Right, things are now getting very interesting, the final 8 who are now a step closer to the ultimate goal. My previews and predictions for Fridays games as below
FRANCE v URUGUAY – 6th July – Nizhny Novgorod
France got through in an absolutely fantastic see-saw match against Argentina, that for me was the best game of the tournament so far. It showed that France most definitely have the credentials to win the competition but also exposed some weaknesses that need to be rectified as better teams will take full advantage. Against their South American opponents they were in total control. Leading 1-0 through a penalty after Kylian Mbappe’s pace had lead to the spot kick. They took their foot off the gas and suddenly they found themselves 1-2 down, due to a wonder strike from just before half time then a deflected goal soon after the break. What followed was 20 minutes of fantastic free flowing, pace and powerful football with a 3 goal burst from the French (Pavard and a Mbappe double) who showed for the first time in the tournament they have some substance to their game with such a turn around. Unfortunately they then returned to their bad habit of sitting on a lead which let Lionel Messi and co back into the game and were lucky that a third Argentine goal came so late in the match that they did not have time to capitalise with an equaliser. For me we have not seen a 90 minute complete performance from the French, just fleeting glimpses of their capabilities. Now would be a good time to begin showing the world exactly what they can do, especially with a player like Kylian Mbappe on hand whose pace and goalscoring prowess destroyed the Argentinian’s and put Messi in the shade and out of the World Cup,
In Sochi, Uruguay bested Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in a rip roaring entertaining match. Many thought this would be a match choc full of fouls, gamesmanship and anti-football and in my opinion any match can turn that way, but a game is also helped by an early goal and we got an absolute cracker of a one here within the first 10 minutes. A beautiful long crossfield balls 1-2 between Uruguay’s striking duo of Cavani to Suarez, then back to Cavani and 1-0 to the South Americans. This brought Portugal out and they had to press earlier than they may have wanted too, but Uruguay love that (especially as they had not let in a goal in the tournament at that stage and were marshalled superbly by captain Diego Godin) and dug in. They did eventually concede 10 minutes into the second half, a goal they will hate to give away, from a corner and a simple header, at this stage the European side looked stronger and the more likely team to sneak a victory. However, some hesitant Portuguese defending was seized upon and the ball found its way to Cavani again who curled in an absolute beauty. The Uruguayans then saw the game out despite some heavy pressure. They now progress into the quarter finals, the only downside to their night was that their 2 goal hero had to leave the field due to injury and becomes a doubt for their next match, the fact it is 6 days from this one will give hope that he can recover in time.
PREDICTION – This a tough one for me as these sides were my tips to win the tournament. Neither of these teams were really tested in the group phase, though Uruguay looked the real deal at that stage. However they both had to deal with some kind of adversity in their round of 16 match and showed the required substance needed to resolve the situation in their favour. Key to this game may well be the first goal, one thing is for sure you do not really want to go behind against the Uruguayans, with their defence. A bigger issue may well be the fitness of Edinson Cavani, who may well be available to play but without him at full pelt in cahoots with Luis Suarez, their potency will be blunted. For this reason, I think the French will just squeak through – 2-1
BRAZIL v BELGIUM – 6th July – July 6th – Kazan
Brazil did what they do best and saw out their round of 16 match with minimum fuss. Mexico showed spirit for the first 20 minutes in searing heat in Samara, but from then on the five time champions took control and whilst they were not always at their brilliant best, you always knew they were just keeping their opponents at arms length waiting for the opportune moment to strike. These were soon after half-time when Neymar tapped in and then a few minutes before the 90 when Fimino did the same. The nature of their goals summed up how simple they made the game look and they move on to their 7th quarter final appearance in a row. Watching the game it was like Brazil were just going through the gears in preparation for their next challenge, knowing that they would come through no matter what. They will feel as if it was just an extended workout with bigger fish to fry in the future. One things for sure they won’t be underestimating their opponents in Kazan.
Wowsers, what a match, earlier in the day Brazil were in routine mode, one I think all of the world was also expecting from Belgium when they took on Japan in their round of 16 game. However in the Rostov Arena we were witness to a crazy 90+ minutes (especially the second half which produced 5 goals) and a finish that was barely believable. Japan had stifield the Belgians throughout the first half and created some small opportunities. They continued in the same vein in the second half, but this time capitalised with 2 goals in 4 minutes, their opponents looked shell shocked. Fair play to Roberto Martinez as he shuffled the pack bringing on Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli. The man from Manchester United scored an equaliser after Jan Vertonghen had got them back into the game with a looping header. Even at 2-2 the Japanese still created chances however their spirited performance didn’t even get them extra time, as from a Japan corner in the last minute of stoppage time the ‘Red Devils’ broke away so quickly, Courtois, De Bruyne, Meunier, Lukaku (dummy) and yes you have guessed it the other substitute Chadli drove the ball home to secure a dramatic, if somewhat fortunate victory. The one question about the so called Belgian ‘Golden Generation’ was whether they had any character, they made the quarter finals of World Cup 2014 and Euro 2016 and basically went out with a whimper in both tournaments. Monday night showed that even when things are not working properly, especially when they were being outplayed for long periods, they found a way to get a result unlike those other times. Next up will be Brazil, they will have to play better as team, maybe even make changes to their formation as Japan got into dangerous areas (especially behind the wing backs) VERY easily and VERY often. A better team such as the Brazilians would make them pay.
PREDICTION – This has all the makings of a classic. Two sides who like to attack and have weapons all over the pitch. Defensively I think Brazil have the edge, but then Belgium have a better midfield in my opinion and create more from that area of the pitch. Attacking wise both are so dangerous and can cause real damage. Brazil are growing into the tournament, but for me have not really been tested. Belgium will need to work very carefully on their system for this one, as if they give the Brazilians the time and space the Japanese were afforded then they will be exiting the stage come Friday night. As I said a classic to come and I predict Belgium to JUST come through this one 1-2.
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