MOSCOW — The World Cup started with eight groups of four, 32 nations in all seeking to make it to the knockout stage. Colombia and — just barely — Japan grabbed the two spots from Group H in Thursday’s early matches, and England and Belgium sorted out the top of Group F later that night to solidify the field going forward.
Here’s a look at what’s next, starting with the round of 16 :
Group A vs. Group B, Group E vs. Group F
This half of the bracket features big names in two high-powered matches right out of the gate: A loaded France squad plays Lionel Messi and Argentina in Saturday’s early game, followed by Uruguay and Luis Suarez against Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo, with the winners meeting July 6.
Belgium — one of the few top-tier teams to deliver on its hype so far — plays Japan, which sneaked out of its group because it got fewer yellow cards than Senegal. Monday’s later match pits Neymar and a Brazil lineup that seems to be finding its form against a mercurial Mexico squad that knocked off Germany and South Korea but got hammered by Sweden. The winners play July 6.
Group C vs. Group D, Group G vs. Group H
Sunday starts with Russia hosting Spain in Moscow’s main stadium, with the late game pitting Denmark, which hasn’t lost since the fall of 2016, against Croatia, which eased through its group with three wins. The winners meet July 7.
England will carry high expectations into its match Tuesday against a talented Colombia team after essentially choosing that matchup by fielding a squad of reserves in its last group game against Belgium. And the final game of the round of 16 features a Swedish side that won a tough group versus a Swiss team with issues in the back but enough talent up front to score against anyone. The winners play July 7 for the right to go to the semifinals.