While it’s incredibly heartbreaking that the US is not at this stage, we have 4 fantastic quarterfinals to look forward to.
Brazil v. Colombia: Neymar vs. James Rodriguez
Colombia had a lot of question marks on them when Radamel Falcao was revealed to be injured for the tournament. However, the Colombians don’t seem to be too bothered and why would they when they have James Rodriguez scoring outrageous goals left and right? In goal, Ospina has also been making several fantastic saves Brazil, on the other hand, has been under pressure since the first day of the tournament and have looked rattled at times. They are a more talented team than Colombia but have looked nervous and have been good in spurts as opposed to Colombia’s more strategic fast-paced counter attacks. Nevertheless they seem to be doing just enough to win and Julio Cesar made several terrific saves against Chile.
The one downside for Colombia is that even a struggling Brazil is head and shoulders above the teams they’ve faced so far. Uruguay relied almost exclusively on the creativity of Cavani and Suarez and clutch goals from Diego Godin to get through. Greece, Japan, and Cote d’Ivoire offered little in the way of resistance. Brazil will be able to test Colombia’s defense but they’ll be vulnerable on the break since they won’t have Luiz Gustavo offering support to David Luiz and Thiago Silva.
We’ve previously alluded to Brazil’s struggles when they have a lot of the ball and they will likely dominate possession against a Colombia side that breaks quickly but defends in numbers for long spells. This may very well come down to which star (Neymar or James) is able to dictate play and do something magical.
Netherlands vs. Costa Rica: Selection dilemmas for the Dutch
Louis van Gaal is winning over Manchester United fans with each win that he gets. He plays attacking football, he wins, and he wins late in games with controversial decisions. Perfect profile for the club.
But he’ll know the Dutch got extremely lucky against a determined Mexico side. Costa Rica has even more determination, seeing how they overcame and won one of the hardest groups in the tournament. Even though the Dutch have more talent, the CONCACAF teams are showing the value of climate adjustment and they could be poised to cause a shock. No Nigel de Jong in midfield might force LVG’s choices a bit more in this game. Also Klaas Jan Huntelaar came on for van Persie and impressed in his 15 minute cameo as he scored the winning penalty.
For the Costa Ricans, it’s a bit more straightforward, but they will be without Oscar Duarte after his red card vs. Greece and they will be slightly fatigued from the penalty shootout and defending for over an hour with 10 men. But they can frustrate the Dutch in possession and nullify their threats without giving up too much space. It could be a tight game favoring the Costa Ricans but they better beware of Robben.
France v. Germany: Similar profiles, different style and expectations
Both teams are entering this game in very similar circumstances. France was heavily favored to beat Nigeria and Germany was expected to trounce Algeria. It took late goals from both teams to win it but it wasn’t without its nervy moments.
While we had all been impressed with France’s attacking play, we noted that their backline isn’t very solid and hasn’t been adequately tested. Nigeria regularly had the beating of France’s fullbacks and repeatedly tested their backline in a very open game. Similarly Algeria looked dangerous every time they were running at Per Mertesacker and Jerome Boateng for Germany. Had Manuel Neuer not been quick off his line, die Mannschaft would be on a flight back home
Germany looks to dominate possession and press high up the pitch but they have looked vulnerable to quick counters (see Ghana and Algeria) due to Per Mertesacker’s lack of pace and Jerome Boateng’s discomfort in a high line. France’s counter attack has proven to be very potent as Benzema has been in top form, Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi have been electric going forward and Mathieu Valbuena has positioned himself intelligently on the wings so this should be fascinating.
Argentina vs. Belgium: Very similar sides means a test of talent and will.
Earlier on this blog we talked about the parallels this current Belgium side has with Argentina’s from the 2010 World Cup and now we’ll get to see these two teams with 100% records face off so something has to give.
Tactically, both teams are evenly matched and have shown it on current evidence despite not playing their best. Both teams emerged from easy groups but now have a serious test on their hands. Both teams have found it difficult to link play between midfield and attack, and both defenses have been less than stellar so far.
What may separate these two teams then, is something intangible, and Argentina have the ultimate intangibles in Lionel Messi and an overall team determination to step up when needed most. For Belgium, they can use this match as a barometer for how far they can go in the next 4-6 years. Win the match and they can dream about winning the World Cup. If they lose but play well, they can learn and improve for Euro 2016 and the next World Cup.