After two weeks of crazy upsets, exits and an introduction to FIFA fair play points, the World Cup in Russia enters its second act: the knockout round. With pool play over, every game becomes win or go home.
The Round of 16 begins Saturday without the reigning champion. Germany, the tournament winners in 2014, won’t repeat after their first exit in the group stages since 1938. They’re the fourth defending champion in the last five World Cups to fail to survive the group stage.
With more than two weeks to sort out who will vie for the trophy on July 15 in Moscow, here are some of the biggest matchups of the first round of knockout games.
This is a matchup of two teams that could be heading in different directions. However, a win for either Saturday could spark a World Cup run few thought possible at the start.
France qualified unbeaten from Group C but hasn’t found its rhythm just yet. Argentina, led by Lionel Messi, barely survived out of their group with a 2-1 win over Nigeria on Tuesday.
Uruguay knows it’s up against one of the world’s best players in Cristiano Ronaldo, who has scored four goals in Russia so far — tied for second with Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku and one behind England’s Harry Kane for the Golden Boot.
If Portugal wins — along with Argentina earlier in the day — the much-anticipated Ronaldo vs. Messi World Cup matchup soccer fans have yearned to witness.
Spain’s World Cup journey was a wild one, even before it started. Despite a managerial change two days before its Group B opener, Spain still managed to (barely) win the group over Portugal.
Still, Spain must have its act together defensively against a host Russian side that is the ultimate underdog in this matchup. Note: These teams played to a 3-3 draw in a November friendly.
Brazil remains favored to win it all, especially with 2014 nemesis Germany out of the picture. The team won its last two matches after pulling a 1-1 draw to Switzerland in their Group E opener.
Mexico is looking to rebound quickly after choking away a chance to win Group F on Wednesday, losing to Sweden 3-0. South Korea’s shocking 2-1 win over Germany allowed Mexico to advance.
World Cup: Round of 16 Schedule
All times Eastern
France vs. Argentina, 10 a.m.
Uruguay vs. Portugal, 2 p.m.
Spain vs. Russia, 10 a.m.
Croatia vs. Denmark, 2 p.m.
Brazil vs. Mexico, 10 a.m.
Belgium vs. Japan, 2 p.m.
Sweden vs. Switzerland, 10 a.m.
Colombia vs. England, 2 p.m.