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What's in store for the World Cup's Round of 16

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The World Cup has just wrapped up its first phase of play, the group stage, which means the stakes are getting higher. After the initial round robin, 16 teams are now moving on to the single-elimination knockout round, including the U.S. - yea. Here to talk about what is to come is Luis Miguel Echegaray of ESPN. Hi there. Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

LUIS MIGUEL ECHEGARAY: How are you? So happy to be here again.

KELLY: Indeed. All right. For all those poor, misguided souls who are not glued to their TVs and the World Cup, sum up for me biggest upsets so far.

ECHEGARAY: That's a very, very good question and a long-winded one, so I'm going to...

KELLY: Yeah. It's a long list.

ECHEGARAY: Yes. I'm going to be try and be very, very careful about it. Listen. One of the things about this World Cup than any other World Cup is that the margin of difference between the top contenders - right? - the Brazils, the Argentinas, the Frances and everybody else is the thinnest it's ever been. Part of it is because of how these players are playing domestically and how much they're getting better from a training and strategy perspective. And the other side of it, I think, is also just such a unique World Cup, the fact that it's happening right now.

So I would say that right now, when you're thinking about all these games, I mean, Japan winning their group, Group E, ahead of Spain, ahead of Germany - Japan up to this point has never beaten a former World Cup champion, and they did it twice in the space of a few days. So, to me, Japan will be one. Morocco winning Group F, Group F ahead of Croatia and Belgium and sadly, Canada as well for CONCACAF, France. But Morocco winning their group is an amazing achievement. So it's been really great to see these countries do so well.

KELLY: Well, and speaking of Morocco - and I will add one more, which is Cameroon just beat Brazil 1-0. I'm not sure people would have bet on that going into this World Cup. There's a couple of African teams going through to this next round - Senegal, Morocco, which you mentioned, quite remarkable given that there were no African teams during the last men's World Cup who made it who made it into the knockout phase. How far do you think they could go?

ECHEGARAY: Yeah, Mary Louise, you know what? This is one of - been one of my things that I've been wanting for a while. Pele, a while ago, the famous Pele once said, hopefully that you'll see an African team in the final. That hasn't happened yet. But we were hoping, we were hoping - you mentioned Cameroon, but also Ghana earlier today - we were hoping that three were going to make it in the knockout stages. That's never happened in the World Cup. But now that you have two, that's the first time since 2014, when Nigeria and then Algeria made it. So very happy. Now, Senegal have to face England, which is going to be difficult. England are a powerhouse. And even though there's always pessimism around English fans - I know because I was born and grew up there - they still should be too much for Senegal, who are the African champions.

KELLY: OK. So that's one to watch. You got to give us the preview for - what, for a lot of people will be the big game, this is tomorrow - the U.S. is going to face the Netherlands. What should we watch for?

ECHEGARAY: Well, this is the - a very young USMNT side, full of energy, full of eagerness. Christian Pulisic, of course, and Brenden Aaronson, Tyler Adams, the captain - it's going to be energy, youth against a very professionally conservative Netherlands. And that's never happened. The Netherlands are usually very exciting going forward, and this has not been the case in this tournament. So it's about, can the USMNT be energetic enough to win against a very good but very conservative Netherlands? It should be a very exciting game.

KELLY: And in the few seconds we have left, do we know - you mentioned Christian Pulisic. Is he going to be able to play? He got hurt. He was the one who scored the goal in that U.S. win over Iran.

ECHEGARAY: He did, Mary Louise. He gave it his all to just score that goal. He didn't even care about his physical well-being. And he did it. But he was interviewed today by our very own Sam Borden for ESPN, and he's good to go. He's good to go.

KELLY: Hooray. All right. Lots to watch for tomorrow. Thanks so much.

ECHEGARAY: Thank you so much.

KELLY: We've been speaking with ESPN's Luis Miguel Echegaray. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kai McNamee
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.