This, as they say, is the sharp end. A fine mix of teams, I might add, with only the Ukranians looking out of their depth. (And perhaps the English - though they certainly can play better than they have. Worth noting that they looked their best against the one team, Sweden, that showed any ambition of their own.)
So, 8 games left. Interestingly, there is also one team from each group left, as the two group winners who lost, lost to the corresponding second place teams.
Argentina - Germany
If we're lucky, this could be one of Those Games like Argentina-Holland or Brazil-Denmark in '98. I foresee Saviola, Rodriguez and especially Riquelme giving Metzelder fits in the center of Germany's defense, and am not sure that Mertesacker is mobile enough to track Crespo. At the same time, Ballack and Lahm will surely cause problems (especially Lahm, as right back seems a problem for the Argentines as Scaloni and Coloccini). And as good as Ayala and Heinze are, Klose and Podolski are just phenomenal right now.
I have literally no idea what happens here, whether the Argies suffer any lingering fatigue from playing 98 hard minutes (and 22 at a stroll after Rodriguez reduced the Mexicans to a limp) on Saturday; whether Germany rises or wilts under to national expectations against the toughest team they've encountered by far.
All I do know is that I'll have just arrived at an airport, and my first move will not be to claim luggage or to secure my rental car, but to find a bar showing this game (hoping against hope it's the Beeb feed and not LemonCello.
Feet to the fire, 3-2 Argentina, perhaps 4-2 with a late clincher on a Messi/Tevez breakaway.
Italy - Ukraine
ZZZZZZZ...oh, penalty, 1-0 to the Italy. I think Cannavaro knows Schevchenko too well for the latter to get much joy unless Kalichenko plays like he did against Saudi Arabia (and it was frickin Saudi Arabia, not exactly mid-70's Holland by any stretch.) Though who will play alongside if Nesta can't go and Materazzi suspended is a cuase for concern. If Italy wanted to, they could probably win this game about 3-1, but coming out and using their technical dominance isn't their style.
England - Portugal
What does Sven do here? Neville obviously comes back in at right back (whether he should is another question, but if we know anything about Erickson, it's that, when fit, his 'name' players will always play. The 5 man midfield with Cole and Beckham on the wings worries me, as Joe Cole likes to wander inside, and leaving Ashley Cole to cope with Figo and Miguel (as good at right back as Lahm has been at left for Germany) is Bad Idea Jeans. Similarly, Nuno Valente could repeatedly torch Beckham for sheer pace, leaving Neville to deal with him and either Ronaldo or Simao (pending C.R.'s health.) Of course if Gerard comes to play and Lampard starts hitting what he shoots at, all that won't matter much as I don't think that Portugal's central midfield can cope with Deco and Costinha out. Tough to say what I'd do, but would be strongly tempted to bring on Lennon, move Beckham infield and have Lampard play on the left, where he might be slightly more attentive to defense than Joe Cole. Of course, Cole has been their best midfielder by a piece over the 4 games...ugh.
Having said all that, in the end, I don't think Portugal have enough creativity without Deco and possibly Ronaldo. Pauleta will get nothing from Terry and Rio, Rooney scores a pair and England win 2-0.
France - Brazil
Another fantastic matchup, with revitalised France against pedestrian (by comparison to expectations, at least) Brazil. If Domenech goes 4-4-2 and brings Trezeguet in for Malouda, France wins. Otherwise, they play well, but never have enough men forward to make Brazil defend, and get overrun by Ze Roberto, Roberto Carlos and Cafu (and perhaps Juan and Lucio...and, given that it's Brazil, Dida as well.) Also key will be the Zidane-Ze Roberto and Viera-Ronaldinho matchups. $5 says Emerson (or Gilberto Silva, if he plays) almost literally kicks the crap out of Ribery for the first 10 minutes.
The ride has been fun, but I think even ZiZou suspects that the clincher against Spain was his encore. Hopefully he'll go out playing well in this defeat. Brazil 3-1.