World Cup today: Saturday brings the first games of the knockout round

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WORLD CUP TODAY: SATURDAY, JUNE 28

How is everyone today? Did you enjoy a bit of time off yesterday, perhaps by lying in a darkened room with your eyes closed, trying to recover from over two weeks of glorious madness? Or did you suffer soccer withdrawals, and need to resort to watching World Cup highlights on a loop?

Well, good news. The World Cup is back in action today, with the first games of the knockout stage. The bad news is, by the end of the afternoon, there will be two fewer teams left in the tournament.

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MATCH 49: BRAZIL VS. CHILE
Location: Estádio Mineirão, Belo Horizonte
Time: Noon ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s Guide

Brazil beat Croatia 3-1 and Cameroon 4-1, but in between could only manage a 0-0 draw with Mexico. In other words, they’re not quite invincible, but it was enough to take them top of the group.

Chile were overcome by Netherlands in their final group stage game, losing 2-0 to take second in the group. But they’d previously beat Australia 3-1 and Spain 2-0, and their attacking prowess is not to be underestimated.

What they’re saying

Arturo Vidal is quite confident about Chile’s chances: “This is the best generation in the history of Chilean football. Beating Brazil? That’s our dream. Chile can create a surprise. We’ve beaten the champions, so we can beat Brazil. We’re good enough to win the World Cup.”

History
Chile and Brazil have faced off numerous times, as they’re both part of CONMEBOL, which rather requires them to see a lot of one another. Of the 68 matches played, Brazil have won an astonishing 48; Chile, just 7. The good news is that 217 goals were scored in those matches, giving us an average of 3.19 per game. This should be fun!

When it comes to the World Cup, Chile have experienced heavy defeat each of the three times the two sides have met. When Chile and Brazil met in this stage in 2010, Brazil won 3-0.

Premier League Players
Brazil: Oscar, Ramires, Willian (Chelsea); Fernandinho (Manchester City); Paulinho (Tottenham)

MLS Players
Brazil: Júlio César of Toronto FC

RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly

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MATCH 50: COLOMBIA VS. URUGUAY

Location: Estádio Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro
Time: 4pm ET
SOCCERLY PREVIEW | SOCCERLY MATCHCENTER

Cheater’s guide
Colombia are perfect through three, the only side in today’s games that can boast such a feat. They beat Greece 3-0 and Ivory Coast 2-1, then finished up with a 4-1 thrashing of Japan.

Uruguay, well, they haven’t been quite as lucky. Their first game was a 3-1 loss to Costa Rica, which they followed by beating England 2-1 thanks to a brace from Luis Suárez. Suárez, of course, struck again in Uruguay’s final match, biting Giorgio Chiellini just before Diego Godín scored the only goal in the 1-0 victory.

What they’re saying

Uruguay forward Christian Stuani on his side’s historical edge: “Statistics are just numbers. The game has to be played. World Cups are very complicated tournaments and matches are settled by small details.”

History
Uruguay have the edge, with 18 wins from 38 games played, while Colombia have won 11 times. But, as Stuani said…

Premier League players
Uruguay: Luis Suárez, Sebastián Coates (Liverpool); Gastón Ramírez (Southampton)
In general, if you’re looking to watch players from either Uruguay or Colombia, your best bet is to pay attention to Italian football: Uruguay have five players in Serie A, Colombia have seven.

Uruguay reaches Round of 16 courtesy of Suarez

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The first two nations have advanced to the knockout phase out of Group A.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Uruguay reached the Round of 16 on Wednesday with a 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia, who has been eliminated from the 2018 World Cup.

Hosts Russia will also reach the knockout rounds with the Uruguay win, thus eliminating Egypt as well.

The Barcelona striker gave Uruguay the lead in the 23rd minute, after a poor read from Saudi goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais.

Suarez was given a wide-open finish at the far post off the corner kick for his first goal at the World Cup. The 31-year-old had scored a combined five goals during his last two World Cup appearances (2010 & 2014).

The Uruguyans dictated the tempo throughout much of the match, but Saudi Arabia’s back line held strong for the majority of the game.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

Uruguay will close out group play against Group A leaders and hosts Russia on June 25, while Saudi Arabia and Egypt will tango that same day.

Video: Goalkeeping error grants Suarez, Uruguay gift

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Luis Suarez was clearly upset with his lack of finishing in Uruguay’s opener last Friday, but the Barcelona man is finally on the scoresheet at the 2018 World Cup.

[MORE: Ronaldo’s early header gives Portugal win over Morocco ]

The veteran striker gave Uruguay the lead in the 23rd minute after a close-range finish off of a corner kick.

Saudi Arabia goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais came out to try and collect the cross, however, he was slow in his reaction, allowing the ball to slip through to Suarez for the easy finish.

The Uruguayans will reach the Round of 16 with one match remaining if they hold on to their 1-0 lead.

NZ women’s coach placed on leave after player complaints

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Wellington, New Zealand (AP) The coach of New Zealand’s women’s football team has been placed on leave pending an investigation of complaints about his conduct from members of the national team.

[ MORE: Senegal holds off late Poland charge for Group H win ]

The complaints centered around tactics Andreas Heraf used in a recent home international against Japan and his comments to media after that match. Players reportedly objected to the defensive nature of Heraf’s tactics in the 3-1 loss.

New Zealand Football chief executive Andy Martin said at a news conference on Wednesday that his organization had received a letter from the New Zealand Professional Footballers Association, containing letters of complaint from 13 national team members.

Defending his approach at a news conference after the match, Heraf said the New Zealand players would never have the “quality” to compete with a team of Japan’s ability and might have lost 8-0 if they had not adopted a defensive style.

Further reports have emerged of player concerns about Heraf’s behavior, including allegations of bullying.

Martin was repeatedly questioned at the news conference about when New Zealand Football first had notice of the players’ concerns about Heraf. He insisted he was not aware of any problems until the letter from the NZPFA containing the players’ complaints was released on Monday.

In a statement, New Zealand Football Chairman Deryck Shaw said player welfare was “of utmost importance.”

“We hold player welfare as a matter of utmost importance and that is why we are conducting a thorough, independent review. We want to ensure we better understand these issues in an objective review. There is no place for inappropriate behavior of any kind with New Zealand Football.”

Ronaldo’s early tally gives Portugal win over Morocco

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It was far from a convincing performance, but manager Fernando Santos and Co. came away with their first win at the World Cup and now sit in the drivers’ seat in Group B.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Portugal earned a narrow 1-0 win over Morocco on Wednesday, after Cristiano Ronaldo’s early header proved to be the difference.

Santos’ group now sits atop Group B with four points, while Morocco is eliminated after losing its first two matches.

It took just four minutes for Portugal to break the deadlock, with Ronaldo once again at the center of the Portuguese attack.

The Real Madrid man brilliantly latched onto a header at the near post off of a corner kick, giving Ronaldo his fourth goal at this World Cup (seventh goal overall).

Morocco did well to insert its presence in the match following the early goal, but various chances from Medhi Benatia and Hakim Ziyech weren’t enough to break past Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

The African side also had a legitimate appeal for a penalty kick in the first stanza, however, referee Mark Geiger opted to play on despite the Moroccan protest.

Morocco continued its pressure in the second half, and Patricio was forced to make an incredible save in the 57th minute when Younes Belhanda headed a cross towards the far corner.

Portugal will close out Group B play on June 25 against Iran, while Morocco takes on Spain