World Cup Quarter-Finals: What We Can Expect from the Last 8
The group stage has long since ended; the round of 16 reached its conclusion on Tuesday. All of a sudden the 2014 FIFA World Cup has gone from 32 teams to eight, and by Saturday night, the participants will have dwindled to four.
Where the first phase of the tournament featured a swashbuckling, take-no-prisoners approach that resulted in some high-profile upsets, the first knockout round was a cautious, organised affair in which the goalkeepers were often the stars.
The quarter-finals could well be similar, what with the spectre of victory becoming ever closer, and in none of the four ties does there seem to be a clear-cut favourite. (Although if this World Cup has taught one thing, it’s that the favourite’s tag never meant anything, anyway.)
Rarely has the last eight of a World Cup been such a toss-up, but over the next few slides we’ll do our best to provide some separation between the competitors who will perform for us on Friday and Saturday.
France vs. Germany
Quarter-finals: France vs. Germany
July 4, Rio de Janeiro (kick-off 5 p.m. BST/Noon ET)
There is a case to be made that France have been the World Cup’s most consistent team to date, although it’s also arguable that if any side should be tipped to lift the trophy on July 13, it’s Germany.
Friday’s match at the Maracana will settle the question.
Against Algeria, Germany’s immobile defense looked fragile at times, and the lack of quality in the full-back positions nearly cost them their place in the quarter-finals.
France will expose those weaknesses more consistently and effectively than the Fennec Foxes, although their defense, too, will be tested in Rio de Janeiro.
Patrice Evra never looked comfortable against Nigeria in the round of 16, and in the interchanges of Thomas Mueller, Mario Goetze and Mesut Ozil, the Germans should be able to take advantage of that.
Discipline: No one
Odds: Germany (+179); Draw (+218); France (189)
Brazil vs. Colombia
Quarter-finals: Brazil vs. Colombia
July 4, Fortaleza (kick-off 9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET)
Brazil passed a massive test in the round of 16, seeing off a feisty, capable Chile side that dominated the match for extended stretches.
Naturally, there are two ways to look at their victory on penalties in Belo Horizonte.
On the one hand, they might be emboldened after such a difficult assignment—they might be of the mindset that, with Chile vanquished, they can go on and beat anybody.
Conversely, they were pushed to the limit by an opponent at the first hurdle and might be there for the taking. And that could encourage Colombia.
Los Cafeteros have won all four of their matches at this World Cup, and in James Rodriguez they have a player with magic in his boots—a legitimate contender for the Golden Ball. They’ll test a Brazil defense that wobbled at times against Chile.
Discipline: Luiz Gustavo, Brazil
Odds: Brazil (-120); Draw (+276); Colombia (+382)
Argentina vs. Belgium
Quarter-finals: Argentina vs. Belgium
July 5, Brasilia (kick-off 5 p.m. BST/Noon ET)
Argentina have yet to play to their capabilities at this World Cup, and they’ve won four matches on the bounce. In other words, they’re finding ways to get results—a quality that should serve them well in the quarter-finals.
Crucially, Lionel Messi has been central to almost everything the Albiceleste have mustered offensively, and he’s also delivering at vital times. In the round of 16, Switzerland were able to keep him under wraps for 118 minutes, but the moment they lost track of him, he set up the Angel Di Maria winner.
Di Maria—Argentina’s most important linking player—had a mostly poor outing against the Swiss but was able to put the ball in the back of the net when it counted. In that, he was a microcosm for his entire team’s campaign in Brazil.
Belgium, meanwhile, have also won four matches without playing particularly well. And, like their quarter-final opponents, they’ve developed a habit of leaving their goalscoring until as late as possible.
It could all make for a very cagey encounter at Estadio Nacional de Brasilia, although the European side will have surely taken note of Argentina’s wobbles when attacked at speed.
Discipline: Marcos Rojo, Argentina
Odds: Argentina (+119); Draw (+229); Belgium (+286)
Netherlands vs. Costa Rica
Quarter-finals: Netherlands vs. Costa Rica
July 5, Salvador (kick-off 9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET)
Play tends to stall when teams using three centre-backs and a pair of wing-backs go head-to-head. They cancel each other out. But as Netherlands manager Louis van Gaal displayed against Mexico in the round of 16, he has the tactical nous to make adjustments on the fly.
Van Gaal employed three formations against El Tri, and it ended up being a 4-2-3-1 that finally unlocked the door. He’ll likely start with three at the back against Costa Rica, but you can bet if things don’t go his way, he won’t be at all afraid of making the necessary changes.
On the other side of the ball, Costa Rica have passed every test they’ve faced at this World Cup, from high-profile matches against Italy and Uruguay to a tense affair with Greece that culminated in penalty kicks.
Captain Bryan Ruiz has been leading by example in Brazil, and defender Giancarlo Gonzalez has been a colossus at times. In Keylor Navas, the Ticos also have one of the tournament’s top goalkeepers.
But as the Dutch showed late on against Mexico, they’re fit, they listen to their manager and they seem to sense that this could be their moment. And that’s a scary combination.
Discipline: Oscar Duarte, Costa Rica
Odds: Netherlands (-191); Draw (+325); Costa Rica (+682)
(All odds courtesy OddsShark.com.)