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FIFA World Cup 2014: Preview and Predictions - Quarter-finals

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A Winter's Tale


Now we are down to the last 8 in the 2014 FIFA World Cup - the business end where the best teams are looking to create history. And as it's been a marvellous World Cup so far, I would presume that we will see some classic quarter-final drama, exciting and memorable matches and moments as we watch the World Cup history being made. The last 8 has a nice variety. We have 3 from South America and 1 team from Central America and 4 european sides. We have the usual suspects in Brazil and Germany and not to mention the Netherlands, Argentina and France. We have quarter final debutants in Costa Rica and Colombia. In terms of competing for the title, it is very open. In the Americas we have the hosts Brazil looking for a 6th title, Argentina are aiming to win a third title. Colombia have been the most entertaining team and despite having little history at this stage in a World Cup, they will want to make history to become the 4th South American nation to win the World Cup. Costa Rica are the least likely side to win, but they are one of those less fancied teams who have punched above their weight and deservedly earned their place at this stage in the World Cup. In Europe, Germany are searching for a 4th and first title since 1990, France after having 8 years in the international football wilderness are looking to win a second title. The Dutch, 3 time finalists are hoping to win the World Cup for the first time and Belgium's first tournament with their golden generation have reached a stage in the World Cup which justifies the quality and potential their side possesses and they will be looking to add their name to the list of World Cup winners.

The first quarter-final is an eagerly anticipated tie between european sides France and Germany. Two former champions, this fixture has provided classic World Cup matches in the past.

Germany have reached the last 8 for a 16th consecutive time and the side ranked second in the world are aiming for a 12th and 4th consecutive semi final. In the group stage they defeated Portugal 4-0, drew against Ghana 2-2 and won 1-0 over the USA before defeating Algeria 2-1 in extra time in the last 16 - scoring 9 goals (4 from Thomas muller, 1 from mario gotze, mats hummels, mesut ozil, Andre schurrle and miroslav klose), conceding 3. Germany were impressive in their 4-0 victory against Portugal but since then their intensity and level has dropped and some weaknesses have been exposed which had made Germany's performance so far, to be one of their poorest in a major tournament for a while. Defence has been a weakness, with Lahm playing in midfield which had meant that they have a back four made up of centre backs. It's not the quickest or most skilful defence and their organisation has been pretty poor at times which has resulted in some really shaky defending. And against Algeria, with hummels missing, Germany's defending was almost disastrous. They played a very high line which wasn't organised, slow and was very vulnerable to counter attacks and manuel neur had to get Germany out of trouble on numerous occasions. Germany's shape and balance was far better when Lahm played ad right back. They were far more organised, less shaky defensively and having a world class rb meant that Germany were a little more potent going forward on the right wing. Lahm could be a decent midfielder but Germany have never really set up like that before and it was easy to tell that team wasn't really used to it. Going forward, sometimes the attacks breakdown, some players are not in form and a few injuries to crucial players haven't helped but Thomas muller is a goalscorer. Despite the problems Germany have had, they've survived the tough moments have shown resilience, and combined with their experience this could see Germany through against France. But if they play like they did against Algeria then they would lose the quarter final.

France have been a surprise at this World Cup. Following a humiliating elimination in South Africa four years ago, the 1998 Champions and 2006 finalists have reached the last 8 for an 8th time. The team ranked 17th in the World, reached the last 8 by defeating Honduras 3-0, Switzerland 5-2 and drew 0-0 with Ecuador before beating Nigeria 2-0 in the last 16, scoring 10 goals (3 from Karim Benzema, 1 from Olivier Giroud, Blaise Matuidi, Paul Pogba, Moussa Sissoko, Mathieu Valbuena), conceding just 2 goals. Going into the tournament, Franc were seen as dark horses and were generally expected to reach the quarter-finals, but the way they've played (especially in the first two group matches) has been impressive. They've scored many goals and look like a very well balanced, settled and organised side -solid defensively, creative in midfield and dangerous going forward. They have important players in goalkeeper Lloris, centre back Varane, playmaker Cabaye, holding midfielder Pogba, winger Valbuena and striker Benzema. Their form dipped slightly in the final group game and in their last 16 tie with Nigeria. Nevertheless, they've reached the quarter-finals for the first time in 8 years which is a positive milestone after a bleak period in recent times. A lack of experience could be their short coming, but certainly France do have the quality to contain and attack the Germans.

This will be the 26th meeting between the two sides with France having won 11 and Germany 8 with 6 draws. This will be th 4th meeting in a World Cup, a 6-3 victory for France in a 3rd place play-off in 1958, 3-3 semi-final in 1982 with Germany winning the first ever World Cup penalty shootout, and 4 years later at the same stage a 2-0 victory for the Germans. Germany are looking to reach a 4th consecutive World Cup semi-final and they are unbeaten in their last 15 internationals.

My initial prediction was 2-1 Germany and I'm sticking with it. As good as France have been and as shacky and at times unconvincing Germany have been, I think Germany's experience in terms of players and history will prevail. And I presume that they will be set up a lot better than they have been of late. If Lahm plays as RB, with Hummels as CB and Schwienstiger and Khederia in midfield, then Germany should have the shape to contain the French and score a few goals themselves. However, despite Germany's efficiency, if they play like they did against Algeria, then France have the weaponary to expose Germany's high-line and France could find themselves in a semif-final. Germany should win and play Brazil in the semi-final and to reach a fourth consecutive semi final would be some achievement.

The next quarter-final is an intriguing tie between South American sides Colombia and Brazil.

Brazil, ranked 3rd in the world, have reached the last 8 for the 16th time in their history and are looking for their first semi-final since 2002 - which would be the 10th in their history. They finished top of Group A by defeating Croatia 3-1, drew 0-0 with Mexico and won 4-1 against Cameroon before beating Chile in a penalty shoot-out in the last 16. Brazil have scored 8 goals (4 from Neymar, 1 from David Luiz, Oscar, Fred and Fernandinho) and conceded 3 goals. Obviously, Brazil have done some things right to reach the quarter-finals, but they remain unconvincing and not particulary likeable. Certainly, Neymar is crucial going forward with 4 goals, they have some solid central midfielders and of course captain Thiago Silva holds the defence together. However, despite some flashes of Brazilian brilliance, Brazil have evolved into a far more physical side. They are erratic, which makes them unconvincing and not too pleasing on the eye, however, they are physical and powerful enough to stifle and disrupt their opponents and they are a dangerous side from set-pieces and on the counter-attack. But it does seem that this team isn't the best in the world, and are a shadow of their brilliant teams and players from the past. But playing at home is a huge advantage and this should ultimately see them progress to the semi finals and I expect them to win the World Cup. However, they could be regarded as one of the poorest sides to ever win the World Cup.

Colombia have reached the quarter-finals for the first time in their history, which is a magnificent achievement - considering how this is their first World Cup appearance since 1998 - and they've deserved it. The side ranked 8th in the World have won all of their matches, beating Greece 3-0, Ivory Coast 2-1, Japan 4-1 and Uruguay 2-0. Certainly, given how they've won all of their games and scored 11 goals (5 from James Rodriguez, 2 from Jackson Martinez, 1 from Pablo Armero, Juan Cuadrado, Teofilo Gutierrez), conceding twice, they have been the most entertaining team so far. I still think they lack a liitle bit of strength and depth, physicality, experience and other factors to go from being the best team after 4 matches to become World Champions, but they have enough flair and qualities individually and collectively to have a say in the World Cup - if they can get past Brazil. They haven't played a really top team yet and given their inferior record to Brazil, then I think it is a really tall order for Colombia to get past the quarter-finals - but a suprise isn't completely impossible. Colombia have adapted very well to the injury of star striker Falcao. James Rodriguez has been absolutely tremendous and in my opinion, he has been the best player of the World Cup. He's the top goalscorer with 5 goals, having scored in every game, and probably scored the best goal of the World Cup against Uruguay. H has shown a lot of quality with his technique, vision and positioning. If he has a very good match against Brazil, then he could be the difference. Colombia have other quality players, but I do think their effectiveness going forward as a team can be a little inconsistent. Defensively, they haven't really been tested and they've seemed okay so far, but it is well-known that despite their experience, defence might be an issue with a lack of pace. Brazil will have too much for Colombia, but a quarter-final exit for Colombia is still an excellent achievement for a very decent and entertaining international side who have lit up the World Cup.

In 25 encounters, Colombia have only won twice. The last time Colombia won was a 2-0 victory in the Copa America in 1991. The last 4 meetings have all been draws and i's been 11 years since Brazil last beat Colombia. Brazil have only lost once in their last 25 games (a defeat to Switzerland last August) and they are unbeaten in 41 successive home matches, last losing to Paraguay in 2002. A 3-1 defeat to Peru in th 1975 Copa America was the last competitive home defeat.

I'm going for a 2-0 victory to Brazil. Colombia have a greatly inferior record against Brazil, and despite their flair and the performances of Rodriguez, they haven't come up against a side like Brazil. I think Brazil will be able to stifle Colombia's attack with their physicality, and Brazil should get a couple of goals out of Colombia's not particularly strong defence. The atmosphere should also be a factor. This should be a competitive match and Colombia should play their part in the tie and it isn't entirely impossible that they can win - but a lot of factors are stacked in Brazils favour and this should be the end of the road for a Colombia side who've had a fantastic World Cup and have displayed their qualities and justified themselves as one of the best international sides despite having not quite enough to go all the way.

The third quarter final is a fascinating match up between Argentina and Belgium.

Argentina, ranked 5th in the world, have reached the last 8 for the 8th time and are aiming to reach the semi finals for the first time since 1990. Argentina have reached the last 8 by winning all their group games by defeating Bosnia 2-1, Iran 1-0, Nigeria 3-2 edged past Switzerland 1-0 after extra time in the last 16. They've scored 7 goals (4 by Lionel Messi, 1 from Angel di Maria and Marco Rojo) and conceded 3. Like Belgium, despite the players on show Argentina have been unconvincing and lack cohesion. They've been one of the poorer South American sides on show as their attacking players have failed to gel into a collective unit and they look more like a bunch of individuals who've never played together. So a lack cohesion in the team and some off-form players has been a problem for Argentina as they look to win their first World Cup since 1986. However, generally, the Argentinian squad is pretty average with the exception of their best players and they have their weaknesses defensively. Lionel Messi, despite being in and out of the games, has carried Argentina by scoring 4 goals and setting up the decisive goal against Switzerland. Without him, Argentina won't win the World Cup, but with a player like him and playing in South America, Argentina have some advantages over Belgium which should see them progress but if Argentina play like they've done so far, then there is a real chanc that they could be going out at the quarter-final stage for the third time in a row.

Belgium, ranked 11th in the World, have reached the last 8 for the second time in their history and are looking to match the performance of their previous golden generation in 1986 who reached the semi-finals. Belgium won all of their group matches by defeating Algeria 2-1, Russia 1-0 and South Korea 1-0 before defeating the USA 2-1 in the last 16 - scoring 6 goals (1 from Kevin de Bruyne, Marouane Fellani, Romelu Lukaku, Dries Mertens, Divock Origi and Jan Vertonghen), conceding twice. In their first major tournament since 2002, a young, inexperienced and emerging Belgian side (who haven't played to expectations) reaching the quarter-finals is a fantastic achievement and being in the last 8 as one of the 4 remaining European sides, justifies why Belgium are one of the best teams in the World and how far they hav emerged from reforming the national game over 8 years ago. But despite justifying the hype in terms of the golden generation reaching the quarter-finals, Belgium's performances haven't been great - but perhaps this is part of being a team that's still emerging and evolving. And the lack of experience could be what ultimately curtails this group of Belgian footballers. In the group stage, they were efficient as they won all their games without playing well - scoring late goals. And they are a very difficult team to beat with a strong, physical and generally well-balanced side. They are strong in defence, pretty well organised and they can hurt teams on the counter-attack with pacey wingers. The problem Belgium have is goal scoring - as they missed a lot of chances against the USA - and perhaps creativity behind the striker. But despite their qualities, the biggest problem for Belgium is a lack of cohesion and consistency, which is perhaps down to a lack of experience. This could be Belgium's downfall against Argentina, but both teams are struggling to find cohesion, and Belgium will be difficult to beat and man for man, Belgium probably is a stronger side. It's an intruiging tie, but I suspect Argentina will go through, but the quarter-finals is a decent achievement for a team who's announced themselves on the international stage.

In the 4 prvious occasions the two teams have met, Argentina have won three and lost one. The most recent meeting was in Mexico 86 semi-final with a virtuoso performance from Maradonna.

I'm going for 2-1 Argentina. It's a fascinating match between two teams who have got something to prove as they've both been inconsistent and incohesive. Argentina are a bigger name, on South American soil with the best player in the World up against a physical, slightly better team man for man but an emerging side in Belgium. And despite the unconvincing elements of both teams, whoever wins will be a very dangerous team in the competition. Both teams are pretty equal, bt despite Belgium being a strongr side, I fancy the experience of Argentina, South American advantage and Lionel Messi to be the deciding factors, but Belgium are capable of beating Argentina.

The final quarter-final is a meeting between the Netherlands and Costa Rica.

The Netherlands, ranked 15th in the World rankings, have reached the last 8 for the 6th time and the 2010 finalists are aiming to reach a 4th semi final. In the group stage they thrashed Spain 5-1, defeating Australia 3-2 then Chile 2-0 before edging past Mexico with a 2-1 victory in the last 16, scoring 12 goals (3 from Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie, 2 from Memphis Depay, 1 from Leroy Fer, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Wesley Sneijder and Stefan de Vrij), conceding 4. The Netherlands have been surprising as they brought a squad which was incredibly inexperiencied and probably a poor one by their standards. However, they finished top of their group and have won every match to reach the quarter-finals and presumably reach the semi-finals. They have an excellent manager and terrific and inform footballers in Robben and Van Persie and for me, it seems that their philosophy at youth level in the Netherlands creates a cohesion that brings the National side above the sum of their parts. On paper, they aren't a great side, but as unit and under Van Gaal, they have been very efficient and have played to their strengths and combined to protect and reduce their weaknesses. At times, inexperience or vulnerability has been evident in the Australia and Mexico games, but they've still managed to get a victory. I think the Netherlands will win against Costa Rica, van Gaal will set them up properly and their star players should make the difference, but if the shortcomings of the Dutch team are exposed, then Costa Rica could sneak a way into the last 4.

Costa Rica, who are ranked 28th in the World, have reached the quarter-finals for the first time in their history, having avoided defeat against opponents who are all ranked in the top 15 in the World. They finished top of their group by defeating Uruguay 3-1, Italy 1-0 and drew with England 0-0 before beating Greece on penalties after a 1-1 draw in the group stage - scoring 5 goals (2 from Bryan Ruiz, 1 from Joel Campbell, Oscar Duarte, Marco Urena), conceding just twice. Although Costa Rica are not considered to be one of the favourites to go on to win the tournament, reaching the quarter-finals has been well deserved for a side who have been excellent as a unit, incredibly organised and have played to their strengths and above the sum of their parts, and they have deservedly earned a place in the quarter-finals. They have only conceded twice in the World Cup and a lot of credit should go to the manager. They are a very well organised side who are hard to beat and they are capable of snatching a goal themselves, so they could be a real tricky obstacle for the Netherlands. They have an excellent goal keeper and a defence that works very well as a unit and they have a few individuals who can come up with something going forward. In just about every World Cup, there is a team who goes quite far despite not being major contendors, and Costa Rica's journey is one of the most remarakble in the history of any World Cup and their resiliance has quite rightly taken them further than they have ever been in a World Cup. And if they go out as I expect them too, then they can be incredibly proud of what they've achieved and they have exhibited that you don't need to be a illustrious, highly populated nation with big name players playing in big leagues to be a success. However, I do think that their effectiveness and energy could run out of steam after what they've done and the Dutch should find a way past them, though it won't be easy.

I'm going for 2-0 Netherlands. The two sides who have never played each other and I think that this could be a fairly close match, but once tiredness becomes a factor, then I think the Netherlands fitness and quality will prevail with a goal or two. Arjen Robben and Van Persie should have enough to be a deciding factor. However, Costa Rica are very well organised and have an excellent goalkeeper and I don't think the Netherlands would enjoy playing against a team they are expected to beat. The Netherlands seem to be most effective when counter-attacking but against Costa Rica, they should have plenty of possesion. The Netherlands themselves aren't the greatest defensively and if they struggle to get through the Costa Rican defence then there is a chance that they could be eliminated.
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