THE DAY REPLAYED - The Round of 16 has concluded without a single upset, and with Argentina and Belgium having ensured that all eight group winners advanced. Yet while the list of quarter-finalists might adhere to expectations, the manner in which they secured their spots has been anything but straightforward.
Indeed, of all the teams through, only Colombia can claim to have been truly convincing, with the others more relieved than overjoyed. Argentina certainly continued that trend today, toiling against Switzerland until Lionel Messi laid on a 118th-minute winner for Angel Di Maria. And extra time was also required to settle a thrilling match between Begium and USA that somehow made it to 90 minutes without either team having scored. And while the Americans, and Tim Howard in particular, were heroic in defeat, Les Diables Rouges hung on to a 2-1 victory thanks to goals from Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku.
If there is comfort to be drawn by the underperforming giants, it is they have made it through without excelling - and World Cup winners have a history of struggling in the last 16. Of the last six champions, only one - Brazil, who beat Belgium 2-0 in 2002 - have won their first knockout match by more than a single-goal margin. These games, it seems, have become a rite of passage to be survived rather than savoured.
Argentina 1-0 Switzerland AET (Budweiser Man of the Match: Lionel Messi, ARG)
Belgium 2-1 USA AET (Budweiser Man of the Match: Tim Howard, USA)
Hitzfeld bows out
There were no grand gestures, no great show of emotion. Ottmar Hitzfeld, one of the great coaches of his generation, knew that he had just overseen his final match as a coach - and it had ended in heartbreaking defeat. All this a day after he learned of the death of his brother, Winfried. But though the retiring Switzerland coach spoke of "saying goodbye with a heart full of emotions", that farewell was made in the understated, dignified style that has become his trademark. Hitzfeld was asked afterwards what he had said to his players as they left the field. "I only told them, 'Thank you'," he replied. An entire nation will doubtless be keen to return that simple message.
Messi the minimalist
"How to stop Messi? We'll show you tomorrow." That had been Hitzfeld's coy comment on the eve of meeting Argentina and, for 118 minutes, it seemed that he had indeed found the answer to that much-contemplated question. But just as the Switzerland coach's approach - which he described as a "well-functioning network", involving multiple players immediately converging on the Albiceleste captain - seemed to have worked, Messi found a solution of his own. Finally finding space with two minutes of extra time remaining, he drove forward and unselfishly teed up Angel Di Maria for a fine winning goal. That contribution even earned Messi a tournament-leading fourth Budweiser Man of the Match award. As Hitzeld lamented afterwards: "You know he's a player who needs just one second to decide a match."
Good things come to those who wait
It's said that patience is a virtue and that has certainly proved to be the case for goal-seekers in the Round of 16. After first-half strikes in Brazil-Chile and Colombia-Uruguay, all six subsequent ties have reached the interval with the teams locked at 0-0. We have, though, enjoyed plenty of late goalmouth drama. A day after Abdelmoumene Djabou scored the latest goal ever seen at a World Cup - timed at 120 minutes and 51 seconds - Di Maria got in on the same act. Though 'only' 118 minutes were on the clock, the Argentina winger's decisive strike against the Swiss was the latest a World Cup match had been won since Fabio Grosso (119 minutes) and Alessandro del Piero (121) broke German hearts in 2006. It was also Argentina's latest World Cup goal, breaking the record held by Daniel Bertoni's 115th-minute clincher in the 1978 Final. And De Bruyne, Lukaku and Julian Green maintained that pattern with 93rd, 105th and 107th-minute efforts, extending to seven the run of consecutive goals scored in extra time.
A tale of two keepers
Few Man of the Match awards at this World Cup have been more hard-earned than Tim Howard's this evening. The US keeper was in magnificent form, repelling 16 of the 18 shots that came his way - often in miraculous fashion - to surpass the Brazil 2014 record previously held by Algeria's Rais M'Bolhi. Belgium, too, are immensely grateful for their No1. For although Thibaut Courtouis had significantly less to do than his American counterpart, he maintained his proud record of having never lost in the 21 matches he has started for Les Diables Rouges.
5 - The number of Round of 16 matches at Brazil 2014 that went to extra time, surpassing the record set at Italy 1990. Only once before in the history of the World Cup - way back in 1938 - has a single round of knockout matches produced as many 120-minute encounters.
— Vincent Kompany (@VincentKompany) July 1, 2014
France-Germany, 4 July 2014, 13.00, Maracana, Rio de Janeiro
Brazil-Colombia, 4 July 2014, 17.00, Estadio Castelao, Fortaleza
(All times local)
Have your say
Of the teams who qualified from the Round of 16, who impressed you most?