This World Cup has had matches where it has proven to be a near impossible task to guess who will take the spoils at the end, and the First Knockout Round matches were even harder to get right in this regard.
The goals when they came they came late often in extra-time, and some even went to penalties, and teams expected to roll over easily held their own for long in their games.
So it is pleasing to note that 7 of the 8 teams I had said would qualify for the Quarter Finals, eventually got here and give how unpredictable this World Cup has been, 7 out of 8 is a good number and one I am satisfied with.
So now with the Quarter Finals just a few days away, lets take a look ahead to what the quarter-finals hold for the teams.
BRAZIL vs COLOMBIA
Brazil didn’t convince everyone with their display against Chile and while their doubters may be justified but they should remember that Brazil had a perfect goal by Hulk ruled out for handball, but the replays showed that Hulk had controlled the ball on his chest and not with his arm.
That goal being allowed to stand could have seen a totally different performance. All said and done though, its not easy playing a knockout match for the home team in a tournament like this, and Brazil should improve from here.
In the build up to Brazil vs Chile I had highlighted Oscar as the key player and said that if Chile can keep him in check then that stand a chance and Chile had done a good job taking Oscar out of the game, and this meant that the Brazil attack didn’t seem to have any real direction or edge. Colombia will look to do something similar, but on the whole Brazil will like playing Colombia more than they have playing the rest of their matches.
All teams upto now, have modified their game to some extent and have looked to focus on stifling the Brazilian attack and movement. Colombia however are a team that play free flowing football of their own and the general focus on stifling Brazil should be much less than what Brazil’s previous opponents have focused on.
This should allow for some good free flowing football and we should once again see plenty of action at either end of the pitch as opposed to the midfield battles that the First Knockout round matches brought us.
Colombia for their part have arguably, but with very few arguments against, the best player of the World Cup so far in James Rodriguez. I earlier spoke about how Colombia will look to play their own game and not look to stifle Brazil, but Brazil would do well to come up with a strategy to stop Rodriguez or else he will punish them.
Rodriguez has hurt teams from both inside and outside the box and with both his passing as well as shooting. The opener against Uruguay was the best goal of the tournament, and Brazil don’t need to look any further than Rodriguez to know where the biggest threat to them will come from.
Colombia have impressed us with their attacking play, but they need to know that in Brazil, they face the most potent attacking unit they have faced so far in the tournament, and Colombia won’t quite dominate the possession the way they have so far and need to be alert defensively and this is where I feel the balance tips in favor of Brazil.
Colombia are not the greatest of defensive units and while I see Brazil having enough quality in defence and midfield to be able to cope with Rodriguez, I am not sure Colombia have enough defensive steel to fully cope with Brazil and their attack. Chile setout exclusively to frustrate Brazil and did a fine job and I am not sure Colombia will set out to do that.
Colombia will look to play to their strengths and that will allow the quality in the Brazillian midfield to shine through eventually.
Key Factor – James Rodriguez needs to be in top form against Brazil. James Rodriguez is the primary threat that Brazil face and if Brazil can keep him in check then its hard to see Colombia offering too much more in terms of attack.
Brazil will focus on keeping Rodriguez in check and do away with Colombia’s biggest attacking threat and Colombia must look to keep Rodriguez as involved and as free as they possible.
It promises to be a midfield battle but more an attacking midfield battle than a defensive midfield battle and should provide plenty of action in both the boxes.
RESULT – Overall Brazil have the defensive strength both in their defense as well as the midfield to see out Colombia’s threat, but Colombia seem to lack a bit of this.
Further Colombia have one offensive threat in Rodriguez and thus are potentially easier to contain, but Brazil, offer much more going forward. Eventually I think these two factors will tell and Brazil should go through to the Semis.
FRANCE vs GERMANY
Its easy to highlight this as the match of the Quarter Final Round. Both sides have immense quality, with world class players on display at both ends, and both sides prefer attack to defense.
France off late have had issues with their forward movement and while midfield has done an exceptional job in winning the ball and moving it forward, the movement among the forward line has seen the final ball hard to provide, and often the French forwards have been caught making the wrong runs, or eventually taking up the wrong position.
Having said this, while the French forwards have given them some cause for complaint, it is hard to find faults with the French midfield or defence. Varane Koscielny and Sakho are quality and wide in defence the French are really spoiled for choice.
The French midfield have been superlative in their display and Cabaye will be vital when facing the German midfield.
While France have a quality side, Germany on paper possess even more quality in every area. Crucially though Schweinsteiger who is a lynchpin in the German midfield was carried off against Algeria and if he misses the match France could get the upper hand in their midfield battle.
Germany have plenty of players to call upon but Germany with Schweinsteiger in the midfield is another prospect entirely.
Compared to their previous encounters, both France and Germany should have a relatively easier time. Both Nigeria and Algeria did a hell of a pressing job on France and Germany respectively, especially Algeria and the second a German player got the ball, there was an Algerian player pressing him and denying him space, and Nigeria did something similar against France.
When France and Germany face each other they will approach the game with caution naturally, but it should be a more open affair as both teams like to play their own game instead of looking to stop the opposition from playing.
Valbuena was all over the pitch against Nigeria and will once again be France’s main creative outlet. Griezmann should start ahead of Giroud for France and France should target getting the pacy Griezmann one on one against Mertasacker who is not exactly the quickest of defenders.
Germany on their part should once again look to Muller to be the main attacking threat and France will do well to have a plan for him in place.
While the French midfield as a whole as impressed, the German midfield has creatively struggled and Goetze, Ozil and Kroos have all to take the blame in this regard, but they should find the going easier in the face of lesser pressing from the opposition.
Key Factor – Griezmann could well be decisive in this match. His pace and creativity could give the German defence something to think about, and Germany will do well to deny the tricky midfielder much space.
RESULT – This is just too tough a game to call. Given that Germany have struggled in their attacking midfield area, I would like to tip towards France, but something tells me that the sheer mental strength of the Germans will be eventually lead to Germany advancing to the semis.
HOLLAND vs COSTA RICA
What do I say about this match and in terms of football its hard to get more David vs Goliath than this. Based on the teams on paper, Holland should have a stroll, but having said that, considering the World Cup group stage draw, based on teams on paper this match should not even be taking place.
For Costa Rica to be in the World Cup Quarter Finals is something beyond their wildest imagination. They have no superstars, but have played as a unit and at times have relied on sheer grit to get them over the line.
Having said this a match against the Dutch team should be a little too much of an ask for them. More than anything, the pace and movement in their counter attack had been a threat for whoever faced Costa Rica, but off late especially in the First Knockout Round match, there was no sign of any of the pace and counter attacking threat.
If anything Costa Rica looked slow and tired, and it seems the herculean effort it has taken for Costa Rica to get as far as they have, has taken a toll on them physically and playing the extra 30 mins would not have helped. What is more, they will miss out on their key defender Duarte who has been a rock for them at the back and who is out for the Quarter Final game with a suspension, and in defence he could be a key miss.
Holland were not exactly at their convincing best against Mexico, but should be able to get past a Costa Rica side, whose players are at the limit of their physical prowess.
I don’t suppose it will be easy though, and while I except Costa Rica to start organised and press Holland in their half, but as the game goes on and the Costa Rica players tire, Holland should find the going easier.
Key Factor – Arjen Robben will potentially hold the key, and his pace could be key to exploiting a tired Costa Rica defence especially in the later parts of the match.
RESULT – Holland should eventually cash in on the Costa Rica players tiring and Holland should find a place in the semis.
ARGENTINA vs BELGIUM
In many ways this is perhaps the most intriguing of the Quarter Finals, and I look forward immensely to the midfield clash between Fellaini and Mascherano.
There is no doubting Belgium’s individual, but they give the impression that as a team they are still finding their feet a little bit and seem to lack experience.
Argentina for their part, did seem to improve against Switzerland and while going forward they were still not at their best, but at least defensively Argentina were able to hold their own and this was eventually the foundation of their win.
Belgium will be pleased with the impact Lukaku had once he came on against USA and few can deny that he was the turning point in the tie, and Argentina will not have faced too many like Lukaku.
Lukaku is in many ways the complete striker, and is a beast physically, but at the same time he is very quick and a very able finisher, good both in the air as well on the ground. He will give Argentina cause for all kinds of problems defensively.
Argentina will once again pin their hopes on Messi, who as the tournament has gone on, seemed to find his feet more and more and some of his dribbles and runs, in the face of tight marking from the Switzerland players, were just breath taking and it was one of those runs that set up the eventual goal for the Argentina win.
One of the reasons that Belgium have struggled at times and found the going tough is that for all the talent they have going forward, they do seem to lack an obvious holding midfielder and thus, teams have at times been able to just run past the Belgian midfield and into the Belgian half at times.
Fellaini is not quite a typical holding midfielder and likes to play much higher up the field where he is at his best, and anyone else that Belgium have tried to do the holding midfield job, including Witsel against USA, has struggled.
Apart from the obvious tactical disadvantages of not having a holding midfielder, Belgium have the addition headache of who do they put on Messi. Switzerland at times put as many as four midfielders around Messi and he was still able to wriggle free at times. Belgium as a team are not set up for such tactics and like to play their own creative and attacking brand of football.
However leaving Messi free in the midfield, that too in the form he is in, will be risky and Messi can potentially inflict a lot of damage. So not only are Belgium not set up to try and crowd players out, even if they would like to, they don’t really have anyone who could do it.
One option is to play Kompany in the midfield and Vermaelen in defence, which against the misfiring Argentina forwards may not be such a bad tactic. The point is keeping Messi quiet is important for Belgium, and if it means the out of form strikers and wide players of Argentina get an easier defence to deal with then so be it. Messi in present form can huty Belgium a lot more than Higuain could.
Whether Belgium do this or not is another thing entirely, but on paper its hard to think that the Belgian side is tactically equipped to deal with Messi and the form he is in, that could be the telling difference between the sides.
Key Factor – Lionel Messi needs to be stopped and Belgium lack any obvious holding midfielder who could stop Messi. This could be a crucial to the tie.
RESULT – Though not at their best, Argentina should advance to the semis.