World Cup Favourites Stumble On

The Round of 16 has concluded without a single upset, and with Argentina and Belgium having ensured that all eight group winners advanced. Yet while the list of quarter-finalists might adhere to expectations, the manner in which they secured their spots has been anything but straightforward.

Indeed, of all the teams through, only Colombia can claim to have been truly convincing, with the others more relieved than overjoyed. Argentina certainly continued that trend today, toiling against Switzerland until Lionel Messi laid on a 118th-minute winner for Angel Di Maria. And extra time was also required to settle a thrilling match between Begium and USA that somehow made it to 90 minutes without either team having scored. And while the Americans, and Tim Howard in particular, were heroic in defeat, Les Diables Rouges hung on to a 2-1 victory thanks to goals from Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku.

If there is comfort to be drawn by the underperforming giants, it is they have made it through without excelling - and World Cup winners have a history of struggling in the last 16. Of the last six champions, only one - Brazil, who beat Belgium 2-0 in 2002 - have won their first knockout match by more than a single-goal margin. These games, it seems, have become a rite of passage to be survived rather than savoured.

(FIFA)

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