First two knockout round matches are set: Let’s take an early look at Brazil-Chile, Netherlands-Mexico

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Once you can start filling in the bracket, things get serious. Come Thursday night, this coming up period we call group phase will be gone. T-minus five days until the knockout round.

On Monday, four teams confirmed their spots in that stage, finalizing second round match ups that will take place in Belo Horizonte and Fortaleza.  Here’s an early look:

Brazil vs. Chile
Group A winner vs. Group B runner-up
Where: Belo Horizonte
When: Saturday, 12:00 p.m. Eastern

[ MORE: Neymar lifts Brazil past Cameroon | Chile falls to the Dutch ]

Leading men: Neymar was picked as one of the stars of the tournament. Through three games in front of home fans, he hasn’t disappointed, scoring four goals. Chile, however, will have the best all-around player on the field in Juventus’s Arturo Vidal, though after having meniscus surgery last month, he might not be at 100 percent.

Supporting stars: Oscar, Brazil’s most creative player, will help in attack, while the Paris Saint-Germain pairing of Thiago Silva and David Luiz form one of the tournament’s best central defense duos. Chile has Barcelona’s Alexis Sanchez and Valencia’s Eduardo Vargas up top, giving Jorge Sampaoli two talents who can capitalize on their team’s high energy approach.

Strengths: That Chilean style could prove problematic for a Brazil side that didn’t have to face la Roja through qualifying. Between Neymar, Oscar, and Hulk, Brazil has a diverse attack that’s capable of creating openings for the likes of Fred and, from midfield, Paulinho.

Weaknesses: Along with Luiz Gustavo, Paulinho has had trouble controlling play in the middle of the park; at least, Mexico and Croatia were able to have success against the Seleçao’s midfield duo. Between Marcelo (left back) and Dani Alves, Brazil also has two fullbacks who may force Silva and Luiz to live up to PSG’s transfer fees. For Chile, the back line is small and features two natural midfielders.

Early expectations: Brazil will be favored, but Chile’s been getting a lot of dark horse love. Expect some scattered upset predictions.

Three narratives you will hear in the buildup:

  • Neymar will be compared to a series of other Brazilian greats while people forget he’s only 22 years old.
  • Chile’s attractive style will be lauded by pundits who won’t pick them to win.
  • The word “samba” will be tossed around despite having no real connection to Brazil’s current style.

To the winner: Group C’s winner and Group D’s runner-up are in the adjacent pot. That likely means one of Colombia, Italy, or Uruguay in the final eight.

source: Getty Images
Gary Medel, Felipe Gutierrez and Mauricio Isla of Chile try to stop Arjen Robben. (Credit: Getty Images.)

Netherlands vs. Mexico
Group B winner vs. Group A winner up
Where: Fortaleza
When: 
Sunday, 12:00 p.m. Eastern

[ MORE: Dutch clinch first in Group B | Mexico surges past Croatia ]

Leading men: Arjen Robben is drawing attention as one of the tournament’s best players, but in the two games Robin van Persie has been able to partner him in attack, the Manchester United star has been nearly as influential. For Mexico, Héctor Herrera has been one of the competition’s best midfielders, while Rafa Márquez’s sweeper role has allowed him to excel in his fourth World Cup.

Supporting stars: Giovani Dos Santos has made crucial contributions both in linkup play and closer to goal, while Andrés Guardado is making an impact in an unfamiliar central midfield spot. For the Dutch, the three-man defense of Stefan de Vrij, Ron Vlaar, and Bruno Martins Indi opened eyes against Spain, though Martins Indi missed Monday’s game recovering from concussion symptoms.

Strengths: Surprisingly, the Dutch have been one of the most direct teams in this tournament, quickly getting the ball to van Persie and Robben before defenses have a chance to settle in. Allowing only one goal all in group play, Mexico’s defense has been amongst the best at the World Cup.

Weaknesses: To this point, the Dutch haven’t shown any, but with an inexperienced defense, cracks can emerge as the tournament unfolds. For Mexico, speed at the back is a question, as is the ability to create chances for Oribe Peralta up top. The Santos Laguna forward only has three shots thus far.

Early expectations: After their nine-point performance in Group B, the Dutch will be favorites. An underdog to get out of their group two weeks ago, the Netherlands are having to clear space on their bandwagon. Again.

Three narratives you will hear in the buildup:

  • Brilliant Oranje and total football will be evoked despite the Dutch playing much of this tournament in its own half.
  • Mexico will be depicted as a sign of CONCACAF’s emerging strength, though they’ve been to this stage in each of the five previous finals.
  • The low expectations each team carried into the competition will be as discussed as their current form.

To the winner: Whomever emerges from a match between Group C’s runner-up and Group D’s winner. Costa Rica will likely be the latter, while the Ivory Coast is in position to come out of the other group.

French league terminates goal-line technology contract

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PARIS (AP) The French football league has terminated the contract with its goal-line technology provider after a series of glitches.

The LFP had already suspended the use of GoalControl, the German system that was deployed at the 2014 World Cup.

According to L’Equipe newspaper, the league will launch a tender in February to find a new provider of the technology that determines whether the ball crossed the line.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

In recent months, the French league had repeatedly expressed its discontent with GoalControl.

Goal-line technology entered soccer after a goal was wrongly disallowed at the 2010 World Cup.

FIFA is already focused on fast-tracking the next phase of technology – video assistant referees – for the World Cup in June.

Goal-line technology and VAR were provided by Hawk-Eye at the Confederations Cup last year.

Bristol City’s Johnson: “They certainly have heard of us now”

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The Premier League world may see Bristol City next season, but it seems its manager has the personality to arrive on the top flight whether or not his Robins earn promotion this season.

Johnson, 36, earned plenty of plaudits after leading his Championship club to the League Cup semifinals, famously defeated Manchester United in the quarters.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

Before that, Bristol beat Premier League sides Crystal Palace, Stoke City, and Watford. The Robins beat third tier Plymouth Argyle 5-0 in the first round.

Johnson was beaming after the Robins took Man City to the edge, closing to within a goal of extra time before Kevin De Bruyne‘s stoppage time number ended the tie 5-3 on aggregate.

“Absolutely I’m proud. It’s not just tonight but over the course of the season, particularly the cup run. It was a fantastic occasion, I’m sorry we couldn’t get the win but we played against the best side that I have ever seen live. They have so many good individuals.

“We kept going and it’s taken two injury-time goals to beat us. They certainly have [heard of us] now…everybody knows what we’re about. It’s been great.”

Bristol City is in the Championship’s fifth place, bidding for its first top flight campaign since 1980. Johnson should be a hot prospect to earn a shot in the Premier League should the Robins not make the jump.

League Cup semifinal preview: Arsenal vs. Chelsea

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  • Chelsea has won 4-of-7 League Cup matches vs. Arsenal
  • Arsenal leads all-time series 74W-58D-62L
  • Clubs have drawn four times this season

Hardware hopes are on the line when Chelsea hits the Emirates Stadium for a League Cup semifinal second leg with Arsenal on Wednesday.

The sides drew 0-0 at Stamford Bridge, giving Chelsea the advantage of knowing a scoring draw would do the trick and set up a date with Manchester City at Wembley on Feb. 25, though Arsenal has home field advantage in pursuit of a win.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

Henrikh Mkhitaryan may debut for Arsenal, though the club released an interesting note on Tuesday: He’ll wear No. 7 in most competitions, but will have to use a different number in the Europa League because Alexis Sanchez wore it to start the tournament.

Chelsea’s Antonio Conte won’t have Alvaro Morata (back) and Cesc Fabregas for the match, though Andreas Christensen will be available for selection.

The clubs are no strangers to each other in big non-PL spots, squaring off in this season’s Community Shield (Arsenal won in penalty kicks) and last season’s FA Cup Final (Arsenal won).

Nothing has separated the sides on the field aside from those penalty kicks at Wembley Stadium, as Arsenal and Chelsea have drawn 1-1, 0-0, 2-2, and 0-0 since August.

What they’re saying

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger on Henrikh Mkhitaryan“He can play in different positions, but personally I see him first in a wide position, but I’m thinking about him a possibility to play through the middle. You are certain in our job of nothing, that’s absolutely sure. But you believe and I believe he has the qualities to do well, is a team player and our game is based on team attitude and movement and I think he can absorb the quantity of movement in our team.”

Chelsea’s Conte on the lineup: “Every game is different, you change the quality of your opponent and you must be intelligent enough to understand if you should continue with the same players or make some changes.”

Javier Mascherano leaving Barcelona after 8 seasons

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says defender Javier Mascherano is leaving the club after eight seasons.

Barcelona says there will be a farewell ceremony on Wednesday with Mascherano, club president Josep Bartomeu and the rest of the squad.

[ MORE: Man City to buy $86m CB ]

The 33-year-old Argentina international will say goodbye to the fans before Thursday’s game against Espanyol at Camp Nou in the Copa del Rey. He is reportedly going to play in China.

Mascherano, who also played as a defensive midfielder, arrived in Barcelona in 2010 from Liverpool and helped the Catalan club win 18 titles. He has made 334 appearances with Barcelona, but recently hadn’t been playing much.

The club earlier this month signed Colombia international Yerry Mina to boost its defense.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga