Brazil, Belgium, Sweden and England now join the rest of the Quarterfinalists as we are down to 8 teams left in this summer’s World Cup. But before we hop into those Quarterfinals, let’s get a recap on the madness that took place on Monday and Tuesday.
Brazil (2) Mexico (0). Brazil are now on a roll and showed Mexico first hand what this attack can do to a team. In the offensive third, Brazil were causing the Mexican defense trouble by putting tons of shots on net and moving the ball swiftly around the box causing lots of switched and confusion. Despite Mexican goalie Ochoa’s big day with 8 saves, Brazil’s attack proved to be too much for Mexico to handle as they crash out in the Round of 16 for the 7th straight World Cup.
Belgium (3) Japan (2). In arguably one of the best World Cup matches of all time, Belgium came back down 2 goals to win becoming only the second team to do so. Even though they dominated the first half and it was 0-0 at halftime, the Belgians found themselves down 2-0 only 7 minutes into the second half. But they responded with goals in the 69th and 74th to tie the match up and presumably put it into overtime. But the back and forth nature of the match gave Belgium a counter attack off of a Japanese corner and they scored the winner with the last kick of the match. Subs Fellaini and Chadli scored the last two goals, proving doubters (me included) wrong with their addition into the match.
Sweden (1) Switzerland (0). This match played directly into Sweden’s hands as they let the Swiss control most of the match but didn’t let anything their through stingy back line. They responded with counter attacks constantly, keeping the shorthanded Swiss defense on their toes and it proved effective when the Swedes scored off of a deflection in the 66th minute. In fact, although having 67% possession and 300 more accurate passes, the Swiss only had 1 more shot on goal than the Swedes in this match. This is proving that the trend of unproductive possession can and will get you knocked out of this tournament.
Colombia (1) England (1) (3-4 Pens). In a wild match that consisted of controversial calls (all correctly made in my opinion), fights between players and the referee, Colombians complaining and the English conceding an equalizer in the final minute, it all had to be decided in penalties. Then the unthinkable happened; England finally won a penalty shootout. The demons were exorcised and after 4 major tournament penalty shootout losses since 1990, the English finally prevailed. ‘Football Coming Home’ is seeming more and more of a possibility.
The bracket stands as follows…
Obviously England and Croatia have the easier route, but that’s not saying much as Sweden are beginning to play brilliantly and Russia just topped arguably the most talented team in the tournament (even though they wasted that talent).
Let’s get into the four matches that remain before we get to the Semifinals.
All-Time Record: 258-234-67
World Cup Record: 25-24-7
Friday, July 6
10:00 am EST
France v Uruguay – France looked like the team I expected them to be when they beat Argentina on Saturday; free-flowing, attack-oriented and rock solid in the midfield. Mbappe has been unbelievable and hes making his mark as the best young talent in the world right now after his 2-goal performance. But they go up against a Uruguay team who has only let up 1 goal in their 4 matches so far and have that great attack up top. But they are likely to be without striker Edinson Cavani who scored both of their goals in their win against Portugal on Saturday. Without Cavani, Uruguay and more specifically Luis Suarez, may find themselves a bit lost up top without the usual help. The most important part of this match will be Kante preventing Uruguay’s passages to Suarez. It will be easier for him to defend in the midfield if Uruguay’s outlets are going to one striker and not two. I think France and Mbappe continue their freight train all the way through to the Seminfinals and get the win here in the 90 minutes. France (-0.5).
2:00 pm EST
Brazil v. Belgium – This is no doubt the best matchup of talent in this World Cup so far, as two of the favorites of the entire tournament will meet in the second Quarterfinal on Friday. Brazil will be missing a big name in the midfield as Casemiro will miss out due to yellow card accumulation. He will be missed as he is their rock in the middle of the park and could be crucial if Brazil allow Belgium’s De Bruyne to go forward in that position. Luckily, Brazil will be getting their star outside back Marcelo back in the lineup and that could provide some serious help going forward on the wings and defensively tracking back. But this is a Belgium team that is yet to drop points in this whole tournament and they’re coming off of a historic comeback against Japan where they showed how calm and collected they can be when dealing with adversity. They have talent on all sides of the ball and can stifle any team in this tournament as well as score on any team, giving them value with the line of (+0.5). Brazil will find trouble breaking through the Belgian back line and to keep possession around the box and I think Belgium has the chance to keep this to a draw after 90 minutes. Belgium (+0.5).
Saturday, July 7
10:00 am EST
Sweden v. England – England now find themselves in their first Quarterfinal since 2006 where they lost on penalties to a young Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal. Sweden meanwhile find themselves in the Quarters for the first time since they hosted the tournament in 1958. Obviously the difference is Sweden is playing somewhat with house money while the expectation for England is to advance to the Semifinal at worst. This match will come down to one thing; can England get an early goal. Sweden have consistently scored their opening goal after halftime around the 65th minute, scoring in the 65th, 50th and 66th in their three wins this tournament. Also, in all three of Sweden’s wins, they have not conceded a single goal. Proving that if you allow this Sweden team to last those 55-60 minutes, you may be in some serious trouble. But I think that this will be the first team Sweden play that doesn’t play into their game plan. In only one of their matches this tournament have England had 60% possession and they aren’t the type of team to sit on the ball and pressure a ton going forward. I think Sweden will have trouble keeping Kane, Sterling/Rashford, Lingard and Alli contained up top if the match is more open than they’re used to. I like England to win this in 90 minutes here and I wouldn’t be surprised if their confidence continues after their long-awaited penalty victory and they bag more than a couple goals in this one. England (-0.5).
2:00 pm EST
Croatia v. Russia – Both teams come into this match coming off of 120 minutes and penalties, which can be taxing for any team. But not this Russian team as they’re most likely on next-gen human growth hormones. All kidding aside, the Russians are a workhorse of a team and can really cause Croatia some problems. But this is a Croatian team that has gone unbeaten and there hasn’t been a team that has had success at stifling their creativity. Denmark lasted to penalties, barely mind you, but they couldn’t find a way to slow down Modric and Rakitic. I think this is where Russia’s road ends as they just are going to run out of gas and they can’t cope with the midfield strength. People will say, ‘But they beat Spain!’. They beat a Spain team that uselessly passed the ball around, perfectly falling into Russia’s plans to prevent anything substantial in the box. Croatia don’t play like that, as they provide a more open and productive style of midfield play. I like Croatia to win in the 90 minutes even though Vegas disagrees with me. Croatia (-0.5).
With only 8 more games left in the tournament, I hope everyone can watch with the 3.7 billion other people. The most magical, powerful, emotional and greatest sporting event only comes ever four years so let’s cherish it.
Stay Kickin’ It. Peace.