Predicting the World Cup Quarter-Finals

Matt Clough@@MattJCloughFeatured ColumnistJuly 2, 2014

Predicting the World Cup Quarter-Finals

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    In our predictions for the round of 16, we were let down only by Greece (who were immensely unfortunate to lose on penalties to Costa Rica) and the USA (who were bitterly unfortunate not to take Belgium to penalties).

    Now, as we prepare for the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, we’re able to savour another round which features some fascinating matchups and promises to deliver countless twists and turns on the way to whittling the number of teams down to four.

    With this year’s edition of the competition already delivering more goals than South Africa 2010 and providing numerous shocks along the way, it’s become extremely difficult to say much with any degree of certainty.

    However, here’s how we see the quarter-finals going.

France vs. Germany

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    The first clash of the round is absolutely mouthwatering, with two of the early favourites for the World Cup—and two former winners—coming together in an all-European clash.

    Germany began in imperious fashion, thrashing Portugal 4-0 and cruising through the remainder of their group games. However, taking the foot off the pedal came at the cost of lost momentum, as they looked lethargic against an energetic Algeria side. They needed extra time—and ultimately a 120th-minute goal from Mesut Ozil—to see off the North Africans in a game they were expected to win comfortably.

    How they fare against their European neighbours may well come down to the personnel they deploy.

    Despite having played every match and scoring what proved to be the winner on Monday, Ozil looked to be the weak link in the impressive German attack, repeatedly misplacing passes and lacking decisiveness. Sami Khedira and Andre Schurrle breathed life into the team after they came on and will both be pushing for a start against the French.

    France’s second-round match bore several similarities to that between Germany and Algeria. They too played an African side—Nigeria—and also looked laboured as they struggled to a 2-0 victory.

    The game could have been very different had midfield enforcer Blaise Matuidi seen red for a horrible tackle early in the second half when the score was still 0-0. The Nigerian attack also asked several questions of a reshuffled French defense following the injury to Mamadou Sakho.

    Like Germany, France’s form in the group stage made them early favourites, but their performance in the last round has raised questions about their title credentials.

    This tie will be won and lost in the midfield, with both teams preferring to densely pack the centre of the park. Provided Germany are able to use the combined defensive prowess of Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Khedira to cut the supply lines to Karim Benzema, Die Mannschaft should progress.

    Verdict: Germany

Brazil vs. Colombia

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    While it seems reactionary to suggest that a game featuring 22 players plus substitutes will be decided by just two, that could well prove to be the case for Brazil vs. Colombia, who have both looked to their star strikers to help them navigate the competition so far.

    Neymar has more than lived up to his billing as the poster boy for the host nation, scoring four goals and essentially carrying a Brazilian team that has looked lacklustre.

    However, with rumours of a Neymar injury plaguing Brazil’s preparation, per Charles Reynolds of the Independent, the team’s reliance on the Barcelona star has been made even clearer. Fellow striker Fred has suffered from a chronic lack of form, and Brazil have failed to truly impress in any other area.

    They were but centimeters away from being eliminated in the last round when Chilean striker Mauricio Pinilla struck the bar in the dying seconds. The Selecao required penalties to defeat their South American rivals, who were the better team for much of the match and can count themselves extremely unlucky.

    Colombia have been all about James Rodriguez. Many saw the pre-tournament loss of star striker Radamel Falcao as the nail in the coffin for Los Cafeteros’ chances of glory, but from his considerable shadow has emerged Monaco star Rodriguez, who so far leads the Golden Boot hunt with five goals.

    He scored both goals in what proved to be the most routine victory of the second round, the first of which was a sensational volley from outside the area. However unlike Brazil, he hasn’t eclipsed his teammates—both Jackson Martinez and Juan Cuadrado have also looked extremely impressive.

    While the hosts' elimination would still be considered a shock, judging by the form of the two sides Colombia definitely have the edge. Add to that the fact that Neymar may not be 100 percent fit and the energy expended by Brazil last round compared to the relative stroll in the park Colombia had, and an upset is well and truly on.

    Verdict: Colombia

Argentina vs. Belgium

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    Argentina again struggled to deliver in their second-round fixture against Switzerland, requiring a 118th-minute winner from Angel Di Maria to see them through.

    The game could have been very different had the Swiss not been guilty of missing several glorious chances, including virtually the last kick of the game when Blerim Dzemaili struck the post.

    For all of Argentina’s attacking prowess, they’ve struggled to break teams down, winning all four of their games by just a single goal and requiring late goals against both the Swiss and Iran. Up front they look increasingly reliant on Lionel Messi, and if teams are able to neutralise the Barcelona star—admittedly easier said than done—then the South Americans look blunt.

    Belgium are another side that have yet to truly ignite in the tournament despite having a host of superb players at their disposal. They looked to be cruising to victory over a resilient USA side in extra time before being pinned back in the final 15 minutes and ultimately hanging on thanks to goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois’ heroics.

    Like Argentina, they’ve won all their games so far but have failed to truly impress in any of them. This tie could well be decided by which team steps up and begins playing to their true potential.

    Another crucial factor will be what role Romelu Lukaku plays here. The Chelsea striker had had an indifferent tournament prior to the USA game, which lead to his being dropped from the starting XI, but his appearance as a substitute sparked Belgium to life.

    Whether or not coach Marc Wilmots opt to start the target man—and what form he is in if he does play—could prove to be decisive.

    Verdict: Argentina

Netherlands vs. Costa Rica

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    Costa Rica found themselves in an unusual position in their second-round match against Greece, as it was arguably their first where they weren’t underdogs. Already possibly the team of the tournament thanks to topping a group containing Uruguay, Italy and England, Jorge Luis Pinto’s men have performed superbly.

    While they struggled against a stubborn Greece side, they defended stoically and advanced on penalties despite having been down to 10 men for the best part of an hour. How much energy that performance will have sapped from the Central Americans remains to be seen.

    The Netherlands, like fellow European sides France and Germany, began the tournament on fire, thumping reigning champions Spain 5-1 in their opening match. They won their remaining two games before meeting Costa Rica’s neighbours Mexico, who successfully stifled the Dutch attack until the 88th minute, when two quickfire goals sent the Oranje through.

    This match is difficult to call purely due to Costa Rica’s superb record so far against highly ranked sides. However, the one thing that they have yet to face is a truly world-class attack, which the Dutch undoubtedly have. This may just be one giant-killing too far for Los Ticos.

    Verdict: Netherlands