6 Players to Watch on Day 23 of the 2014 World Cup

Rob Dawson@@RobDawsonMENManchester United CorrespondentJuly 4, 2014

6 Players to Watch on Day 23 of the 2014 World Cup

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    The first World Cup quarter-final takes place on Friday at the Estadio Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, with France taking on Germany in the day's early meeting.

    In the late game, hosts Brazil play Colombia at the Estadio Castelao in Fortaleza. The all-South American tie will see two of the tournament's standout players go head-to-head.

    Neymar has impressed for Brazil at his home World Cup, while James Rodriguez has shone for Colombia.

    Here's a rundown of six players to look out for on Day 23. Feel free to use the comments section below to agree, disagree or add your own. 

Karim Benzema, France

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    Didier Deschamps has got a decision to make before France's World Cup quarter-final with Germany.

    He started with Olivier Giroud as his centre-forward in the round of 16 against Nigeria, but it wasn't until Giroud went off and Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema was moved inside that France really looked like a constant scoring threat. 

    Deschamps might be tempted to start Antoine Griezmann, given how well the Real Sociedad man finished the win over Nigeria.

    If so, that should see Benzema restored to his favoured central role, from which he's scored three goals in Brazil. 

Paul Pogba, France

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    Paul Pogba's place in the France team has come under pressure in Brazil.

    However, a goal against Nigeria in the last 16 should ensure he keeps it for the quarter-final with Germany, meaning Moussa Sissoko is likely to start the game on the bench.

    However, facing a combination of Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira is a different challenge from the ones posed by Honduras, Switzerland, Ecuador and Nigeria.

    The 21-year-old will have to impose himself as much as he can if France are to go any further at this World Cup. 

Andre Schurrle, Germany

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    Andre Schuerrle started Germany's match with Algeria in the round of 16 on the bench.

    However, on as a half-time substitute for Mario Goetze, it was the Chelsea forward who broke the deadlock in extra time.

    Even if the 23-year-old doesn't start, he told The Telegraph's Jason Burt he expects to have more opportunities to play at this World Cup:

    When you come to a World Cup with Germany you are expected to win it.

    We don’t come here just to take part. When you have this team with these players, everyone in our country and all around the world has big expectations of us. This is always the way. We have big ambitions and we have that feeling more than ever now that we are into the last eight.

    Joachim Loew hasn't been afraid to chop and change his team in Brazil, and Schuerrle will feel he's done everything he can to earn a starting spot against France in the quarter-finals. 

Thiago Silva, Brazil

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    Brazil got a scare against Chile in the last 16, and they will face a similar test when they play Colombia in the quarter-finals.

    Thiago Silva admitted to the Daily Mirror's Ben Burrows after the win over Chile that he and centre-half partner David Luiz struggled to cope with the pace and movement of Jorge Sampaoli's side:

    ... Chile were a great team but we found strength. The most important thing is that the group is united, independent of any mistakes. ...

    ... We suffered, we know Chile would push us back and they deserve credit.

    We know they are very mobile and that made it hard for me and David [Luiz], especially him with his sore back. He was a warrior today, and that shows the strength and the unity we have.

    It is going to get harder. We have three games to realise our dreams and the dreams of Brazilians.

    When the pair line up against Colombia, they will face one of the tournament's outstanding players in James Rodriguez.

    The Monaco forward is likely to play just off the front against Brazil, and Silva will have to be careful not to get dragged out of his comfort zone. 

Fred, Brazil

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    Brazil have been blessed with some great centre-forwards. Think Pele, Romario, Bebeto and Ronaldo.

    It's unlikely Fred will be remembered in quite the same way, but he probably won't care if he ends a home World Cup with a winners' medal in his pocket.

    Despite his struggles, former Brazil midfielder Kaka told The Times of India (via Goal.com's Andrew Wychrij) that Fred still deserves his place in the team:

    We should remember that Fred had a very good Confederations Cup last year.

    He has a lot to give to the team. He's had a slow start but picked up and can become one of Brazil's big players as the tournament goes on.

    The 30-year-old Fred has scored just once in Brazil's four games. More than that, he at times hasn't even looked like a scoring threat.

    Still, Luiz Felipe Scolari is likely to keep faith with Fred for the rest of the tournament. 

James Rodriguez, Colombia

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    Even if James Rodriguez's World Cup ends against Brazil, he'll still be remembered as one of the stars of the tournament.

    In fact, Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez told The Telegraph's Jeremy Wilson that Rodriguez is the World Cup's best player so far:

    I've seen him play for a while. He arrived in Argentina at 17 and showed he was a talented player. Those who do things which have nothing to do with life experience, Maradona, Messi, Suarez, they do things because they have certain gifts that make them special. He's the best player in the World Cup. I don't think I'm exaggerating.

    It's not just that he's scored in every game he's played in Brazil or that he's tallied five goals in four appearances. It's not even because of that stunning volley against Uruguay.

    It's the way he's driven Colombia forward, a creative hub in a blur of yellow—smiling and dancing while he does it.