Russia 2018 Round of 16: Now the REAL World Cup begins

FIFA World Cup Rd of 16

The past two weeks of the World Cup has been a football feast, an extravaganza. With 32 teams divided into eight groups of four, we’ve basically witnessed eight mini leagues as teams battled it out to be deemed worthy to proceed to the knockout phase.

As the contenders showed their abilities, providing a showcase and entertainment of the highest order in a footballing sense, along the way we’ve seen heroes and stars break-out and break-down – personalities and teams who delivered and came up short.

From a casual spectator’s viewpoint an amalgam of different fan cultures and footballing identities had been on display as the group stage came to a close.

But it’s a wholly different ballgame now.

What transpired and what’s ahead

The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia started with a bang and that explosion of sporting confetti continued to burst forth for almost the whole of 48 games that made up those two weeks.

The proceedings went on as fans and spectators saw glimpses of drama and cruelty of the tournament as half of the pool get eliminated, some valiantly only going down due to the breaks of the game that went against their way, while others in ignominy, failing to completely live up to expectations – the most glaring of which was the elimination of defending world champions, Germany.

The fates continued to chip off nation after nation as the football gods looked on in their whim playing with each band and each hero’s fortunes as they toiled their way under the microscope and views of the expectant fans until the tournament has been left with half who are still worthy to proceed – the Last Sixteen.

This bunch heads on to the Knockout Phase and this is where the World Cup’s true madness and cruelty begins.

Each game on a tight rope now

Knockout – the word says it all. Unlike the group phase where luck and results outside a squad’s control can play for or against one’s chances to survive and proceed shows the World Cup’s cruelty or kindness.

In the Round of 16 the road to the cup begins to be unforgiving. The team who finds the back of the net will be rewarded, but those who come up short will get banished. It’s simple as that.

An evenly matched tie won’t end in a draw and will need to be decided in one of the most cruel of ways in the world of football – the penalty shootout. It’s the differentiator for squads who cannot achieve a decider between them. This format will be the norm from this point onwards up until a new champion earns the trophy.

Destiny now lies in the hands of each of the teams contesting in each fixture.

Tears will definitely flow

We’ve seen a glimpse of teams teary eyed after each match whether it’s through the agony of defeat and elimination or the relief of being able to survive.

We’ve seen Argentina, Spain and Colombia go through a roller coaster of emotions as they survived in laborious manners, while Egypt, South Korea, Morocco and Germany painfully exit ,to name a few.

This time such emotions will have more weight come the final whistle, both sides will either raise their agonies or thanks to the football gods in the skies as they come to terms with their respective fates.

Expect the best, and the worst

At this stage, it’s all about results. Depending on the philosophy of each team and the pressures that accompany them heading into the second part of Russia 2018, fans could be in to see both the spectacular and the ugly.

Whether the remaining squads perform to their usual style of beautiful football (for some) or throw everything out the window and resort to pure grit, physicality and determination just to survive, is something to look forward to. The former will definitely entice the majority while the latter will tick the interests of some. But either way, just the backdrop heading into this go-for-broke stage is compelling enough to follow the events closely as even in an ugly and attritional battle could be decided by a moment of brilliance, either as a team or as an individual, that would further cement or make new heroes of the sport.

Hoping it won’t happen, but cards may most probably fly around as emotions get high on and from the side of the pitch as teams get on survival mode given the stakes start to rise up higher and higher at each level heading into the final.

This is where it starts to be a matter of ‘life or death’ as squads are afforded almost no margin of error for each match hereon.

The scales are ready to be tipped, as each game hangs in the balance, prepare for the best and the worst.

Get ready for some serious heart-pounding

The World Cup has already seen some cardiac finishes in just the Group Stage. Argentina’s escape out of their Group D plight was one.

It was one hell of a tense campaign up to the final group fixture that even Diego Maradona after all his antics from the VIP box worthy of making the scenes of a Greek Mythology movie was rushed for treatment due to the stresses from the game against Nigeria.

Expect more of such dramatic scenes from now on as fans of nations previously relatively more reserved begin to show more emotions as matches unfold either spectacularly blissful or excruciatingly painful.

It’s time to hold fast and keep the emotions in check (as much as possible) because from this point onwards, it’s going to be one hell of a ride.

VAR: The window to the eyes of gods

The use of technology in this world cup minimised the controversy for sure. With the VAR (Video Assistant Referee), decisions were not solely reliant on the naked eye anymore. The idea of football gods playing with and clouding the visions of the officials (the referee and the linesmen in particular) have become significantly diminished as the power has been bestowed already to circumvent such occurrences.

Now that the officials have been given immense power with the VAR, such tool will become all the more crucial and decisive from the knockout stage.

The Group Stage saw a glimpse of how the technology can be used in the best possible way and, on a few occasions, how it can be detrimental in come aspects of the game. But now the introduction is done, it’s time for VAR to play its biggest role yet in the tournament.

Whether it will turn out (most probably) for better or for worse, this stage is where the technology could serve as one of the most important and pivotal aspects on each team’s road to the World Cup trophy.

The most arduous part of the journey is about to begin

This is it, this is the beginning where the stuff of legends are made.

Some teams may have started poorly and just managed to reach this phase by the skins of their teeth, but as the saying goes, it’s not how one starts but how one finishes.

Brazil of 1970 and 2002, Germany of 1990, Argentina of 1986, Uruguay of 1950, Italy of 1982, Spain of 2010, Pele, Ronaldo, Beckenbauer, Maradona, Ghiggia, Rossi, Zoff, Xavi and Iniesta to name some; The immortals of the game etched their names in the knockout stages as they triumphantly completed their respective roads to victory amidst the toughest challenges.

In this 2018 edition, a new set of heroes are about to be unveiled. Whether it’s going to be the much expected superstars such as Messi or Ronaldo or completely new breakout stars, along with the countries they represent, this is the stage to finally shine brightest.

The hardest, most testing, and most cruel part of the tournament is almost here. But just as the pressures, trials and tribulations encroach the players and the teams, in these type conditions do the best and the brightest gems come to the fore.

These teams that are about to slug it out in the knockout phase, in American parlance, is termed as “Sweet 16”. But there’s nothing sweet at this point in their respective campaigns. Actually it’s all anticipation and tension ahead of the most unforgiving stage of the tournament, where a very fine line divides between hope towards glory and anguish in face of failure, awaits.

The fates are about to begin their most intricate piece of work in full.

The Road to Russia has long since been concluded, and in Russia, the 32 have just been screened down to 16.

Now, the road to the World Cup trophy is finally about to commence!

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