World Cup 2018: Brazil still the favourites as knockout football commences

World Cup 2018: Brazil still the favourites as knockout football commences
Alex Wrigley
Alex Wrigley
June 29, 2018
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Content Editor at Free Super Tips, Alex was born in the shadow of Old Trafford and is an avid Man Utd fan. After graduating from university he combined his love of football, writing and betting to join FST and now closely follows goings-on in all of the top European leagues.

Brazil headed into the 2018 World Cup as the bookies favourites to lift the trophy and nothing really has changed as we move into the knockout stage. They can be backed at around 7/2 to win the trophy, marginally shorter odds than Spain, who have in theory a simpler run to the Final.

The general consensus seems to be that there have been no outstanding sides at this World Cup so far but there is a lot of football still to be played and the stakes are only going to rise from here. Brazil look as well equipped as anyone to go all the way, even if there are a few things that Tite will be concerned by.

Neymar is yet to hit anything like his best form but three group games will have helped him build up some match sharpness after nearly four months out injured. They will certainly need their talisman to make a bigger contribution if they are going to win the trophy but they are by no means a one-man team with Philippe Coutinho having really impressed so far.

Read more: Coutinho the Key for Brazil

Job Done – Brazil Progress from the Group

Brazil’s group had the potential to be a tricky one and for 180 minutes it certainly proved that way. Having been held by Switzerland in their opening game, they looked on course for another draw against Costa Rica as their second match headed into injury-time goalless. However a well-worked goal saw Coutinho pounce in the dying moments to really spark Brazil’s World Cup into life.

They built on that with a 2-0 win over Serbia to seal top spot in Group E. They had to survive a few nervy moments against the Serbs but in the end they claimed victory and it was very much job done as Brazil reached the knockout stage without any major alarms.

Certainly compared to neighbours Argentina, their progression was very smooth and it extends their unbeaten run in competitive football to over two years. That’s a great platform to have to build from but they will almost certainly need to find another gear once the tougher matches come in the knockout phase.

Read more: Brazil’s Key Stats from previous World Cups

Relief as Germany Exit prevents last 16 showdown

Mexico 2018 World Cup

After two matches, it looked like destiny that Brazil and Germany would have to face each other at the last sixteen phase, four years on from the 7-1 thrashing the Germans dished out in Belo Horizonte. While some Brazilians were keen to get Germany to try and gain some revenge for that result, most would have breathed a huge sigh of relief when the Europeans suffered a humiliating exit at the hands of South Korea.

There is a sense that Brazil are still warming to the challenge of this World Cup and they perhaps weren’t ready for such an intense showdown so early in the competition. Instead they will face Mexico, which won’t be easy but it’s a tie that provides Brazil with a pretty good opportunity to reach the last eight.

Mexico in many ways are the perfect last sixteen opponents. They’ve been knocked out at this stage in all of the last six World Cups in a run that stretches way back to 1994. They’ve clearly got a few mental barriers to overcome and significantly have never made the Quarter-Finals of a World Cup on foreign soil. A lot of their early momentum has also been damaged by a 3-0 defeat to Sweden in their final group game which denied them top spot. There was almost an air of resignation about their supporters’ reaction to that game as if they knew they’d blown their chance to have a real run at this tournament as their course altered to Samara and a Round of 16 game against the favourites.

Read more: How did Mexico beat Germany?

The Wrong Half of the Draw

Brazil should beat Mexico but they do find themselves in what is very clearly the stronger half of the draw. If you were going to predict how the Quarter-Finals will shape up, you’d probably pencil in Brazil vs Belgium first and it’s highly likely we will see that match with the Europeans more than capable of beating Japan.

A game with Belgium would represent the first major test for Brazil against top European opposition since the 2014 World Cup and make no mistake it would be a tough one. The Belgians impressed in the group phase and have quality throughout the side and players capable of causing problems for Tite’s men.

There’s no guarantee that Brazil would progress from that tie but if they did then a Semi-Final against one of Portugal, Uruguay, Argentina or France would await. None of those options would be easy and it’s difficult to know who they’d really want out of that bunch but from a neutral perspective, a possible World Cup Semi-Final between Brazil and Argentina would certainly be a mouth-watering prospect.

Read more: World Cup Last 16 Guide

Why Brazil remain the team to beat

Brazil World Cup 2018

There is a case for saying Spain are now the side with the best chance of winning this World Cup. They find themselves on the right side of the draw with Croatia and England the strongest sides that could possibly stand in their way of another World Cup Final. The Spanish arguably have more individual quality than Brazil too but there are some pretty big doubts creeping in around the Spain camp with both personnel and tactical changes being considered ahead of their Round of 16 game.

Brazil though look much more settled and from the warm-up matches through to their last group match, the team and approach has essentially remained the same besides the odd injury problem. They know how they want to play and they have had plenty of success using Tite’s methods. It may not have been scintillating stuff from Brazil so far but you sense the potential for them to self-destruct is far less than it is with the other major contenders.

A disorganised and vulnerable looking Argentina have already gone very close to following Germany out of the tournament and barring an absolute Messi masterclass over the next four games, it’s hard to see how they can win the World Cup. Like Spain, Portugal didn’t convince in the group stage as the Iberian duo made hard work of progressing from a group which included Iran and Morocco. Belgium and England looked good in a weak group but neither have gone past the last eight at a major tournament in over 20 years while France have the talent but have looked almost soulless as if they are still in the process of deciding what kind of team they want to be.

The French also have a very difficult path to the Final now so almost by a process of elimination you have to say that Brazil remain the team to beat. If Neymar finds his feet, then things could really heat up in the final third for them too and in an open World Cup, Brazil are still just about deserving of their favourites tag.

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