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World Cup Preview: Knockout stage begins Saturday

Four South American teams will face off Saturday as the knockout stage begins
06/27/2014 7:37 PM ET
By Grant Tunkel

Brazil's Neymar celebrates after scoring a goal in a group stage match.(AP)
After two straight weeks of soccer, the World Cup took a break Friday for the first off-day of the tournament. But don't worry: It's just one day.

The Round of 16 kicks off Saturday at noon with hosts Brazil taking on Chile. Then Colombia play Uruguay at 4 p.m.

Here's a bit more on both matchups.

BRAZIL vs. CHILE

Two familiar foes meet in the first matchup of the Round of 16.

Four years ago in South Africa, Brazil and Chile squared off in the same stage of the tournament. The Brazilians won that matchup, 3-0, with goals from three players who aren't on the 2014 squad.

Chile will be playing to avenge that loss and reach the quarterfinals for the first time since 1962, when the Chileans finished the tournament in third place on home soil.

How they got here: Brazil secured the top spot in Group A with seven points and a plus-5 goal differential, edging out Mexico in the latter category. The hosts overcame a nervy start vs. Croatia and Cameroon to win both matches, which sandwiched a draw vs. Mexico. Neymar tallied a brace in each win and enters the knockout round as the competition's co-leader in goals scored.

In a difficult group, Chile won their first two matches -- including a resounding win over defending-champion Spain -- before falling to the Dutch in their final fixture. The Chileans boast a bevy of playmakers, including Barcelona forward Alexis Sanchez and midfield distributor Charles Aranguiz. The duo was critical to their side's group-stage success.

World Cup history: Brazil's storied past needs no introduction. They are five-time champions and have advanced past the Round of 16 in each of the past five tournaments.

Since their 1962 success, Chile have qualified for just six World Cups. This marks the third consecutive time they've reached the Round of 16.

X-Factor: With Chile's attention likely to be focused on Brazil's star (Neymar), the hosts will need additional players to step up. Center-forward Fred netted his first tally of the tournament in their victory over Cameroon, and he could be finding his stride.

Chile has a bit of an ace up its sleeve in super-sub Jean Beausejour. The Wigan Athletic midfielder has already displayed his scoring touch in this tournament and could provide a second-half burst for the Chileans should they need to ramp up their attacking capabilities.

The final word: With all the pressure on the hosts, Chile could come out flying Saturday. They have the playmakers up top to make an early statement and have clearly shown no fear against tournament heavyweights.

But Brazil are a difficult team to play, especially on home soil. Neymar is in form and Julio Cesar has conceded just twice in three games (once on an own-goal). The Brazilians have thus far lived up the pre-tournament hype and should find enough to continue their run.

COLOMBIA vs. URUGUAY

Do Uruguay have a chance to replicate their 2010 success without their best player?

Luis Suarez won't suit up for Uruguay -- and isn't allowed in the stadium -- after he was suspended nine matches and banned from soccer-related activity for four months for biting Italy's Giorgio Chiellini.

Four years ago, Suarez aided the Uruguayans' charge to the semifinals with a brace in their Round of 16 victory over South Korea. This year, his double vs. England paved the way for an advance past the group stage.

Now, they'll take on a streaking Colombia team.

How they got here: Colombia took a hit before the tournament when they learned star striker Radamel Falcao would miss the entire competition with an injury. It didn't seem to matter for the Colombians, who swept through Group C and scored nine goals, second only to the Netherlands.

Six different players tallied for Los Cafeteros, led by three goals from James Rodriguez. He can't replace Falcao, but Rodriguez has certainly developed into the breakout star of the tournament.

Uruguay finished second in Group D with two wins and one loss. They lost to tournament darlings Costa Rica but rebounded nicely with a win over England. Uruguay then beat Italy, 1-0, in that controversial Group D finale, which saw Claudio Marchisio sent off in the second half and Suarez stay on for Diego Godin's winner.

World Cup history: The Group C winners are in the tournament for the first time since 1998 and back in the Round of 16 for the first time since 1990. They've never won a knockout-stage match at the World Cup.

Uruguay are two-time champions, having won the inaugural competition (1930) at home and the 1950 World Cup in Brazil. They finished in fourth place in South Africa.

X-factor: Without a doubt, it's Rodriguez for Colombia. He's been their most dynamic player at this World Cup, scoring once in each match.

Uruguay certainly need Cavani to step up, but where has Diego Forlan been at this World Cup? He started in the loss to Costa Rica and hasn't seen the pitch since. In 2010, Forlan was a force for Uruguay. He tied for the tournament lead with five goals and won the Golden Ball award as the best player in South Africa. He'll likely need to play a big role for Uruguay to advance.

The final word: Colombia are the team on the rise, entering Saturday's fixture with a 10-match unbeaten streak (six wins, four draws). They looked sharp in group play, albeit against somewhat underwhelming competition.

Uruguay are a dangerous side even without Suarez, but the loss of their striker and the surrounding controversy could prove too much to overcome.

It's worth noting, though, that Colombia's recent run of good form started after a September loss to Uruguay. Then again, Suarez and Falcao both played that day. They won't play Saturday.

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