*I'm going to pull the Sports Illustrated and ESPN special and attempt to predict who will win in the quarterfinals, semifinals and final without actually knowing who will advance that far. Regardless, perseverance has been my motto for the week, so I will forge ahead and attempt to work some magic anyways. I've already previewed Groups A, B, C and D so I'll do another playoffs preview with the correct teams right before the playoffs start.*
To recap my predictions:
Group A: 1. El Salvador; 2. Laos.
Group B: 1. Republic of Ireland; 2. Norway.
Group C: 1. France; 2. Nigeria.
Group D: 1. Germany; 2. Poland.
Quarterfinal 1: Should feature El Salvador vs. Nigeria (A1 vs C2) and these two teams will put on a show. El Salvador has some lethal strikers and the prospect of them having a shooting practice on Nigeria's keeper is one to make any fan smile. On the other hand, Nigeria's entire game is based on an offensive mindset and when they get scored on it makes them push all the more. El Salvador's back line isn't elite and there's no way they'll go into a defensive shell so expect plenty of counter-attacking. I'm giving this to ES, 7-4, based on getting the easiest quarterfinals opponent, ala Ireland 2010.
Quarterfinal 2: Should feature Republic of Ireland vs. Poland (B1 vs D2) and I expect something of a snoozer. Ireland has many elite players, including 2010 Poland star Brett Levis, and Poland will be hard-pressed to get any possession in a game that Ireland will take very seriously. Mid-field play will be key to getting chances, as both teams have solid defense and keepers, and Ireland will not lose the middle battles. Once Poland is down, it won't have many options to claw goals back. Ireland takes it 5-2.
Quarterfinal 3: Should feature France vs. Laos (C1 vs A2) and I don't think there's any way France lets the defending champs breathe. France trounced Laos in the group stage in 2010 and then had to watch on the sidelines during the final as Laos beat Ireland in a shoot-out. That would've burned in my craw for a year if it would've been me and I expect this to be a statement game on top of a playoff game. France will score early and get another late and it will only be close because Evan Campbell will do everything except make saves blindfolded. 2-1 for France.
Quarterfinal 4: Should feature Germany vs. Norway (D1 vs. B2) in a matchup of 2010 bitter Group B rivals. Germany will be coming off of two weeks of tough Group D play while Norway will be coming off a huge Group B tie vs Ireland. This will be entertaining because of the history between the two teams, as well as the fact that Norway has an upgrade at keeper from last year. I think fatigue (Germany has two games in the three days prior) will play a major role and give Norway a decided edge in endurance. That, coupled with a sound defensive system, will be all that's needed to keep Germany's scorers silent. 4-2 for Norway.