Intriguing match-ups aplenty in Cup knockout phase

Lionel Messi vs Antoine Griezmann. Cristiano Ronaldo vs Luis Suarez. Luka Modric vs Christian Eriksen.

They’re just some of the mouthwatering match-ups fans can look forward to in what promises to be a thrilling round of 16 at the World Cup.

No more draws and no more second chances.

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The World Cup is in knockout mode and with half of the 32 national teams already culled, including 2014 champions Germany and the Socceroos, the tournament moves into overdrive.

Can Argentina inspire a lift in form for Argentina? Pic: Getty

After every match of the round 16, another team will be going home.

Over the next four days, eight games will decide the quarter-finalists.

One half of the bracket features big names in two high-powered matches right out of the gate while two of the tournament favourites are slated to clash in the last eight.

A loaded France face Lionel Messi and Argentina in Kazan to kick off the knockout stage on Saturday.

Les Bleus eased their way out of the group stage with little fuss although they are yet to hit anywhere near top form, with a number of key players including striker Antoine Griezmann below their best.

Griezmann and France are yet to really hit their straps in Russia. Pic: Getty

Argentina scraped into the last 16 but, with Messi and a stack of attacking firepower at the disposal of Jorge Sampaoli, can never be written off despite looking out of sorts and uninterested at times.

In Sochi, Uruguay tackle European champions Portugal with Cristiano Ronaldo, four goals, chasing the tournament Golden Boot award.

Uruguay steadily improved during the group stage and in Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani have a lethal attacking pairing capable of winning any game.

Brazil and Belgium are among the most favoured teams to go all the way and will be heavily tipped to account for Mexico and Japan respectively in Monday’s matches.

Neymar, Phillipe Coutinho and their Brazilian teammates have played themselves into form and should account for a Mexico team that were well beaten by Sweden and appears likely to continue a consecutive streak of round of 16 eliminations, which dates back to 1994.

Neymar and Brazil have been in strong form going into the knockout stages. Pic: Getty

Belgium won all three of their group matches and should extend their run when they meet Japan, the last remaining Asian hope, in Rostov-on-Don.

In the other half of the draw, Spain and Croatia appear to be the most likely but if they get by Russia and Denmark respectively their paths cross in the last eight.

Sunday’s action kicks off with Russia hosting Spain in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, needing all the home support they can muster to spring a massive upset against the 2010 champions.

Spain will be looking to Costa to provide much of their goal threat. Pic: Getty

Denmark haven’t lost in almost two years but Croatia are arguably the best-performed team in Russia and in Luke Modric and Ivan Rakitic have a midfield capable of dominating any opponent.

Switzerland are ranked higher than Sweden but the Scandinavians go into their match on Tuesday in Saint Petersburg buoyed by topping their tough group.

In the final round of 16 encounter, England will carry high expectations into their showdown with Colombia, who will be sweating on the fitness of star man James Rodriguez.

Both will fancy their chances of reaching the last four if they can get past this banana skin first.

With AAP