We're down to the final eight teams at the 2014 World Cup, with the quarter-finals set to get underway on Friday. All group winners survived the first phase of the knockout stages, meaning we'll truly be watching the best eight teams go at it for a spot in the semi-finals.
The ties between Brazil and Colombia and France and Germany will no doubt steal the spotlight, but all four matches should be instant classics. Creative, attacking football has dominated the competition so far, and we can expect to see plenty of fireworks over the course of the next few days.
Here's the full schedule for the quarter-finals, as well as predictions for who the semi-finalists will be.
|Juy 5||Netherlands||Costa Rica|
Brazil v Colombia
Why Brazil will win: Pressure
Why Colombia could win: Synergy
Colombia have been one of the most pleasant surprises of this past World Cup, and not just because of their attacking prowess. With players like James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado, everyone knew they could score goals—their defensive solidity is what has stood out so far.
At the age of 38, one has to assume Mario Yepes is playing in his final World Cup. The Atalanta centre-back has been phenomenal during the tournament, and with Yepes leading the back four, the rest of the team can focus on creating chances and getting the ball in front of goal.
Colombia truly look like a team—Brazil do not. But the Selecao still have one of the very best defensive pairings in the world in Thiago Silva and David Luiz and enough individual talent to decide matches that aren't going their way.
Their biggest advantage going into this match? The expectations. Brazil have faced enormous pressure since the start of the tournament. They're used to it by now, unlike the Colombian team, who have never made it this far in a World Cup.
Via The Sunday Times' Duncan Castles, Luiz Felipe Scolari and his team have been answering questions like this ahead of every fixture:
If Colombia can control their emotions and play their own game, they have every chance of upsetting the hosts. But on a stage as large as this one, football is about more than just technique and skill. And when it comes to the mental aspect of the game, Brazil have the advantage.
France v Germany
Why Germany will win: The sensational form of Thomas Mueller
Why France could win: Germany's lack of mobile full-backs
Germany are one of the very best teams remaining in the competition, but like every other team, they're flawed. By fielding natural centre-backs in the wide positions, Joachim Low sacrificed speed and quickness for defensive solidity.
Unlike France, Germany have the offensive talent to fashion chances without using their full-backs on overlapping runs. But the French full-backs are still fast and athletic—the Germans are not.
Against Mathieu Valbuena and Antoine Griezmann, that could be a problem. France have lived out on the wing during the 2014 World Cup, and they'll relish the opportunity of hurting Die Mannschaft by keeping the ball away from the centre of the pitch.
France have the advantage when it comes to matchups, but Germany have several secret weapons of their own. Mario Goetze started the tournament on fire and can turn things around in the blink of an eye, but the biggest star has undoubtedly been Mueller.
The Bayern Munich forward wasn't at his best against Algeria, a combination of a lack of usable balls played into his feet by teammates and bad positioning from the forward himself.
Positioning is usually one of Mueller's strong suits, and he won't struggle with it two matches in a row. With little separating these teams in terms of talent, this match could turn on a single moment of brilliance. Looking at form, it's a safe bet to assume such a moment would come from Mueller.
Argentina v Belgium
Why Belgium will win: Overall team strength
Why Argentina could win: Lionel Messi
To say the Albiceleste haven't been at their best during this World Cup would be an understatement. The defence has looked shaky at best, Javier Mascherano is the only midfielder playing up to standards and outside of Messi, the vaunted offensive unit has struggled finishing chances.
Of course, when you have Messi saving you time and time again, that doesn't have to be such a bad thing. But in Belgium, Argentina will face by far their biggest challenge of the World Cup so far.
The Belgians haven't been at their best themselves, but unlike the Argentine squad, they haven't relied on a single player to win them matches. You can take that literally—all of Belgium's goals so far have been scored by different players.
One thing Belgium have done very well so far is defend. Per FIFA's Castrol Index, Belgium field two of the five top defenders at the World Cup, and they line up in front of one of the world's top goalkeepers, Thibaut Courtois.
Belgium's attacking philosophy will give Argentina more space to operate in, but the defence itself is simply better than the ones the Albiceleste have faced so far. As a team, the Red Devils are more balanced, and they have the talent needed to pull off an upset and beat Argentina.
Of course, they'll have to find a way to slow down Messi first, and if Gonzalo Higuain and Angel di Maria decide to finally play up to their potential, stopping that Argentine attack might just become impossible for any team they face.
The Netherlands v Costa Rica
Why the Netherlands will win: Matchups
Why Costa Rica could win: Pressure
Via the Toronto Sun's Kurtis Larson, Luis Pinto told the media he respects the Dutch team, but he'll still have his team playing for the win:
CR manager Pinto: "The next match is the Netherlands. We'll face them with respect, but also a desire to win."— Kurtis Larson (@KurtLarSUN) June 29, 2014
The Netherlands and Costa Rica haven't been all that different on a tactical level during the tournament, with Costa Rica opting to play slightly more open football but relying on speed and athleticism as much as the Dutch do.
Here's the issue—Costa Rica's fearlessness going into this match is admirable and a welcome sight for fans all over the globe, but it also plays right into the strengths of Louis van Gaal's squad. The Netherlands have been at their best breaking forward quickly, struggling to make the play themselves.
With Oscar Duarte sitting this match out with a suspension, Arjen Robben and company will have even more opportunities to counter, and as good as Keylor Navas may have been this tournament, the Dutch are just too efficient in front of goal.
But even if the Central Americans lose, they'll exit the tournament with their heads held high and to the applause of all of the football world. The pressure is on the Dutch to perform, and Costa Rica have been perfect in the role of underdogs so far.