Well, Group Play is over and it’s largely confirmed what I, and others, expected to happen. There are 4 strong contenders (France, Denmark, Spain and Germany) for the title and they each managed to emerge through Group play unscathed with perfect 5-0 records. Heck, they only broke a sweat in a couple of matches. But, now the real competition begins and a 5-0 record means nothing. One loss against a hot goalie and your tournament is done.
With 16 teams left one can look at the tournament now like a version of the NCAA sweet 16 with 4 regionals taking place with 4 teams each vying for a spot in the final 4 in Paris. Here’s a breakdown of the four regionals:
Spain (B1) vs Brazil (A4)
Croatia (C2) vs Egypt (D3)
Spain is the heavy favorite here. Brazil has shown promise at times and could play with Spain for a bit, but inevitably they lose consistency for a spell and find themselves down 4 or 5. Egypt has the same problem, but will have a better chance against a Croatian side that lacks depth. Regardless, it’s hard to see Spain not advancing to the Final Four.
Denmark (D1) vs Hungary (C4)
Norway (A2) vs Macedonia (B3)
Denmark should emerge from this regional without too much trouble. Denmark had been looking forward to a freebie match vs Chile, but Hungary’s loss to Belarus means a significantly tougher round of 16 opponent. Still, Hungary lacks depth and scoring punch from 9 meters with Nagy out. Macedonia has much the same problem with too much reliance on Lazarov.
France (A1) vs Iceland (B4)
Sweden (D2) vs Belarus (C3)
Both France and Sweden should coast to easy victories here. Sweden, in particular, received a gift with Belarus’s upset of Hungary giving them an easier match in the round of 16. Hard to see a side that lost to Chile beating Sweden in a knockout game. A really thin Icelandic side without Palmarsson has no chance against France. It’s also hard to see Sweden knocking off the hosts in a quarterfinal. Any upset would hinge on an epic performance by Palicka and/or Applegren in goal, plus an uncharacteristically poor performance by Omeyer. Something I wouldn’t bet on.
Germany (C1) vs Qatar (D4)
Slovenia (B2) vs Russia (A3)
Germany should have little trouble dispatching Qatar. Saric can make up for a lot of defensive mistakes, but there’s simply not enough depth in the Qatari squad. Slovenia should have little trouble with an inconsistent Russian side. In a potential Germany-Slovenia match I would expect Germany’s defense to wear down Slovenia’s attack.