? Jose Altuve isn’t a lock just yet but he is obvious pick number one. So for the second spot are you going with Alex Bregman or Yordan Alvarez? We’ll get back to this a couple of paragraphs down.

As was basically a given, former Astro (and Phillie, Met, Red Sox, and Brave) Billy Wagner was not elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this week, but as I suggested last week the voting returns were very favorable toward Wagner making the Hall next year, or if not next year in his final year of eligibility on the Baseball Writers Association ballot for the Class of 2025. “Wags” in the Class of ’24 is looking good. Wagner jumped from 51 percent to 68 percent “put him in” votes. The only guy this year to get the necessary 75 percent for election is worthy third baseman Scott Rolen. Two years ago Rolen got 53 percent of the votes needed, last year 63 percent, before getting the call to Cooperstown with 76.5 percent this year. Wagner going from 51 to 68 to 75-plus looks likely. Of course it’s not as if Wagner can pad his case with a good 2023 season, but this is how the process works. The other ballot returnee well positioned to make it next year is former Colorado first baseman Todd Helton. Unlike this year there’s a sure-fire first time ballot guy going in next year. Third baseman Adrian Beltre will undoubtedly wear a Texas Rangers cap on his plaque.

As expected Carlos Beltran didn’t come close to election in his first year of eligibility, but drawing 46 percent of the votes sets him up well to eventually get the Cooperstown call. Beltran was a fabulous player and his Hall credentials are solid. However, no one reasonable would argue that Carlos Beltran was as good or better than Barry Bonds. In his first year of eligibility back in 2013 Bonds garnered 36 percent of the vote. There has been some turnover in the voter pool over the last decade, but it's clear that Beltran’s central role in the Astros’ sign stealing scheme was not held against him to the extent that PED use (actual and/or suspected) was held against Bonds and Roger Clemens. And Alex Rodriguez. And Sammy Sosa. And Manny Ramirez. And others. Foremost right now that’s encouraging for Beltran, but it’s also encouraging down the line for fellow Astros of 2017-18.

What does this mean for Jose Altuve?

If Jose Altuve retired today (perish the thought!) he’d have a good case for the Hall. He had superstar seasons in 2016, 2017, and 2022, and has five other seasons that while not in the realm of his three best certainly rate as excellent. If you judge a player by his five best seasons, there aren’t 10 second basemen in the history of the sport who’d rank ahead of Altuve. Among those who clearly would: Joe Morgan, Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, and Nap Lajoie. Among those four only Morgan played more recently than 1937. Then there’s a group of arguable guys like Jackie Robinson, Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, and yes Craig Biggio. Altuve has had the prime of a Hall of Famer. What sort of final numbers will he accrue? In late May or early June he should reach the 2000 hit plateau. How many more prime years does Altuve have left before inevitable decline? His career batting average is .307. Four years ago it was .316. Will Altuve retire a .300 hitter?

Bregman or Alvarez? Bregman gets extra points for being an everyday third baseman as opposed to a left fielder-designated hitter, but by age alone Yordan is the better play. Bregman turns 29 on opening day this year. Yordan doesn’t turn 26 until late June. When Bregman was 25 (2019 season) he put up a season more valuable than Alvarez’s tremendous 2022. In the three years since Bregman hasn’t approached that level, though his big second half last season could be a springboard back to that stratosphere. Yordan is in that stratosphere and figures to stay there for a while if his health holds up.

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Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it airs live at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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