NZME's award winning* football blog Goalmouth Scramble is back. Our rotating stable of football writers will offer daily hot takes on all the action from the World Cup in Russia. Today, Cameron McMillan exclusively predicts the round of 16 match-ups.
We're 35.4 percent of the way through group play in Russia - I know it's hard to believe but the calculator doesn't lie.
If you think it's too early to make predictions I give you the words of noted Tatooine striker Obi Wan Kenobi: "Who's the more foolish, the fool, or the fool who follows him?".
So here's my foolish calls.
A1 v B2 - Russia v Spain
Russia have all but secured a spot in the final 16 following a 3-1 win over Egypt. They have a goal difference of +7 and crazy results would need to happen for them to miss out. No host has made a better start in the history of World Cup – Italy in 1934 also scored seven goals in first two games but conceded two. Why can't they get at least a draw against Uruguay? The only way this run ends is with Putin coming off the bench in the World Cup final and scoring the winner. Spain looked the goods despite their 3-3 draw against Portugal. I'm expecting goal difference to decide the top team in Group B – and Ronaldo, with an eye on the golden boot, will to the damage against Iran and Morocco.
B1 v A2 - Portugal v Uruguay
Ronaldo will carry Portugal to the top of Group B while Uruguay will finish second in B1. Then it will be Ronaldo v Suarez – aka Phase 1 of Ronaldo knocking out Barcelona rivals.
C1 v D2 - France v Croatia
The French were less than convincing against Australia and a final group showdown against Denmark should decide the top two teams in Group C. Maybe France by goal difference.
D1 v C2 - Argentina v Denmark
I still think Argentina top Group D despite the opening 1-1 draw with Iceland. Friday's clash with Croatia is going to be a fascinating watch but two wins to finish group play should be expected.
E1 v F2 - Brazil v Germany
Yep, I'm calling it. I'm predicting the Germans get their scheisse together and finish strong in group play but not enough to chase down the Mexicans. Brazil will also bounce back and finish top setting up a semifinal rematch way too early in the tournament.
F1 v E2 - Mexico v Serbia
Let's assume Germany win their final games against Sweden and Korea - that leaves them on six points. Mexico just need a win and a draw against Sweden and or Korea to still finish ahead - just one win means goal difference. I think the Mexicans can do it. They looked very sharp in the opening. I'm picking Serbia to upset Switzerland on Saturday.
G1 v H2 - Belgium v Colombia
England will beat Panama, Belgium will beat Tunisia. Like Group B, I think G will come down to goal difference between Belgium and England following a draw in their final group game. Colombia have some work to do but if they keep 11 men on the field I say they finish second by beating Poland and Senegal.
H1 v G2 - Japan v England
Yes, I'm predicting my prediction comes true.
*Goalmouth Scramble's 'award' was more of an inter-company acknowledgement in an email from 2012.