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Fifa World Cup 2018 knockouts: The big guns not the only favourites

If Ronaldo's side beat Uruguay in what could be a real battle of attrition in Sochi, he might find himself up against Messi's Argentina in the last eight, provided they manage to beat France

BS Web Team 

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Only six countries have managed to win the World Cup so far, but a thrilling group stage in Russia have increased the possibility of a fresh name making it to the final, if not winning it.

The first phase, featuring just one goalless draw and a record number of penalties, has been marked by Germany's stunning exit, Die Mannschaft's earliest exist in 80 years.

So after the group stage drama, who is best set to go far Russia?

Of the half-dozen winners of the trophy since 1970, Germany have gone home, while Italy, failed to even qualify. Meanwhile, France and Argentina play each other in their next, so only one will make it to the quarter-finals.

That leaves Spain and Brazil, with the latter fresh from topping their group for the 10th consecutive time even though they have looked sloppy so far.

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"This team created high expectations because of what we did in qualifying and in friendlies. But now we are at a World Cup, it's a new cycle, a new format," said coach Tite in an attempt to ward off the burden of expectations on the Selecaos.

has not yet captured his best form and is widely criticised because of his play-acting. Brazil's number 9 is yet to show his qualities as a striker, failing to find the back of the net in Russia.

But the five-time champions have a match-winner in Philippe Coutinho, their number 11 who has been carrying the squad on his shoulders and Brazil have looked strong at the back despite a series of injuries that sidelined the likes of Dani Alves and Danilo. Marcelo has been the latest addition to the list after he was hauled off after just 10 minutes with back spasms in the build-up to the game.

Brazil will have to pull up their socks if they want to win it for the sixth time as the minnows are up-in-arms and it won't be a 'Samba walk' for the Selecaos this time around.

The standout last-16 tie on paper pits France against and Argentina, -- While Argentina scraped their way into the group 16 from the verge of elimination, France had a relatively easier group stage campaign, already qualifying into the knockouts with a game in hand.

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"We didn't start in the best way. We got ourselves into a real mess," admitted Javier

The Latin-Americans might be happier than anyone at Germany's elimination, having been knocked out by them at each of the last three World Cups but and his teammates face a really strong team in France as the squad is jam-packed with top-notch players but Didier Deschamps still seems incapable of getting the very best out of Greizmann and Co.

Argentina and France lie on a side of the draw that features countries totalling 10 World Cup wins between them.

European champions Portugal are there too, and if Cristiano Ronaldo's side beat Uruguay in what could be a real battle of attrition in Sochi, he might find himself up against Messi's Argentina in the last eight, provided they manage to beat France on June 30 at Kazan.

Uruguay, though, are the only team who have not conceded a single goal in the group stage and Ronaldo will have a tough time scoring against them. Recent World Cups have been won by the sides with the best defence, with Spain letting in just two in their victorious 2010 campaign.

Along with England, Spain are the only past winners in the other side of the draw and they face Russia in Moscow on Sunday, with question marks surrounding their back line, and the form of goalkeeper David

"Obviously we can improve. Five goals in three matches is not the way forward," said coach Fernando Hierro of their defensive record, as it remains to be seen if Spain were right to sack Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the tournament.

Croatia are possible quarter-final opponents for Spain. They won all three group games, beating Messi's Argentina and a run to the semis like in 1998 is not beyond them, although coach Zlatko Dalic had a warning for his team before facing Denmark in the group of 16 draw.

"It's all great for the history books in Croatia but if we don't win against Denmark, when someone asks you what you did, what can you say? Nothing," Dalic said.

Meanwhile, England might feel a route to the last four is opening up nicely, thanks to Thursday's defeat against Belgium.

But Colombia are not to be taken lightly in what manager Gareth Southgate has called England's "biggest match in a decade".

And beyond that could lie Sweden, the team responsible for knocking out Netherlands, Italy and Germany from

There are 10 European teams in the last 16, and Brazil (in 1958) is the only non-European team that have managed to win in the past 10 World Cups held Europe.

First Published: Fri, June 29 2018. 18:50 IST