The 2014 World Cup Quarter Finals have arrived, already being touted as the “best world cup ever” the 2014 World Cup continues to surprise and titillate; from the almost hippyish free-scoring of the group stages, the round of 16 games provided scant goals and yet still delivered delightful football and delicious drama.
From Arjen Robben’s antics against Mexico to the heroics of Tim Howard for the USA against Belgium, it was a round full of rousing performances. And while all the group winners prevailed, that simply means we arrive at the quarter finals with each match more finely balanced.
And with so many games seeming close on paper we thought it was high time we looked at the key battles that will dictate who is able to take control in these defining clashes.
France vs Germany
With all the makings of a World Cup classic this quarter final will see the cream of Europe’s current crop go head-to-head.
The Germans were expected to excel in this World Cup - the sentiment back home is that this generation is of age and it’s time they delivered a major tournament victory. France, on the other hand, had little by way of expectations going into the tournament, other than those conjured up by the mere presence of the redoubtable Didier Deschamps.
In the group stages they were exceptional, blowing away the generally resolute Swiss (who proved their defensive mettle against Argentina) and hard-tackling (i.e. dirty) Hondurans. Conversely Germany’s performances, after a stellar opening performance against an abject Portugal, fell off dramatically.
The French midfield is rich in different types of talent, from the pace and skill of the almost pocketable Mathieu Valbuena, to the playmaking and explosiveness of Paul Pogba, the match-marshalling of Yohan Cabeye and the destructiveness of Moussa Sissoko. It has the right balance to dominate the Germans, who may have to rely on their fitness winning out in the latter stages of the match before they can start to dictate play.
France’s defence is its main area of concern. Arsenal man, Laurent Koscielny, while being occasionally excellent, always feels like he’s got a match-swinging mistake in him. Luckily inside him they have one of the outstanding defenders of the tournament - Eliaquim Mangala - and while his presence will stymie Germany’s breaks through the middle it is their full-backs who will need to be on top form to plug the channels Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil like to exploit.
Don’t be surprised to see France control possession and Germany attempt to beat them on the break. The result may come down to the potency of France’s forwards on the day.
Brazil vs Colombia
Perhaps the most shocking thing about this World Cup is that Brazil aren’t automatically everyone’s second team. There has been something about the way the Canarinho have been playing that has felt distinctly un-Brazilian - lumpen, direct, imprecise, effective.
Conversely, Colombia have played with the style, verve, joyeux de vivre, wanton abandon and general awesomeness that many have come to think of as Brazilian.
The one thing Brazil have going for them, unlike a few of the tournament’s more fancied teams (we’re looking at you Argentina), is that they’ve played some fairly decent teams in Croatia, Mexico and Chile. Colombia though will be another step up.
It’s fair to say that prior to the tournament the perplexingly pronounced James Rodriguez was not uppermost in the collective football conscious, but he is now. The Colombian has been the star of the tournament, scoring five goals (one of which will go down as one of the greatest in World Cup history) and playing like a man possessed (possessed, it should be stressed, by some sort of footballing demon - not just an average demon).
But Colombia are by no means a one-man show. Their pacey and strong midfield will make mincemeat of Brazil if Phil Scolari doesn’t play Ramirez from the first whistle. Furthermore, their defence has been excellent with experienced Mario Yepes and stout goalkeeper David Ospina leading the line. And with only one potent forward worth marking in Neymar, Colombia’s defence will know where to focus its attention.
We expect 1-1 at 90 minutes, then Colombia to make it 3-1 in extra time.
Argentina vs Belgium
Belgium is a country famed for its skill in producing two of the world’s favourite things - chocolate and beer. Apart from that it has not got a lot going for it. If it got invaded tomorrow, chances are no one would even notice, much less care.
However this generation of Belgian footballers has the chance to put their nation on the map and in Argentina they will face an almost untried quantity.
The Argies made heavy weather of an absurdly easy group, struggling to wins over Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria before almost succumbing to the Swiss in the round of 16.
Belgium, though, have yet to hit their straps either. They were wasteful in front of goal against the US - although some credit for that must go to the meme-inducingly good performance of Tim Howard.
Romelu Lukaku has surely proved, with his integral substitute performance, that his inclusion from the first whistle is all but sacrosanct. He is one of the world’s foremost strikers and could tear Argentina’s backline a new one if the Belgian midfield can get on top.
At the other end of the pitch there is of course, in our eyes, Argentina’s only hope - Lionel Messi. Were it not for the little magician Argentina would be at home, eating tins of corned beef, feeling sorry for themselves.
If Argentina win, you know this guy will have played a blinder.
Netherlands vs Costa Rica
Comfortably the most one-sided of the quarter finals on paper, this should be a doddle for the orange men.
Adding to their surpluses in skill, experience and strength over the Costa Ricans is the fact that they managed to conclude their clash with Mexico in normal time, whereas poor Costa Rica left every single joule of energy on the pitch in their heroic win over an unlucky Greece, much of which they did with just 10 men.
If Costa Rica win this one it will go down as one of the biggest upsets in World Cup football since a team of janitors, labourers and students from the US beat England’s mighty professionals in the 1950 World Cup.
The country’s twin hopes are pinned firmly on chinless (not in a metaphorical sense, he literally has almost no chin) captain Bryan Ruiz and forward Joel Campbell. Unfortunately for the team at the centre of this year’s Cinderella story we don’t think, Ruiz’s guile or Campbell’s direct running will find much joy against the organised Dutch.
There is little to suggest that Costa Rica’s defence will be able to handle any of the attacking options Louis van Gaal has at his disposal.
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