So we are down to the last eight and after a dramatic ‘Round of 16’ with late goals, fantastic strikes, extra time and penalty drama, you could not have asked for more. For the first time (in a 32 team World Cup) all the group winners progressed but it was not all plain sailing. To be honest in my opinion only Colombia have consistently played football that you would expect from a World Cup winner, but that guarantees you nothing, tournament winners peak at the right time usually about NOW. For me it is wide open as we stand – eight teams going for glory – three wins and it’s theirs. So here we go my preview of the quarter finals and the usual predictions – had reasonable success last time round – let’s see what happens hey.
France v Germany
Boom Boom Boom – France just keep rolling on and are now into the World Cup quarter finals. After a strange performance against Ecuador, where they did seem to be saving themselves for the knockout phase, they used that reserve energy to outlast Nigeria in a 2-0 win. In a very close game, where the African side were on the front foot for most of the match, especially as they had a goal disallowed for offside, when on replay it looked like Emenike was onside. However a tactical switch from the French manager, Didier Deschamps (Griezmann for Giroud) changed the game and brought more impetus and two goals resulted. A major hurdle overcome and showed that they do have substance and grit when needed over style. They move on now to Rio and they must be thinking they have a great chance to add to their 1998 triumph. Stat alert – the last five times France have qualified from the group phase in a World Cup they have always made the semi-finals at least, they will wish that stat to continue come Friday. They will meet Germany in the quarter finals (standard World Cup expectancy for them) – the last time they did not make the last eight (ignoring 1978 as there was a 2nd group phase) was in 1938!!!!!!! An amazing record. They weren’t great against a plucky Algeria side who are now learning on their return flight from Brazil that at this level you have to take your chances, especially against a team as efficient as Germany. Since their opening match destruction of Portugal, the three times winners have not really shined, they have just done enough, though as mentioned if other teams were more clinical they could already be packing their bags. Their manager Joachim Low knows they can perform better and will need to get the best out of them with France waiting in the wings. So a huge clash of European heavyweights in Rio – the Germans always seem to perform when it matters, but this French team are united and working together for a single purpose and those extra 30 minutes against Algeria may have taken some of the strength out of the German team – I’m going 2-1 France – well I did tip them as my outsiders for the title – can’t go back on that now.
Brazil v Colombia
Two teams who gracefully wear yellow on the football pitch, but one of them will have to change for this all South American clash in the stifling heat of Fortaleza. Brazil as hosts are favourites but they have not been convincing. They beat Croatia thanks to the referee, could not break down a stubborn Mexico team and when they did get through their keeper was on hand to stop them breaching the goal. Cameroon were put to the sword but that was expected. They survived an almighty scare against Chile, winning on penalties after a fantastic game. Some people may say they were lucky (Chile hit the bar in the last minute of extra time), maybe they were, but winning teams especially in tournaments such as this do need a little bit of fortune on their side and it does seem that maybe their name is on the cup as they could easily have lost this match. Personally I felt Brazil probably just shaded the 120 minutes and surviving a penalty shootout is no bad thing. Colombia in my opinion have been the best South American side in the tournament in regards of performances and four matches, four wins also tells it own story. They have already made history by reaching this stage of the World Cup for the first time. Their brand of football is forward thinking and they have steel in defence. In James Rodriguez they have the star of the competition so far and if he is firing alongside his colleagues then the hosts are going to be tested to the maximum. Right prediction time, Brazil do not lose many competitive games on home soil – the last time was 39 years ago!!!!!!! Again this will be close – and I can see goals, 2-2 after 90 minutes then its anyones – that’s as far as I’m willing to go, #fencesittingpredo.
Argentina v Belgium
It took a long time but a 118th minute winner from arguably the worst player on the pitch, if you take into account performances during the game, but Angel Di Maria was Johnny on the spot to stroke home, quite brilliantly, Lionel Messi’s pass after a trademark run from Argentina’s talisman. They denied a stubborn and determined Switzerland side who deserved to take the game to penalties and even had a fantastic opportunity to equalise through Dzemaili, but he somehow hit the post from around six yards out with the goal gaping, even slotting a simple rebound wide too. I have said this before and will say it again, to win any tournament of this type you need the little things to go your way and the Argentines definitely did on this day. Throughout the World Cup they have not looked convincing (apart from their skipper, Messi) but they have a knack of winning their matches with four wins from four. The big worry is that apart from their captain (he has 4 goals) none of their strikers have actually scored a goal which is a big worry for their manager, Alejandro Sabella, especially as they have not looked secure at the back, he will need to think long and hard about how to get them firing and what combination will be make them the potent force we were expecting in Brazil. In the last eight they will face Belgium, another team with four wins out of four, but like their quarter final opponents they have not pulled up any trees throughout the tournament but keep on getting the results. Again their manager, Marc Wilmots, produced the goods with his substitutions when after an exhilarating 90 minutes he introduced Romelu Lukaku who changed the game by creating one goal and then scoring one which ultimately brought victory despite a spirited comeback from the USA which so nearly forced the game to penalties. So Belgium’s golden generation are now within a sniff of becoming champions of the world. Despite not looking as good as some may have expected, especially when you look at the players at their disposal, they are still grinding out the results. They have not scored a first half goal yet (their earliest goal was in the 70th minute), but they are in the last eight and are growing into the tournament ominously well. So a huge game now against Argentina, both sides have the extra exertions of extra time to get over so shuffling of the pack before and during the match is going to be crucial – this in my opinion suits the European side more. However, Argentina, are one of my tips to win the whole darn thing so I’m not going to desert them now – in a bit of a ‘goalfest’ I see the two time winners progressing in Brazil’s capital, 3-1 to the South Americans.
Holland v Costa Rica
Well well well – Holland are probably still trying to work out how they got to this stage of the competition, but a dramatic comeback against the Mexicans in the stifling heat of Fortaleza has got them through to the last eight. Wesley Sneijder decided to show his face at this World Cup and in the nick of time too, with the equalizer in the 88th minute before Robben was fouled in the box and then Klaas-Jan Huntelaar showed nerves of steal and buried the penalty and somehow the Oranje march on. Huge credit to their manager Louis Van Gaal, he is not scared of taking off any player not performing, and his subbing of his captain, Robin Van Persie, when he was clearly labouring for Huntelaar was a masterstroke. Not only did the substitute score but he also had an assist in the Sneijder goal. So four wins out of four, not always totally convincing, not a bad trait as they can clearly play better and will have to, to make the semi finals. Their opponents – well all I can say is brilliant, brilliant, brilliant Costa Rica (maybe England ain’t that bad) – the so called whipping boys of Group D are in the World Cup quarter finals for the first time in their history – you could not make it up. They have got further than any of the three World Cup winners that were in their group. In an attritional but compelling, in my opinion, game against the Greek’s they were a goal up, a man down, out on their feet, pegged back in the last minute – but they still went again and actually threatened in a fantastic extra time period. Greece pressed and pressed but could not break through thanks to a heroic performance from the Central Americans, especially their keeper Keylor Navas – his last minute save in extra time was outstanding – he also made a crucial save in the penalty shootout, which then allowed Michael Umana to coolly slot home the pivotal penalty and send the team, support staff and country into dreamland and progress to the quarter final on Saturday night against Holland. As one commentator said when the crucial spot kick for the win was converted – COSTA EUREKA!!!!!!!. Can they go even further??????? My main concern is that the players looked spent after this victory, especially as they had to play over 60 minutes with ten men and the player who was sent off, Oscar Duarte, has been a key member of this side. Costa Rica will give it a really good go but the Dutch are on a role 3-0 to the Europeans.
Let me know what you think – you can also tweet me @biggishmouth or go to my facebook page at www.facebook.com/thebiggishmouth