After 56 games of the FIFA World Cup 2018, the tournament is now down to just eight teams from the thirty-two that started. It has been a fantastic tournament, full of goals, drama and excitement, and this weekend looks set to continue in the same way.
The quarterfinals are taking place on Friday and Saturday, and here we take brief look at what is in store.
Uruguay v France – Friday 6th July, Nizhny Novgorod, 3pm BST
While Uruguay had a bit of a scare against Egypt in their first match of the tournament, they then sailed through their group-stage fixtures, winning all of their matches and finishing three points clear at the top of Group A.
This earnt them a match against Portugal in the Round of 16 and while it took their star players, such as Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez, a little while to hit their stride, they very much seemed to in that match, as could be seen from the first goal against Portugal, which saw the duo work together brilliantly. Pepe’s goal in the 55th minute was the first that Uruguay have conceded this year, showing that their defence is really in top form.
France is the youngest squad left in the tournament and Didier Deschamps’ team were initially criticised for their uninspiring performances in the group stages, especially after their particularly dull goalless draw with Denmark. However, they then went on to defeat Argentina 4 – 3 in the Round of 16, showing just how dangerous they can be on the attack. Kylian Mbappe was the standout performer of the show, emulating Pele by scoring twice in a World Cup knockout game, and he will certainly be the one to watch on Friday afternoon.
The teams have played each other six times in the past, with Uruguay winning twice and four games ending in draws. However, this time France are strong favourites to win with odds of 1/1 compared to Uruguay’s 7/2.
France are expected to be at full strength for this game, after their assistant coach Guy Stephan called Djibril Sidibe’s injury a minor scare and said that Benjamin Mendy will have recovered from his thigh problem.
Uruguay, on the other hand, have more serious concerns with Edinson Cavani in doubt after he limped off against Portugal. The Uruguay Football Association has confirmed that he has not torn his left calf muscle, but he is still struggling with movement.
It is set to be a true battle, and, like so many of the games in the last round, it could be extremely close. One thing is for sure, it is set to be a very exciting game.
Brazil v Belgium – Friday 6th July, Kazan, 7pm BST
For many (not England supporters) this will be one of the most exciting games of the tournament. Brazil started the tournament poorly, drawing with Switzerland, but have steadily improved ever since. So too has one of the team’s star players, Neymar, who seems to be back at full match fitness after struggling in the first two games.
Brazil had a scare against Costa Rica, and it wasn’t until extra time that their win was secured. However, since then they haven’t looked back and have justified themselves as the bookies’ favourites to win the tournament. Coutinho is beginning to look as if he may be the best player of the tournament, while their 2 – 0 win over Mexico in the Round of 16 showed just how good they are defensively.
While Neymar is looking better than he did at the start of the tournament, his performances have not been without controversy. Many have pointed out that he seems just a bit too eager to fall to the ground and after the match against Mexico, Mexico’s coach said that Neymar’s performance is “not a good example for soccer, and for the world of soccer, for all the kids playing. This should be a sport of ability, of determination, a game of men, not of so much clowning”.
Despite this he has still been performing brilliantly for Brazil with the most dribbles attempted (35), the most fouls suffered (23), the most chances created (16), and the most shots on target (12).
However, Belgium are not without their weapons coming into this game. They have Lukaku, Hazard and De Bruyne, so it would be surprising if they didn’t score, even against Brazil’s impressive defence.
Their comeback against Japan was superb, with particularly impressive performances from the substitutes Marouane Fellaini and Chadli. However, there were obvious gaps in their defence, which Japan successfully exploited, and this could be their undoing against Brazil.
This game is certainly not going to be completely one sided, as reflected in the odds with Brazil at 23/20. While Belgium’s odds are somewhat longer, at 13/5, the fact that Brazil’s aren’t shorter shows that there will be plenty of action.
Sweden v England – Saturday 7th July, Samara, 3pm BST
For once England fans have something to be happy about. They are three games away from World Cup glory and bringing football home. However, it will not be easy. Until Tuesday evening, England had never won a World Cup penalty shootout, but they produced the goods to beat Colombia 4 – 3 on penalties and progress to the quarterfinals.
England were impressive early in the group stages, and in their games leading up to the World Cup. They absolutely demolished Panama, and Harry Kane is now a real contender to win the Golden Boot. Many of the star players were rested against Belgium, their first defeat of the tournament, and this strategy appears to have paid off as they dominated much of the game against Colombia. However, England is yet to keep a clean sheet in the World Cup.
England and Sweden last played each other in 2012 and Sweden won that game 4 – 2. While they are vastly different teams coming into this match, this year Sweden has shown time and time again that they should not be underestimated.
It seemed unlikely that Sweden would reach the World cup when they faced France and the Netherlands in qualifying. However, they went on to knock Italy out in the play-offs and then came top of a group that included Germany.
In the Round of 16, a second-half goal against Switzerland put Sweden through to the quarterfinals for the first time since 1994, and they are sure to come out fighting for the chance to go even further in the tournament. They may no longer have star player Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but they have demonstrated extremely impressive determination and spirit.
However, they do not have the fastest defence and the pace of England players such as Starling, Alli and Lingard, could cause them real problems.
This is part of the reason why England are the strong favourites to win with odds of 9/10 while the odds on Sweden are significantly longer at 15/4. That said, knowing England’s history at the World Cup, fans should definitely not hold their breath.
Russia v Croatia – Saturday 7th July, Sochi, 7pm BST
This is a match that very few will have predicted they would see at this year’s World Cup. While Croatia quickly showed that they are a team that shouldn’t be dismissed, hardly anyone would have expected to see Russia make it through to the last eight. Nonetheless, this is exactly what they did after knocking out Spain, the 2010 World Champions.
Spain were the favourites to reach the final from their half of the draw, but Russia made sure that this didn’t happen. After the shock of losing 3 – 0 to Uruguay in their last group stage game, Russia stepped up their defence and were extremely impressive when faced with Spain’s attack. It was then Igor Akinfeev that produced the shock result in the penalty shootout.
Croatia surprised many in the group stages, their win over Argentina showed true skill in pressing and counterattacking, with superb performances from Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic. They were also impressive against Nigeria and Iceland. However, they were not as convincing when they came up against Denmark in the Round of 16, and they failed to truly make an impact on the game.
Nonetheless, despite Modric missing a penalty, Croatia managed to overcome Denmark thanks to their goalkeeper, Danijel Subasic, who saved three goals in the penalty shootout. They will find themselves tested by Russia’s defence, and they will need their midfield and front-line to put in much better performances than they did against Denmark.
Nonetheless, they are still favourites to win this match with odds of 6/5. The odds on Russia are far longer at 57/20. However, Russia has produced a huge number of surprises this tournament, and with their home crowd right behind them, there is every chance that they will do so again.
While they are not big name teams, this certainly has the potential to be a truly exciting clash.