Brazil's Neymar cries in pain after colliding with Cameroon's Joel Matip during the group A World Cup soccer match between Cameroon and Brazil at the Estadio Nacional in Brasilia, Brazil, Monday, June 23, 2014.
In the World Cup, there ain't no heartbreak like knockout-stage heartbreak. That's what's in store for all but one of the tournament's remaining 16 teams between now and the World Cup final on July 13.
Groups are settled; half the initial field has been sent packing. From here on out it's bring-on-the-extra-time, brace-yourself-for-penalty-kicks, no-draws-allowed, win-or-go-home, single-elimination madness.
The drama begins Saturday at 12 p.m. ET, when host Brazil takes on Chile in the opening — and potentially most intriguing — match of the knockout stage. That's followed by red-hot Colombia against the Luis Suarez-less Uruguay at 4 p.m. All in all, a scintillating first day of the World Cup's harshest phase.
Here's the only preview you need to get ready for Saturday's double-header. Check back for daily previews through the rest of the knockout stage.
Brazil vs. Chile
Brazil, playing on its home turf, won Group A — but not in intimidating fashion. Were it not for the brilliance of Neymar, the Seleção would actually be in some pretty deep trouble. But Neymar is here; he's putting on a show, and the Brazilians will only go as far as the 22-year-old's golden touch can take them. He scored four goals in three group-stage matches, meaning he's tied for the tournament lead with Lionel Messi.
Chile offers a stern test to kick things off. La Roja was foreseen by many as a World Cup dark horse before the tournament began, and the team hasn't disappointed. Chile finished second to the Netherlands in an extremely tough Group B, dispatching defending champion Spain in spectacular fashion.
But make no mistake: While Chile has high hopes of advancing, the pressure is squarely on Brazil. Bowing out at home in the round of 16 would be nothing short of a footballing disaster — and in a country where soccer rules all, it wouldn't be a huge stretch to call it a national tragedy.
Brazil hasn't lost a competitive match at home since 1975. To keep that streak alive, Neymar could certainly use some more help from his midfield, particularly Oscar and Paulinho. Much was expected of them before the World Cup, but little has been delivered.
Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari is reportedly mulling a switch in the starting midfield, inserting Fernandinho in hopes that the Manchester City man can provide a spark to what's looked like a relatively pedestrian squad.
Chile, meanwhile, packs plenty of midfield might — led by Arturo Vidal, a do-it-all type who's equally fearsome on offense and defense. He plays for Italian side Juventus, and some consider him the top midfielder in European football this past season — a powerful testament indeed. He won't be at full-strength against Brazil, but is a key player nonetheless. Star striker Alexis Sánchez, meanwhile, is Chile's top threat on goal.
Brazil vs. Chile also offers a fascinating and wholly unique side-plot: A clash of the tournament's two most impassioned fan bases. Brazil, playing at home, has a built-in advantage, but the Chilean supporters have turned out en masse to support their side in hostile territory.
The Chilean contingent was easily the wildest set of fans I encountered in Brazil; some without tickets even stormed the Maracanã stadium for La Roja's match against Spain on June 18 before being apprehended by security in the media center. Brazil-Chile may well produce the tournament's most incredible stadium atmosphere.
Our prediction: Brazil turns in another less-than-spectacular performance, but still finds a way to slip past Chile, with Neymar finding the net at least once and a final score of 3-2.
Colombia vs. Uruguay
Will Uruguay still have some bite without its disgraced and suspended star Luis Suarez? That's the question hanging over La Celeste after its best offensive threat was suspended for four months for chomping on an Italian defender on Tuesday — the third such offense he's been punished for in his career.
Advancing without Suarez will be a tall order against a Colombian squad that's looking as sharp as anyone in the World Cup field. Star striker Radamel Falcao was ruled out of the tournament with an injury when Los Cafeteros' final roster was unveiled — but 22-year-old James Rodriguez has been nothing short of a revelation for the squad. You could even argue he's been the tournament's most outstanding player. Check out this insane goal he scored against Japan:
To top things off, Colombia celebrates its scores better than any other World Cup side.
Uruguay didn't look all that amazing with Suarez. It's still a team with talent — striker Edinson Cavani gets top billing now — but his absence will be felt against a Colombian side firing on all cylinders.
Six different players have scored for Los Cafeteros so far in the World Cup, led by Rodriguez with three goals and Jackson Martinez with two.
Expect Colombia to keep its good thing going, and Uruguay to follow Suarez out the door. We predict a final score of 3-0 in the second match of Saturday's double-header.