World Cup Predictions 2014: Projections for Top Players on Day 23

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World Cup Predictions 2014: Projections for Top Players on Day 23
Fabrizio Bensch/Associated Press

After two days of World Cup withdrawal—which seemed like two weeks—the 2014 tournament kicks back into action on Friday, July 4, as the remaining eight teams begin to contest the quarter-finals.

The drama has been intense and with 155 goals scored in the 56 matches played thus far, these finals are on course to be the highest scoring ever. 

The current record stands at 171 goals at World Cup 1998 and the winners of that tournament, France, get the ball rolling again in Rio's Maracana Stadium for an all-European tie against three-time champions Germany.

That's followed by a South American derby in the heat of Fortaleza as hosts and five-time winners Brazil take on arguably the most exciting team at the 2014 finals, Colombia.

The matches are almost too close to call, so below we take a look at the key man who could make the difference in each tie.

 

France v Germany: Karim Benzema

David Vincent/Associated Press

Karim Benzema has carried his Champions League-winning form with Real Madrid into the World Cup, scoring three goals in four matches to become a talisman for Les Bleus.

It's a far cry from being booed off in a World Cup qualifying defeat to Spain last year, per The Telegraph, after which Benzema vowed he would silence his critics.

And how the 26-year-old has done just that, with his coach Didier Deschamps now hailing the striker as the lynchpin of the French team, per Reuters.

Benzema has extraordinary movement, which underpins the team's play. We have always focused on his contribution apart from his goals, which is something that doesn't happen elsewhere.

The contribution that Deschamps eludes to is an unheralded ability to spot and play key passes for his team-mates, laying on two assists to complement his three goals at this World Cup.

Of the Golden Boot contenders left in the tournament only Neymar, Lionel Messi and Arjen Robben have better pass-completion stats than Benzema's 80.3 percent, per WhoScored.com, and that trio are renowned for their creative play; the Frenchman is not.

That’s not to say he doesn't have an eye for goal, as Benzema leads the tournament in shots on goal, with 13, and 10 of those have been on target, per the Daily Mail.

Having been out of the picture prior to the World Cup, he is now one of the first names on the team sheet and it is fellow strikers Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezmann that must rotate around him.

Benzema holds the key to victory over Germany; if he performs, so do France.

The Germans do have issues in defence, with Philip Lahm now operating in midfield and centre-back Benedikt Howedes at left-back. It is a weak spot Benzema can exploit so expect him to score.

 

Brazil v Colombia: James Rodriguez

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

When Colombia's leading goalscorer in World Cup qualifying, Radamel Falcao, was ruled out of the finals through injury, coach Jose Pekerman moved Monaco winger James Rodriguez into the centre and the results have been astonishing.

The 22-year-old now leads the scoring charts with five strikes in just three starts, per WhoScored.com, and he has already been linked with a move to Real Madrid, per the Daily Mail.

The Colombian not only scores eye-catching goals like his volley in the last-16 win against Uruguay, he also has the best conversion rate at the World Cup at 62.5 percent, a shot accuracy of 88 percent, per squawka.com, and scores with three out of every 10 shots.

Unsurprisingly, Brazil's own star forward, Neymarhas named Rodriguez as the danger man ahead of their quarter-final, telling NDTV

James Rodriguez is a great player despite his young age. We are both 22, but he has been showing what he is capable of. I just hope that his good run comes to an end and that we can advance, with all respect to him.

Rodriguez might now be a marked man, but Brazil have managed just one clean sheet at the finals and he must be licking his lips.

Against Chile, Brazil's defensive midfielder Luiz Gustavo proved a little to eager to join the attack and left just the type of space in which Rodriguez likes to operate. The Colombian does not need to be given a helping hand so expect him to continue his goalscoring exploits against the hosts.

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