France vs. Uruguay
The quarterfinals kicks off in Nizhny with what should be an intriguing battle between two nations whose tactics contrast one another’s. Uruguay are a much more organized side though France has the potential to reach the 6th gear needed to break down any defensive line. Both coaches have world class players to call upon though Oscar Tabarez has a team that is greater than the sum of their parts. This has not been the case for France under Deschamps as they have looked underwhelming and have yet to play with to their full potential. He has struggled to find his best XI and he tends to fall back to his tried and tested formula when he side is under pressure. Antoine Griezmann – who was seen as France’s best player coming into Russia – has had a discouraging start to their campaign, scoring both this goals from the penalty spot. The sole attacking display that can give France any semblance of hope came against Argentina, when they beat La Albiceleste on the counter. Argentina are at best a mediocre defensive side while Uruguay boasts a prolific defensive profile. Jose Gimenez and Diego Godin combine youth and experience and are a formidable defense duo – a pair of players that Griezmann knows all too well. This is likely to be a boring match where France are likely to dominate with the ball though Uruguay are likely to give anything away.
Prediction: France 1 – 1 Uruguay (France win on Pens)
Belgium vs. Brazil
Likely to be the most entertaining game of the tournament so far, both teams bolster some of the best attacking players in the world. Volgograd will host the favorites against the leading scorers. Roberto Martinez’s side has scored at least three goals in three of their games though it will be intriguing to see the XI he fields against Brazil. Fellaini and Chadli impressed against Japan and were decisive by scoring a goal each to let Belgium squeeze past Japan. Brazil faced no such drama in the knockout stages as they comfortably beat Mexico and were the only side to beat to win their Round of 16 game by a margin of greater than one goal. Despite their comfortable win, Tite’s have not looked at their best. They have attempted the most shots (77) and the most on target (31) though they have only scored seven for the tournament. Belgium, on the other hand have scored 12 times. It is unlikely but this game could be a slow burner. Neither side have been at their best during the first 45 minutes of play with both nations scoring a majority of their goals after the interval. This would suggest that the game will come ablaze in the second half where Belgium to look to make the most of Casemiro’s absence through suspension. Fernandinho is more than adequate replacement to fill the void of a defensive midfielder. Martinez would be wise to play Kevin De Bruyne in a more advanced position to stifle his Manchester City teammate. Both teams come into Volgograd with plenty of firepower but Brazil have been a much steadier defensive side. Tite’s side have only conceded a single goal so far and have restricted their four opponents to a combined five shots on target. Belgium’s defensive flaws could be their downfall and tip the scales in Brazil’s favor.
Prediction: Brazil 2 – 2 Belgium (3 – 2 Brazil in E.T)
England vs. Sweden
Sweden deserve all the credit in the world for defying the odds and making it this far in the World Cup. They have been a consistent international side over the last eighteen months. After crashing out of Euro 2016 and with their greatest ever player, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, retiring; Janne Andersson has turned around this side and made them into a very functional team that is difficult to break down. In the last two years, they have beaten Portugal, France, and Italy and topped a group where Germany and Mexico were the favorites to advance. They shine with their underdog status and look to challenge England; boasting a very favorable record against the Three Lions with one defeat in their last eight encounters in competitions. They lack a star player but are a side known for their defensive organization. England have plenty of reasons to be concerned. They have struggled to score goals from open play and are unlikely to find many chances to score from set pieces given Sweden’s defensive dexterity and physical advantage. England have seven less chances in open play in comparison to Sweden though the Scandinavian side have no player as lethal as Harry Kane; leading all players in the race for the Golden Boot with six goals on nine shots on target. England are much more talented side and should just about edge their way past Sweden. Southgate’s side are the only remaining team to not have a clean sheet under their belt and Sweden are known to score of set pieces.
Prediction: England 2 – 1 Sweden
Croatia vs. Russia
Russia are beginning to believe in the impossible after bagging one of the all-time great upsets. The expectations were low for this squad as many did not see them making it out of the group stages. The host nation have gone further than anyone could have predicted and everything from here on out is icing on top of the cake. Their odds to beat Croatia are just as low as their odds to be Spain, with good reason as well. Though Croatia’s performance in the Round of 16 was less than pleasing to the eye. Dalic’s side were among the best coming out of the group stages but were far from their best against the Danes. Russia will have to replicate the blueprint that Denmark laid out to minimize the effectiveness of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic. Reports have come out that Alan Dzagoev is likely to make a comeback forcing their star man Aleksandr Golovin out wide. Denis Cheryshev should return as well with Russia moving back to a defensive line of four. The absence of Yuri Golovin is a blow for Russia and England are likely exploit the right flank with whoever is to replace the veteran left-back. This is a tough game to call. Both sides have conceded the least shots on target in comparison to the other six sides. The host nation are looking to ride on the momentum they have built though Croatia’s performance is an aberration and they are likely to revert back to the form from the group stages.
Prediction: Croatia 1 – 0 Russia