5 Fearless Predictions for This Week at the World Cup

PHOTO: Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann of the United States looks on as the US Mens National Team stretches prior to training at Arena Amazonia on June 21, 2014 in Manaus, Brazil.

As the rich pageantry of the World Cup's first round nears an end, and the knockout stage beckons, here are five predictions for how this coming week plays out.

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US will fail to adjust

How do you solve a problem like Michael Bradley? These "Von Trapps," like the originals, have an issue with their best and brightest. Bradley was supposed to make America forget about Landon Donovan, taking on the latter's offensive responsibilities while anchoring the U.S. midfield.

So far, he's failed at both. Bradley was invisible against Ghana and error-prone in Sunday's heartbreaking draw with Portugal. His giveaway -- the second of two in the final minutes -- led directly to the Portuguese equalizer (though a dozing Geoff Cameron will take his share of the blame). Alas, there is no chance coach Jurgen Klinsmann drops Bradley. And there no reason to believe his play will improve on Thursday against a superior German team.

Italy will defeat Uruguay

PHOTO: Italys Mario Balotelli takes part in a training session of the Italy national soccer team at the Arena da Amazonia in Manaus, Brazil, Friday, June 13, 2014.
Matt Dunham/AP Photo
PHOTO: Italy's Mario Balotelli takes part in a training session of the Italy national soccer team at the Arena da Amazonia in Manaus, Brazil, Friday, June 13, 2014.

Italy versus Uruguay: a match that, if it were being played on July 13 at Rio's famed Maracana Stadium, would be greeted as a worthy final. Instead, they're playing it Tuesday at noon in Natal. The winner goes through to the knockout round, the loser goes home (Italy advances with a draw).

Uruguay was a pre-tournament favorite, but an injury to star striker Luis Suarez -- who had surgery on his knee and didn't play in La Celeste's first match -- and a shocking loss to Costa Rica, 3-1, put them on the brink. Suarez returned to outscore England all by himself, 2-1, and will Uruguay into this dramatic groups stage finale. But even Suarez, seemingly won't be enough.

The Italians will rally, neutralize Suarez, and striker Mario Balotelli, backed by classy manager Cesare Prandelli, will move on.

Argentina will start playing like we expected

PHOTO: Lionel Messi of Argentina during the FIFA World Cup 2014 match between Argentina and Bosnia and Herzegovina on June 15, 2014 at the Maracano in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
VI-Images via Getty Images
PHOTO: Lionel Messi of Argentina during the FIFA World Cup 2014 match between Argentina and Bosnia and Herzegovina on June 15, 2014 at the Maracano in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Two weeks ago, it was accepted as article of faith that Lionel Messi's Argentina were destined for, at the very least, a place in the World Cup final. They were the hot choice to upset favorites Brazil in that game. Two unconvincing performances later -- both wins, but still -- they've been written off by hordes of pundits as underachievers.

Messi, despite his two brilliant goals, is being skewered for... not scoring four? Messi, to be fair, has gone quiet in stretches and the team's vaunted attacking trio hasn't produced many highlights, but it's early.

Very few of Argentina's stars play in the same club team, or league, so they will only get more comfortable playing together and, with another match to play before the Round of 16, be in good shape to peak when it counts.

Set-piece goal surge will slow

PHOTO: Yaya Toure of the Ivory Coast takes a free kick during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group C match between Colombia and Cote DIvoire at Estadio Nacional on June 19, 2014 in Brasilia, Brazil.
Adam Pretty/Getty Images
PHOTO: Yaya Toure of the Ivory Coast takes a free kick during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group C match between Colombia and Cote D'Ivoire at Estadio Nacional on June 19, 2014 in Brasilia, Brazil.

This World Cup has seen a surge of goals, about one in five of them from set pieces -- corner kicks, free kicks, any play that begins after the previous one was halted by the referee's whistle. That, though, is about to change.

As we enter the third round of group games and then the knockout round, teams are beginning to come together defensively and organized defenses can usually snuff out these chances, even as the teams trying to execute them get better in kind.

Brazil will shock the world

PHOTO: Neymar of Brazil looks on during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group A match between Brazil and Mexico at Castelao on June 17, 2014 in Fortaleza, Brazil.
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
PHOTO: Neymar of Brazil looks on during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group A match between Brazil and Mexico at Castelao on June 17, 2014 in Fortaleza, Brazil.

Brazil and Argentina were the bookmakers' pre-tournament favorites to reach the final. So far, neither has inspired much confidence it will fulfill expectations. And while there's a good argument that Brazil, like neighbors Argentina, will only get better in time, the hosts have a much more difficult road ahead.

Assuming they advance, which is no lock -- a shock loss to Cameroon could end their World Cup by Monday night -- the Brazilians will mostly likely play either Holland or Chile in their first elimination game. Pick your poison.

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