Sit back and take it all in, there are only a meagre six matches to go in this World Cup. But as we roll up to the sharp end of the tournament, the remaining six games should be bristling with just as much top-quality action, tension and drama as the opening 58.
The quarter-finals are well underway, and on Day 24, Argentina, Belgium, the Netherlands and Costa Rica will be looking to join Brazil and Germany in the last four of this fine tournament. The second set of quarter-finals has everything too; the games are rife with intriguing subplots.
We’ve got one of the biggest surprise packages in major tournament history locking horns with a tactical master of a manager, and one of the world’s most rapidly improving nations looking to deny one of the most talented players of all time from cementing his indisputable status as the greatest.
Here’s a thorough look at each of the remaining quarter-final clashes, how the bookmakers are seeing the game and where the best value is in these two enticing contests.
Here are the odds for the two games on Day 24:
|World Cup Quarter-final Odds: Day 24|
|Fixture (Team 1 vs. Team 2)||Team 1||Team 2||Draw|
|Argentina vs. Belgium||11/10||3/1||23/10|
|Netherlands vs. Costa Rica||50/91||6/1||16/5|
This is how the tournament bracket looks after the first two quarter-finals:
Argentina vs. Belgium
Here are the likely line-ups for this quarter-final clash:
The Albiceleste and the Red Devils were two of the teams that the World Cup audience were extremely excited about watching, and when you consider this tournament has rewarded those teams that have looked to implement an attack-minded strategy, it’s a surprise that neither has flourished to their full potential so far.
In a fashion not too dissimilar to Diego Maradona’s heroics back in 1986, Lionel Messi has dragged this Argentinean team over the line in all of their games so far. Just like El Diez did 28 years ago, Messi has turned in a plethora of virtuoso performances while his teammates have offered next to nothing.
And just like Maradona and his Argentina team did in 1986, this Argentina team will have to best Belgium in a World Cup knockout match. Back then, it was in the semi-final and the Argentina skipper was magnificent, netting a brace in a 2-0 win; there will be similarly high expectations on Messi this time around.
But Maradona himself recently admitted that Messi can’t do everything on his own, as noted here by barcastuff:
Belgium will looking to snaffle their revenge for their defeat in 1986, and they’ll feel there’s a much better chance of them sampling victory here. They’ve not been at their best throughout this tournament either, but they’ve shown patience in matches that belies their relative inexperience, and in Marc Wilmots, they have a very capable manager.
The Red Devils boss has made some excellent substitutions, and four players have notched goals coming off the bench so far in this Belgian World Cup campaign. They were pushed extremely close by the United States in their last match but showcased spades of maturity to see the job through.
Given the extremely tight nature of these knockout clashes so far, plus the fact that Argentina are not firing on all cylinders, the draw after 90 minutes looks the best value here. And even with Messi at their disposal, it’s easy to see Belgium pulling off something of a shock.
They have players who can cause the ponderous Albiceleste back four a host of problems and the strength in depth to turn a tight game from the bench in their favour; I think the Red Devils will do it in extra-time.
Prediction: Argentina 1-2 Belgium (After Extra Time)
The Netherlands vs. Costa Rica
Here are the likely line-ups for this quarter-final clash:
Of all the big names remaining in this tournament, the Dutch definitely have the easiest passage into the semi-finals on paper. But they very nearly didn’t make it to the last eight of the competition at all.
Trailing to Mexico 1-0 with two minutes of normal time remaining and toiling in the punishing South American sun, Louis van Gaal’s team were on the brink of elimination. But they drew on the spirit that had already seen them battle back from behind to win games in this competition and scored two very, very dramatic late goals to secure their passage into the quarter-finals.
That late flourish will give the Oranje some serious momentum as they gear up for their clash with Los Ticos. The Dutch have won all four of their games in the tournament so far, and in Arjen Robben they have a world-class player at the very peak of his powers; you suspect the Bayern Munich man will cause a myriad problems for this Costa Rican back line.
They'll be without key man Nigel de Jong, though, somebody Van Gaal insists will be very difficult to replace, per Dutch football expert Elko Born:
While the Dutch will naturally be the overwhelming favourites to progress, it would be extremely naive to completely rule out their opponents. The Central Americans are unbeaten at this competition and play in a vibrant, cohesive style capable of giving the Netherlands a raft of similar issues to what they encountered against Mexico.
Jorge Luis Pinto's team showed their battling qualities in the last round, too.
Being down to 10 men and the concession of a very late equaliser would have seen plenty of teams fall away in the resulting extra time. But galvanised by the heroics of ‘keeper Keylor Navas, they hung on in there and emerged victorious on penalties.
In truth, you suspect it’ll take another clinic from Navas if the Costa Ricans are to extend their remarkable World Cup run any further, because this Dutch team have shown they have some real quality. Plus, in Van Gaal, they have a manager capable of altering the flow of a game with some subtle tactical alterations.
It won’t be a walkover, but the Oranje will be too strong.
Prediction: The Netherlands 2-0 Costa Rica