Apart from such pulsating action, several teams have managed to catch the fancy of footie fans with their strong performances.

While the usual suspects like Germany, Brazil, Argentina and Netherlands have all lived up to the expectations so far, there have been several upset results too.

For instance, defending champions Spain crashing out of the World Cup after just two matches into the tournament came as a huge shock to many.

Spain were hammered 5-1 by a rampant Dutch team, led capably by Manchester United striker Robin Van Persie and their next manager Louis Van Gaal.

However, nothing came more astonishing than the ‘small fry’ South American nation Costa Rica topping the much-hyped ‘Group of Death’ that boasted of three former world champions in Uruguay, Italy and England.

While Uruguay somehow managed to sail through to the knockout stage, the Azzuris and the Three Lions had to suffer ignominious exits, courtesy of Costa Rican players’ indomitable spirit aided by their belligerent display of football.

There have been other not-so-fancied teams too that have caught the attention of all the football freaks around the world. One such team is Colombia, which has earned the respect of everyone in the football fraternity with their beautiful displays so far, winning all three games in resounding fashion.

Considering the performances of every team involved in the Round of 16 in the ongoing World Cup, we have picked five teams, which would be favourites to win the biggest prize in football, and we will analyse their strong areas, weaknesses and their ‘Mr Dependable’.

Argentina



Tipped as one of the hot favourites to clinch the World Cup even before it started, Argentina on the back of impressive performances from their star man – Lionel Messi stormed into the knockout stages, winning all three games in the group stages.

Although, their performances in Brazil so far have in no ways suggested that they are playing to their full potential yet but with arguably one of the best players of all time – Messi – in their ranks, the La Albiceleste are in no mood to let this World Cup slip away.

Strength: Argentina would be once again bank on the surfeit of attacking talent in its arsenal with the trio of Messi, Angel Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain expected to weave their magic.

To say that four times Ballon d’Or winner Messi is their biggest strength would not be wrong as the little maestro has scored four times already in the World Cup and looks in great touch.

Weakness:   Defence was touted to be Argentina’s Achilles’ heel before the World Cup but it performed well in the group stages. However, their lack of control over the game was evident throughout the three matches they have played so far in the World Cup.

Against Iran too, Argentina needed a wonder Messi strike in the extra minutes to clinch the game, and over-reliance on the Barcelona star can prove perilous for them in the knockout stages.

Key player: This is no-brainer as Messi, who has been in red hot form in the World Cup so far, will be their main player in the knockout stages from now onwards.


Brazil


Brazil was also one of the red hot favourites heading into the World Cup and as they are the host nation, it certainly strengthened their chances of winning their sixth world title.

Seeking a sixth World Cup on home soil, Brazil began to find their rhythm in the 4-1 demolition of Cameroon in their last group game and will aim to keep the party going in a lunchtime kick off in Belo Horizonte

Strength: Brazil’s biggest strengths in the knockout stages would be the momentum that they are carrying from the group stage along with the unwavering and rumbustious crowd support for them as they are the host nation.

If their star player Neymar keeps banging goals like he has been doing so far then it would be good news for the Selecao fans and will also strengthen their bid to life the trophy.

Weakness: Neymar is just 22 and although he has performed exceptionally well in the tournament so far, there is still no one in Brazil’s attack that has supported him in scoring goals.

Much-maligned and criticized after the first game against Croatia, striker Fred may have scored his first goal of the tournament against Cameroon in their third and last group stage game, but it is safe to say that absence of another 'prominent' goal-scorer in the tournament can prove risky for them.

Key player: Without a shadow of doubt Neymar is the key player for the Selecao in the knockout stages. He has already slammed in four goals and would be eyeing more.

Netherlands


Led by Manchester United striker Robin Van Persie, the Netherlands team is brimming with confidence after winning all three games in their group stage – a 5-1 win over dethroned world champions Spain being the highlight.

With Van Persie and Arjen Robben in dazzling form, the Dutch have been the best team in the World Cup so far for many football pundits. If they keep playing in a similar manner then it would not be hard to imagine them lifting the World Cup trophy.

Strength: With two of the best goals in the World Cup so far coming from the feet of two Dutchmen, there is no doubt that a classic brand of attacking football is Netherlands’ strongest point.

With a mastermind manager in Louis Van Gaal, the Netherlands would also be banking on his tactical nous to make it to the next round of the tournament.

Weakness:  The Netherlands have impressed everyone in the World Cup so far but the Dutch defence still seems inexperienced and prone to errors.

Although, the defenders in the Netherlands team, especially the full backs, have done a decent job so far but it is still susceptible to odd loss in concentration, which can prove fatal for their hopes to lift the trophy.

Key player: Although captain Van Persie has been in top form in this World Cup so far but the 30-year old Bayern Munich star Arjen Robben has impressed the most for the Dutch in the group stages.

If both Robben and Van Persie keep banging goals, both have scored 3 each till now, it would bode well for the Dutch dreams.

Germany



Starting the World Cup in the best possible manner by thrashing world number 4 Portugal, Germany has since then looked in ominous form.

It ended the group stages with seven points as it won two games and drew one against Ghana.

Unsurprisingly, Thomas Mueller with four goals, including a hat trick against Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal, has been the star of the tournament for the Germans so far in the World Cup as he was also in the previous edition in South Africa 2010.

Strength: Attack has been Germany’s strongest trait so far and they are lucky to possess two world class forwards in Mueller and legendary Miroslav Klose.

Scoring seven goals in the ‘Group of Death’ that also had Portugal, Ghana and USA in the group is no mean achievement. Even the best of defenders in the world would fear at the prospect of playing against such an attacking team.

Weakness: Defensive vulnerabilities are perhaps the only drawback in this dominating German team.

With Jerome Boateng playing at right back and Benedikt Howedes at left back, the opposition teams would look to exploit their weakness on the this area of the pitch.

Key player: Winning the golden boot in the previous edition in South Africa did not seem to satiate Mueller’s hunger for goals.

He has continued from where he had left in last World Cup in 2010 and has already banged in four goals so far. His knack to clinically finish goal scoring opportunities can prove to be Germany’s biggest weapon in the World Cup.


France


In a refreshing change, France displayed an attacking game during the first two games, slamming eight goals with their big striker Karim Benzema scoring three.

Not many had expected France to do so well in the World Cup, considering their shambolic performances in the last edition of the tournament.

However, under the supervision of coach Didier Deschamps, France has played like a cohesive unit in the World Cup so far.

Strength: As mentioned, the unity and happiness in the French squad this time is one of their biggest strengths in the World Cup so far.

The form of Benzema and midfielder Blaise Matuidi also spell good news for the French team, who would be expected to be a part of the latter stages of the tournament.

Weakness: Liverpool’s centre back Mamadou Sakho and Newcastle’s full back Mathieu Debuchy are possibly the two weak links of the France team.

While captain Hugo Lloris has performed very well as the custodian of the goal so far for France, Sakho and Debuchy have been clumsy on the ball and guilty of risky challenges that could be detrimental for the Les Blues’ hopes.

Key player: It would not be wrong to say that Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema has been in the form of his life throughout the World Cup so far, slamming three goals and with one against Switzerland just after the final whistle.

If he keeps up his form for the latter stages of the World Cup, France would have a very strong chance at winning the biggest prize in football.

(Harshdeep Singh/JPN)