After stunning upsets plagued us in the Round of 16, the 2018 FIFA World Cup is officially down to just eight countries.
Another week has passed, and another World Cup round is in the books. The round of 16 brought us excitement, upsets and some SOLID penalty shootouts. We saw pre-tournament favorite Spain exit at the hands of the hosts, as well as both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. And let’s all appreciate that either Croatia, Russia, Sweden or England will be in the World Cup Final. For now, let’s take a look at the quarterfinal matchups.
France vs. Uruguay
France finally found its offensive swagger after stumbling out of the group stage. After scoring a whopping three goals during the group stage, France exploded for four against offensive juggernaut Argentina. A late garbage-time goal gave Argentina life against Les Bleus, but ultimately Kylian Mbappe was too much for Messi and company.
Needing to best its goal total for the group in order to advance, France showed why they are one of the favorites to win this tournament. France will be without midfielder Blaise Matuidi for its quarterfinal matchup against Uruguay, but France has SO MUCH offensive prowess it’s hard to see Matuidi’s absence making a noticeable difference.
With that said, France will need to muster up all its offensive talent for this matchup against Uruguay. Even as Uruguay will likely enter this fixture without top scorer Edison Cavani, Uruguay’s defense has been nearly flawless up to this point.
Center back Diego Godin will look to shut down his Athletico Madrid teammate Antoine Griezmann, but what this matchup will come down to is whether Diego Laxalt contains Mbappe. Laxalt has proven to be a key commodity for Uruguay thus far. However, this will surely be his toughest assignment in terms of Mbappe’s raw talent.
As they prepare to face France, Uruguay is absolutely facing an uphill climb. No Cavani is a major hurdle for this side to overcome, and France is far superior when it comes to the midfield. For Uruguay to win, look for Luis Suarez to carry the squad and account for Cavani’s absence.
Prediction – France 3, Uruguay 2
Both teams have shown they are capable of scoring, and this match is no exception. In the end, France’s midfield is too much to overcome for Uruguay. Suarez produces a great offensive performance in Cavani’s absence, but goals from Mbappe, Pogba and Griezmann send France through to the semifinals.
Brazil vs. Belgium
Featuring arguably the two best teams this World Cup, Brazil arrives having dispatched Mexico 2-0. The Brazilians came into this matchup as the number one ranked team in the tournament and have been nearly perfect in four matches. Meanwhile, the Belgians managed to pull a rabbit out its hat in its round of 16 matchup against Japan. Having conceded the first two goals, Belgium mounted an outstanding comeback to win on the last kick.
Much like France-Uruguay, this matchup is going to include a lot of back and forth, and eventually, a lot of goals. Brazil will need to rely on its attack after announcing right back Danilo is out for the tournament and still having to answer questions about the status of left back Marcelo. A patchwork defense will require some expertise up front from Neymar, Coutinho and whoever plays between Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino.
On the other hand, Belgium’s attack may be the scariest among any team in the tournament. Although none of its top five attackers (Hazard, de Bruyne, Carrasco, Lukaku, Mertens) scored against Japan, this team has tallied 12 goals so far this tournament. Belgium will surely look to run up the score against Brazil, knowing its back three may struggle against the front three of Brazil.
Simply put, the higher the score goes in this game, the more it favors Belgium. Brazil has only conceded once in the World Cup, so something has to give here. Either Belgium will continue to score (and score and score some more) or Brazil will have another solid defensive output to shut down the Belgium attack.
Prediction – Brazil 2, Belgium 2 (Brazil advances on penalty kicks)
As stated earlier, Brazil came into this tournament as the number one ranked team, and it has done nothing that would cause soccer fans to question its side. Belgium continues to impress offensively, and conventional wisdom says they should have the GK edge in penalty kicks. However, Brazil solid play all around leads them to victory behind goals from Neymar and Willian.
Sweden vs. England
Sweden arrives at this fixture after a mundane 1-0 victory over Sweden, while England survived a penalty shootout against Columbia to reach the quarterfinals.
When it comes to Sweden, it has been one of the most quietly impressive sides across the board. A team that features no household names has stuck to its game like white on rice. Sweden doesn’t seem to mind continuing to force turnovers in the midfield while possessing only about 40 percent of the ball.
Emil Forsberg seems to have found his groove after the Switzerland game, having scored his first goal of the tournament to send the Swedes to victory. However, Sweden faces a unique challenge in the England back five. Kyle Walker, John Stones and Harry Maguire held tough against Columbia, but Sweden’s counterattack will impact two other players – Kieran Trippier and Ashley Young. Trippier and Young LOVE to get forward in their wing back positions, but the Swedish counterattack may force them to play more defensively.
Sweden’s best bet is to continue to play its style against England and hope England (the country, not the team) unnerves its own team with its lofty expectations.
For this England side, its only enemy at this point is itself. England expects this side to make the World Cup Final – full stop. If England can’t accomplish that feat, it will be a long flight home. Expect a more disciplined defensive approach for this match, with some more flair from Harry Kane. Jordan Henderson may be just the guy who can limit midfield mistakes and as a result, the Swedish counterattack.
Prediction – England 2, Sweden 0
Can Sweden give England a scare? Absolutely. Can they beat the Three Lions? Unlikely. Harry Kane continues his Golden Boot campaign with a goal as England’s defense impresses the soccer community. Sitting back finally catches up to Sweden as a garbage time set piece for England puts it one step closer to winning the World Cup.
Croatia vs. Russia
After a monumental upset of 2010 champion Spain, Russia faces off against Luka Modric and a very impressive Croatia side.
Home-field advantage has undoubtedly helped Russia, whose prevent defense allowed the Russians to knock off Spain. Up until that point, Russia prided itself on being able to score, and even though the odds may not be in its favor, Russia’s previous victory has shown us that anything is possible this time around.
With that said, the Russians face a daunting matchup with the Croatian midfield. As referenced last week, this Croatian team sees Mateo Kovacic come off the bench. Furthermore, Croatia’s back four has not suffered any defensive lapses or shown gaps while defending. After scoring in the fourth minute against Denmark, Croatia showed its defensive chops as it dominated possession for most of the game and arguably deserved a second goal.
For Croatia, expect to see a similar game plan for Russia – have Modric and Rakitic control the midfield and try to tire Russia out. However, Russia is already used to playing against that style of play (**cough** Spain **cough**) and its goalkeeper is on fire right now, so Russia will bring high confidence to this match.
Thus, it may be in Croatia’s advantage to encourage a more free-flowing game so as to not get bunched up on the attack. If Croatia’s attack becomes too stagnant, Russia may the one to advance.
Prediction – Croatia 2, Russia 1
Russia’s home field advantage propels it to an early goal, but a Croatian comeback ends the Russians’ Cinderella story. Modric becomes a dark-horse Golden Ball candidate with another outstanding performance. Mario Mandzukic continues his offensive form and adds a goal to set up a semi-final matchup with England.
Check back later next week for more content previewing the semifinal matchup!