The eight teams remaining in the 2014 World Cup all believe they can win a title, and three more wins will be enough to do the trick.
Although there are some surprise squads in the quarterfinals, any group that made it this far is capable of keeping the momentum into the next round. Still, the top contenders are not settling for an early exit and plan to move into the semifinals.
The next few matches are certain to be exciting throughout, featuring some serious talent all over the pitch in each game. The question is which teams will be able to make it through the quarter-finals and continue their quest for a championship.
|July 4||France vs. Germany||12 p.m.||Rio De Janeiro|
|July 4||Brazil vs. Colombia||4 p.m.||Fortaleza|
|July 5||Argentina vs. Belgium||12 p.m.||Brasilia|
|July 5||Netherlands vs. Costa Rica||4 p.m.||Salvador|
France vs. Germany
Like almost anyone else in the quarter-finals, both France and Germany struggled for much of their round-of-16 battles before coming away with late victories. Both sides will have to hope for a better performance this time around.
Karim Benzema will be the player trying to make the difference for France. To this point, he has been exactly what the squad was hoping for in Brazil, remaining active throughout every match and putting pressure on defenses.
OptaJoe points out how tough Benzema has been to contain at the World Cup:
13 - Karim Benzema has fired in the most shots on target at the 2014 #WorldCup. Baker.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) July 2, 2014
Considering Germany's defense is its biggest weakness, the striker has a chance to get onto the scoresheet. Philipp Lahm remaining at midfield will only help France get the ball in the back of the net.
The good news for Germany is that their offense is just as dangerous with Thomas Mueller leading the charge in front of Mesut Ozil and Bastian Schweinsteiger. If Mario Gotze starts playing to his ability, the attack will be even better.
This will help create an even battle that will go both ways for 90 minutes and then 30 of extra time before things are finally decided on penalty kicks.
Prediction: Germany win, 1-1 (4-3 penalty kicks)
Brazil vs. Colombia
James Rodriguez has been the breakout star of this event, leading Colombia to four wins in a row with five goals in that stretch. This score against Uruguay might be the best of the tournament so far:
ICYMI and even if you didn't: James Rodriguez's INSANE goal is still amazing. WATCH » http://t.co/MBS6dnwhPm— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 28, 2014
Adding his finishing skill with the fluidity of the entire Colombia attack, and it is clear that this group can play with anyone in the world.
However, Brazil are an imposing force and they are not going away without a fight. Most impressively, they have gotten to this point without actually playing up to their best ability. They struggled against Mexico and Chile and the attack has not been as consistent as we have seen in the past.
Despite the relatively poor play, star forward Neymar is happy with finding ways to win. He explained at a press conference, via FIFA.com:
You can't always enjoy yourself and win 4-0 or 5-0. Football nowadays is so difficult, so even, that the team who is most committed on the pitch ends up winning.
I don't want a show. That's the last thing we are trying to do. We are not necessarily here to produce a spectacle. We are here to run to the end, until we are tired, and come out as winners.
With the talent Brazil have across the back line, they will at least be able to keep this match low scoring. At this point, it will only take a great play from either Neymar or Hulk or Fred or any of the other talented attackers on the roster.
Once again, the game will not necessarily be exciting to watch. However, the hosts will find a way to come away with a win.
Prediction: Brazil win, 1-0
Argentina vs. Belgium
For those who watch the sport throughout the year, especially the European leagues, it is easy say that these are two of the most talented teams in the world.
Belgium are led by Chelsea's Eden Hazard and have some of the best players in the English Premier League. Argentina feature players from other leagues like Spain, including arguably the best in the world in Lionel Messi.
Unfortunately, neither side have been too impressive despite a perfect record in four matches. Every win has been by a single goal and many of those game-winners are in the final moments.
Argentina have been especially susceptible in defense, where opponents are able to take advantage of an inexperienced group. As Craig Foster of SBS points out, Belgium did a great job of attacking against the United States:
Not easy to penetrate deep defence. Belgium have killed it, just can't finish..Great runs behind, attacking with ball #SBSWorldCup— Craig Foster (@Craig_Foster) July 1, 2014
With some better finishing against a goalkeeper not having the performance of his life, the squad should be able to get some easier goals.
However, Belgium's defense can also be beaten, especially on the outside without a natural full-back. The truth is that no matter who is playing, Messi has the talent to get beyond anyone and score.
Benjamin Morris of FiveThirtyEight breaks down the Barcelona star's ability to get goals without any help:
About 44 percent of Messi’s “open” (non-set piece) shots are “individual plays,” taken without an assist. This is lower than the 46 percent of unassisted shots for players overall, but Messi scores on these shots more than 23 percent of the time, compared to all players’ 5 percent. Additionally, he gains .089 goals above average on each unassisted shot. Ronaldo gains .023, and the average player is slightly negative at -.004 GAA.
Adding in the playmaking ability of Angel Di Maria, and Argentina will be able to come away with a win in a back-and-forth battle.
Prediction: Argentina win, 3-2
Netherlands vs. Costa Rica
There might not be a better story at the World Cup than Costa Rica's run to the quarter-finals.
The squad came into the tournament with very little chance of advancing in a group with past champions Italy, England and Uruguay. Not only did they reach the round of 16, but they kept the fun going with a win over Greece.
Richard Jolly of ESPN FC points out how well Costa Rica have done at playing above their talent level:
For unity, hard work & being greater than the sum of their parts, Chile, Costa Rica & the USA have been the World Cup's best teams.— Richard Jolly (@RichJolly) July 1, 2014
However, the United States and Chile were both eliminated in the last round and Costa Rica are likely the next casualty to lose to an opponent that simply has more talent.
The Netherlands have two of the best scorers in the tournament in Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben. As good as Costa Rica's defense has been lately, these players know how to score against anyone.
While the underdogs will struggle to just get shots on net, the Dutch will be in the attacking zone all match and will eventually find ways to break through.
It has been a great run to this point, but Costa Rica will finally fall at the hands of the Netherlands.
Prediction: Netherlands win, 2-0
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