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FIFA World Cup: Key Tactical Battle for Each of the 4 Quarter-Finals

Associated Press
Jonathan WilsonFeatured Columnist IIJanuary 3, 2017

With eight teams remaining in the FIFA World Cup, what follows is a look at the key tactical matchup ahead of all four quarter-final matches.

 

France vs. Germany: Midfield Coverage for Die Mannschaft's Back 4

The weakness of this Germany team has been at the back of midfield, as it has been since Jogi Loew tried to implement a change in style from a reactive to a proactive approach at the last World Cup.

In Germany's first two games, Loew played Sami Khedira to the right of Philipp Lahm, with Toni Kroos pushing forward from a role to the left in a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 hybrid. In the last two, Bastian Schweinsteiger has replaced Khedira from the start.

In none of the four matches, though, has the base of midfield offered anything like sufficient cover for the back four, which itself is rendered vulnerable to pace from out wide by the sluggishness of the full-backs, variously Jerome Boateng, Shkodran Mustafi and Benedikt Howedes.

Loew could take a significant step to solving that by switching Lahm to full-back, but if not, Karim Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena could make hay on the flanks.

 

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - JUNE 28:  Neymar of Brazil celebrates after defeating Chile in a penalty shootout during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil round of 16 match between Brazil and Chile at Estadio Mineirao on June 28, 2014 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  (P
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Brazil vs. Colombia: Clash of Individual Genius

Probably no game in recent memory has seemed so much like a clash of two key individuals.

This is as much Neymar against James Rodriguez as it is Brazil against Colombia, a remarkable billing given both are just 22. Strange as it seems to say it, so underwhelming has the rest of Brazil's front four been that Colombia almost seem to have more options than Brazil, with Jackson Martinez cutting in from the left and Juan Cuadrado terrifyingly quick on the right.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JUNE 28:  James Rodriguez of Colombia celebrates scoring his team's second goal and his second of the game during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at Maracana on June 28, 2014 in Rio de
Clive Rose/Getty Images

With Luiz Gustavo suspended for Brazil, there is no out-and-out defensive midfielder to try to stifle James, with Paulinho likely to return, while Neymar will find himself up against the impressive Carlos Sanchez, the Rock, if Luiz Felipe Scolari persists with his 4-2-3-1.

The suggestion has been, though, that he may push Neymar further forward as a false nine.

 

Argentina vs. Belgium: Focus on Stopping Messi?

One underlying narrative of this tournament has been Lionel Messi's reincarnation of Diego Maradona's tournament in 1986, when he dragged Argentina almost single-handedly to victory.

Belgium face much the same problem now as they did before the semi-final then; Argentina have an obvious flaw, but to attack it is to risk leaving a genius free to wreak havoc. In 1986, Belgium settled for trying to stifle Maradona rather than seeking to exploit the space behind the wing-backs and ended up losing 2-0 to two brilliant Maradona goals.

This time, Belgium could seek to get men wide and get crosses into the box to expose the weakness hinted at by Iran, Nigeria and, in the final three minutes, Switzerland, or they could bunker down and try to shut out Messi.

The likelihood is the latter, and as countless opponents have found, the likelihood is that at some point, he will find space and win the game.   

 

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - JUNE 28:  Neymar of Brazil celebrates after defeating Chile in a penalty shootout during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil round of 16 match between Brazil and Chile at Estadio Mineirao on June 28, 2014 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  (P
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Netherlands vs. Costa Rica: Sneijder and RvP to the Fore?

The greatest asset of the Dutch so far, Louis van Gaal's inspired management aside, has been the pace of Arjen Robben, but that could be less of an issue against a Costa Rica team sure to sit deep and look to absorb pressure as they have done in every game so far.

That brings the aerial ability of Robin van Persie and the long-range shooting of Wesley Sneijder more into play, although such is Robben's acceleration and technical ability that even against a massed defence, the possibility is always there for him to win free-kicks and penalties.

The loss of Nigel de Jong is a major blow for the Dutch, but in a game likely to be waged predominantly in the Costa Rican half, it is probably less of an issue in the quarter-final than it would be in later rounds, should they progress.

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