Two days of rest for us and the players, but the 2014 World Cup needs to resume with the quarterfinals waiting just around the corner: France against Germany, Brazil facing Colombia. A day later it’ll be with an Americas vs Europe flavor, as Argentina take on Belgium and the Netherlands facing Costa Rica.
Four world champions: Brazil, Germany, Argentina and France have made it to the quarterfinals, while we also have two sides, Costa Rica and Colombia, that have never been this far in the World Cup tournament.
France – Germany
The big boys clash of the quarterfinals. Germany, three time world champions as West Germany and also finalist in 2002, 1986 and 1982. They’ve made it to the semifinal in the last three World Cups. France are World Champions once, with another final in 2006. However, their last visit to the World Cup and also their defense campaign in 2002 ended before the group stage.
France might have been the most impressive team in the tournament so far. They didn’t finish with a perfect record in their group, but looked good enough against both Switzerland and Honduras before some garbage time minutes against Ecuador. They played a very strong and dominant final 20 minutes against Nigeria, but showed plenty of problems against an African side, which is what happened to Germany.
The Germans opened the tournament with a 4-0 win over Portugal. Can’t get any more dominant than that. However, their 2-2 draw against Ghana showed worrying signs of weakness in the midfield, especially when Bastian Schweinsteiger isn’t playing, while their 2-1 win over Algeria, with the goals coming in extra time, showed us a side that’s shaky on defense and leaves their goalkeeper too exposed at times.
Both teams love the ball at their feet so we should see a very open match, but France are quicker on their front three. We’ve seen both head coaches misusing players, putting them out of position. The side that looks more comfortable with the tactics and adjustments should also be the one dictating matters.
Brazil – Colombia
Brazil, the hosts, and the only nation with five World Cup trophies: 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002. They’ve also been to the final in 1998, and sort of in 1950, the previous time they’ve hosted the big show. For Colombia, this is uncharted territory: Their first visit to the quarterfinals.
Colombia haven’t had a very difficult road to the last 8: Japan, Ivory Coast and Greece, before a broken Uruguay team stood before them in the round of 16. James Rodriguez has been fantastic. Jackson Martinez is heating up, the midfield with Aguilar, Ibarbo and especially Juan Cuardado has been brilliant. In terms of best football, the award has to go their way through the first four matches.
Brazil? An impressive win against Cameroon, and that’s it. They stuttered against Croatia, drew vs Mexico and needed penalty kicks to beat Chile, with the team looking like the pressure and expectations were weighing them down. Handling pressure is a big part of winning a penalty shootout, and yet another round of 90 minutes like they had against Chile might not be enough against a red hot Colombia.
Is it just the pressure, or is Scholari making bad decisions when it comes to changing his tactics, and especially trusting Fred who seems lost and impotent up front? All eyes are on Neymar, but if all the help he gets is Hulk dribbling and trying to do things on his own, we might be in for what before the tournament would have been considered an upset.
Argentina – Belgium
Argentina are two-time World Champions: In 1978 and 1986. They haven’t made the semifinals of the competition since 1990, knocked out in the quarterfinals by Germany in both 2006 and 2010. Belgium have been to the semifinal of the World Cup once, in 1986.
There hasn’t been anything impressive about Argentina so far in the World Cup. They looked troubled against Bosnia, found it hard to breakthrough the deadlock against Iran and didn’t look dominant against Nigeria. Switzerland was another excruciating opponents, and Argentina needed extra time and one brilliant Lionel Messi assist to go through.
Belgium? The group stage also ended with three for three, but without impressing anyone. The round of 16 was different. They only won by one goal, but created 38 chances, including 18 on target, against an American team that doesn’t make it easy for anyone to play against them.
Belgium will look to control the match with possession. Argentina will be better suited to use the speed of Angel di Maria, Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero, if he plays, against Belgium’s tough yet quite slow back four.
Netherlands – Costa Rica
The David vs Goliath of this stage, although anyone who makes it this far can’t be considered a true underdog. For Costa Rica, this is the first time among the last 8 in a World Cup. The Netherlands haven’t won the tournament, but they’ve been to the final three times, most recently in 2010.
Two teams that love the counter attack, but it’ll probably up to the Dutch to dominate possession and look less awkward than they did against Australia or Mexico (first 70 minutes) doing so. Costa Rica are about putting players past the line of defense, and they have a chance against a weak defensive outfit from the Dutch.
However, it’ll be about their ability to have two men on Arjen Robben without letting it compromise other parts of their defense. Keylor Navas has been fantastic in this tournament, but Robben is probably the best player we’ve seen over the last three weeks. Too much freedom for him, diving or not, will be costly.