With the World Cup group stage coming to a close, the hopes of 16 teams have come to a juddering halt.
Among them, the biggest surprise is that defending champions Germany are on the plane home, their fate sealed by a 2-0 defeat to South Korea on Wednesday. Elsewhere, the likes of Poland and Morocco turned out to be major disappointments, while Iran and Nigeria cane agonisingly close to sending Portugal and Argentina home early.
But with the list of teams involved cut in half, who now looks best placed to go all the way and lift that trophy in Moscow next month?
1. Brazil. Looked in control for the majority of the win against Serbia on Thursday, with spurts of attacking brilliance throughout (though not everything has to go through Neymar). Still haven’t been truly tested at this World Cup, and how that midfield holds up against a more formidable opponent will be interesting, but it’s so far, so good for Tite’s men.
2. Croatia. Came through their group with nine points and minimal fuss – given their turbulent buildup to this tournament, that was quite the achievement. Zlatko Dalic made a raft of changes for the clash with Iceland, but that had little impact on their momentum. With Denmark to come, Croatia can expect to be here well into July.
3. Uruguay. The victory over Russia had was achieved with a thoroughly disciplined performance, one which suggested that this team have clicked into gear at the best possible time. With the defence looking resilient and Suarez and Cavani off the mark in terms of goals, confidence in the Uruguay ranks will be growing.
4. Spain. Didn’t look overly impressive against Morocco in their final group game, but for Fernando Hierro, the real work starts now. How far Spain progress from this point on will be determined by how united the squad are behind the interim manager, as well as his ability to translate ideas on to the pitch. They have the “favourable” side of the group, and will be confident against Russia, but will need to improve if they want to go far.
5. Belgium. The match against England did little but show off their strength in depth, so it should be the first two matches where Belgium’s credentials can really be judged. Three-goal winning margins point to a Belgium team with plenty of firepower, and, to be blunt, Japan in the last 16 will still not be the first major test of Martinez’s managerial ability with this side.
6. France. The 0-0 draw against Denmark was offensive, granted, but it told us nothing about France that we didn’t already know. They have the players to go far into the tournament, but the tactical system being implemented is holding them back. They face Argentina next, and should be confident of winning that one at least.
7. England. As with Belgium, Thursday night’s training session means very little, so the opening two matches should be the basis for evaluating this team. Gareth Southgate’s system is yet to be fully tested in competitive action – expect Colombia to provide that first real challenge next week.
8. Colombia. Recovered well from an opening day defeat to Japan to come back and win the group. Their display against Senegal was nowhere near the level as their crushing of Poland but, depending on the fitness of James Rodriguez, they will be confident of going toe-to-toe with England next.
9. Sweden. The manner by which Sweden took Mexico apart will have made some sit up and take notice. What the Swedes do isn’t reinventing the wheel but their team work ethic makes them a tough proposition to play against, and should have too much for Switzerland in the last 16.
10. Portugal. Ronaldo’s goals (and Quaresma’s beauty) so far have masked plenty about Portugal’s performances so far, which actually haven’t been great. Spain but them to the sword – better finishers than Morocco and Iran would have done likewise – and an in-form Suarez and Cavani could knock them out this weekend.
11. Argentina. By hook or by crook, Argentina are still standing in this competition. A moment of magic from Lionel Messi sent them on their way to victory over Nigeria, but even his brilliance can’t mask the massive problems in this camp. It could all be over when they face France this weekend.
12. Russia. After the storming displays in their first two games, Russia’s bubble was burst with defeat to Uruguay earlier this week. How they respond to that will be interesting, as the latest showing was more in line with what was expected from the hosts this month, and it will be a tall order to expect them to knock Spain out next.
13. Mexico. Mexico’s heavy defeat to Sweden was jarring when compared with the opening victory over Germany. Nonetheless, six points out of nine still has them as one of the more in-form sides going into the last 16. Having said that, a massive – unsurmountable, perhaps – test in the form of Brazil awaits Mexico in the next round.
14. Denmark. One spark of invention saw off Peru, they were second best for a lot of the clash against Australia, and the match against France was an abomination all round. Their performances so far would not be enough against Croatia, but Denmark have the tools to perform at a higher level.
15. Switzerland. Twice took the lead against Costa Rica, and twice were pegged back. There’s a solidity and discipline about how Switzerland operate but that can only get a team so far. Luckily for them, next opponents Sweden have a pretty similar approach (albeit that bit more effective).
16. Japan. Scraped through by the narrowest of margins, and haven’t really impressed since shocking ten-man Colombia in their Group H opener. They battled to come from behind twice against Senegal, but showed little against Poland to suggest that they will trouble Belgium in the next round.