Messi and Ronaldo gear up for World Cup knockout phase

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Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi take centre stage as the World Cup shifts into high gear at the weekend with the start of the knockout matches in the loaded top half of the draw.

Football heavyweights France, Argentina, Portugal and Brazil are all clustered in one section of the competition, with only Spain among recent winners in the other half.

The unbalanced nature of the knockout phase increases the chances of an unlikely team reaching the semi-finals — and of the big guns cancelling each other out.

That scenario sparked debate ahead of Thursday´s England-Belgium group match — was it better to win and enter the tougher side of the draw or lose and face potentially easier fixtures down the line?

In the event, third-ranked Belgium won 1-0, adding even more firepower to the top half, while if England can get past Colombia they will fancy their chances of reaching a potential semi-final against 2010 winners Spain.

The first phase in Russia featured just one goalless draw and already a record number of penalties, with the video assistant referee (VAR) often in the spotlight.