World Cup 2014 Predictions: Unsung Stars Who Will Step Up in Quarterfinals

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World Cup 2014 Predictions: Unsung Stars Who Will Step Up in Quarterfinals
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Legends like Pele, Diego Maradona, Zinedine Zidane and Franz Beckenbauer have been immortalized after winning the World Cup.

Often lost to history are those players who were a little less heralded but helped their countries lift the trophy nonetheless.

Looking ahead to the 2014 World Cup quarterfinals, these four players will likely have a large say on how their teams perform.

 

Antoine Griezmann, France

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Whether he starts or comes off the bench, Antoine Griezmann has the potential of turning France's quarterfinal matchup against Germany on its head.

The Real Sociedad winger is the exact kind of pacy wide player who can stretch the German back line and get in behind the defense. Algeria exposed Germany but lacked somebody like Griezmann who could make the most of a goalscoring opportunity.

His impressive performance against Nigeria has led some to argue that he's earned a spot in the starting XI.

Writing for Bleacher Report, French football journalist Andrew Gibney advocated having Griezmann come on later in the match:

The key line from Griezmann is that Giroud and Benzema had worn down the Nigerian defence. With the midfield not able to play with the same intensity for the full 90 minutes, there was more space for the mobility of Benzema and Griezmann to start causing problems.

If Deschamps starts with Giroud on the bench, he all but nullifies the Arsenal forward; he is close to useless coming off the bench, but Griezmann is such a dynamic firecracker of a player that he can have such an important impact in the last 30 minutes.

Goal.com's Robin Bairner wagers, however, that Griezmann will get the start:

France's best strategy is exploiting Germany's four center backs. The easiest way to do that is get the ball out wide to Griezmann and Mathieu Valbuena, and let them do the rest.

 

Fernandinho, Brazil

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Luiz Gustavo is out by virtue of yellow card accumulation. That is a massive loss for manager Luiz Felipe Scolari since Gustavo has become one of the most indispensable players in the side.

His absence leaves Fernandinho occupying the midfield place next to Paulinho:

The 29-year-old has established himself in Europe, but when it comes to the Brazil national team, his reputation is much less lauded. The problem isn't so much that Fernandinho hasn't been good enough but that Scolari has his guys and has been hesitant to change.

Now, his hand is forced.

Since Paulinho is expected to be more of the box-to-box midfielder, Fernandinho's job will be to stifle James Rodriguez and move out wide to track Juan Cuadrado if Marcelo is caught out of position:

Brazil's performance hinges on Fernandinho's performance. If Rodriguez and Cuadrado are given space to create, the hosts will be doomed. Cut those two off, and Colombia will be toast.

 

Javier Mascherano, Argentina

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Coming into the World Cup, expectations were high for Fernando Gago. The thinking was that he could be the link between the midfield and attack.

Instead, that role has fallen to Javier Mascherano:

Most have praised Lionel Messi's performance, and he's certainly deserved it.

What's gotten lost a bit, however, is how well Mascherano has played. He's been the midfield linchpin and deep-lying playmaker, completing the highest percentage of passes through this stage of the tournament, per the World Cup's Twitter feed:

Belgium are very tough through the middle of the pitch, so Mascherano's passing may offer Argentina a path to goal. His defensive ability will also come in handy when trying to neutralize Kevin De Bruyne.

If Argentina get through to the semifinals, then many will be crediting Messi. Because he does the yeoman's work, Mascherano would end up getting lost in the discussion.

 

Giancarlo Gonzalez, Costa Rica

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The loss of Oscar Duarte heaps even more pressure on top of Giancarlo Gonzalez's shoulders. Keylor Navas has been one of the best goalkeepers in the World Cup, but you can't forget about how much the Columbus Crew center back has been a rock in Costa Rica's five-man defense.

His strong World Cup performance might even get him a move elsewhere.

"I can’t predict that. We’ll obviously field offers as they come," Crew manager Gregg Berhalter said, per Andrew King of MLSSoccer.com. "It’s a market where there’s certainly movement. You see some of these players from the World Cup signing with clubs and stuff like that."

There's no shame in a player having a personal stake in an outcome. Both Gonzalez and Costa Rica can have mutually beneficial success in the quarterfinals against the Netherlands.

The Dutch will likely continue using a more direct attack, meaning they'll launch quite a few balls over the top of the defense. Gonzalez will need to be there to clear the danger.

As the leader of the defense, he'll also need to ensure that his teammates are maintaining a tight offside line so as not to lose shape and let the Netherlands have a goalscoring chance and a numbers advantage.

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