As we’re closing in on the final, the stakes are higher, with players feeling the stage getting bigger and the stakes getting higher. Let’s look at the next round of games in this brilliant World Cup
Uruguay vs France
Last time I discussed these teams, I expected them to lose. How wrong I was. France surprised me in that I didn’t expect them to attack in the way they did. My issue was them playing Matuidi on that left side, because it gave them a real weakness on that side when attacking, however I was wrong as usual. Deschamps did this to help overload the midfield and it would also let Griezmann drift in areas where a left winger would usually operate. I still think having a more natural wide player in that position would be better, however it so far has worked in giving them balance to the team. It has also gotten the best out of Kylian Mbappe in a certain way. Throughout the game against Argentina, he was making excellent runs and being that real needle France needed to penetrate that weak defense. Because of Giroud’s selfless style, it gives Mbappe the space for these runs. He ended the game with 2 goals, being the first teenager to score a brace since Pele in 1958. Mbappe is probably the best young player since R9. He’s even better than Ronaldo and Messi were at his age. Mbappe shows incredible maturity and power in his play. Pogba also has been incredible. He has been making those brilliant runs and killer balls we’ve been wanting him to make .
Uruguay surprised me in another way. I had previously criticised Luis Suarez for just not showing his qualities in the tournament. He definitely wanted to prove me wrong, because he was excellent. His hold up play was simply incredible and his cross for Cavani’s first goal was great. While he hasn’t been great in front of goal, he has definitely made up for that by being a great partner for Cavani. Uruguay conceded their first goal of tournament against Portugal. It is simply incredible that it has taken that long for them to concede. It was a pretty bad goal to concede. Pepe and Ronaldo completely outsmarted Godin and it resulted in Pepe being able to run in an open area to head it into the back of the net. While conceding a simple goal could be a worry, the injury to Cavani is so much worse. Cavani was brilliant in the game against Portugal, finishing his game with an honestly brilliant finish. His injury is not good news at all for Uruguay. They have two good players in reserve, being Maxi Gomez and Christian Struani. While both had excellent seasons, with the pair scoring over 10 goals for Celta Viga and Girona respectively, they both haven’t played enough in this tournament. They haven’t been given enough time to be able to fill Cavani’s boots in any way. It’ll be a real concern for Oscar Tavares.
For France to beat Uruguay, they will need to play in a similar fashion to how they beat Argentina. They need to use Mbappe in a similar way and most importantly, get Pogba on the ball as often as possible. For Uruguay to beat France, they need to make sure France to not play in that similar way and Torreira and Vecino need to protect that back four. Suarez also needs to continue in a similar fashion. He needs to get into those position where the centre halves do not want to go, and open space for his partner up front. I think France are too strong however, and will win, but not comfortably.
Uruguay 0-1 France
Brazil Vs Belgium
Easily the best tie of the quarter finals, both teams to into this game having excelled in the forward department.
Let’s start with Brazil, who are easily the favourites for the tournament. While this Brazil team isn’t the best in terms of entertainment, it is certainly the most balanced. The most recent winning Brazil teams always had a solid base, to make the most out of the attack. In 1994, they had Dunga, while he wasn’t a good manager, he was an excellent defensive midfielder. In 2002, they had Gilberto Silva, one of the best defensive midfielders ever. He could just do everything you need in a DM. And now in 2018, they have Casemiro. While the Real Madrid midfielder isn’t exactly an all rounder, he is one of the best destroyers around. He gives that defense an excellent screen and ensures a solid base, something they haven’t had since 2002. Another seemingly controversial issue seems to be Neymar. As the tournament as gone on, his performances have definitely improved. Against Mexico he was a constant threat, with him scoring and putting in a great performance. However it’s his diving that has caused a lot of attention. His reaction to a light tap on his ankle from Miguel Layun was the definition of an overreaction. I can kind of understand why players do this. It’s the world cup and they will do anything to win. However for his own image, it doesn’t help him at all. I have no issue usually when players stay down, but when they do it like Neymar, I start to have an issue with it. Coutinho has also been very good for Brazil. So far in this tournament he has been a real hero for them, scoring their first of the tournament, and the winner against Costa Rica. It’ll be interesting to see how he does in the rest of the tournament.
Belgium are a very strange side. On paper they have been excellent, winning all their group games and scoring 3 or more in 3 games. However because of their manager, I still have so many reservations. Japan exposed them very easily so it’ll be interesting to see how they fair against a team with real good attacking players. They also seem to be failing to get the best out of Kevin De Bruyne. While I think the midfielder has been quite good in this tournament, he is definitely not enjoying that deep role. It means he has to come so deep to retrieve the ball, which means he in advanced positions to be able to make those same great opportunities he did for City. Their left wing back position seems to also have some cloud over it. Martinez chose to not take an actual left back because he believed Januzaj, Carrasco and Chadli has wing backs. So far it hasn’t worked. Carrasco looked very poor against Japan. While Chadli did look good when he came on, he has missed many minutes last season due to injury, and he was only used as an impact, so seeing how he would do as a starter would be very interesting. As an actual positive, their forward three have been brilliant. Hazard has been excelling in his dribbling and creativity, successfully completing 4.7 dribbles per 90 and he has already bagged 2 assists. He has been sensational. His partner, Romelu Lukaku, has also been excellent. While he did miss some good opportunities against Japan, he has still been one of the best forwards at the competition.
For Brazil to beat Belgium, Gabriel Jesus and Willian will both be key. If Boyata does not play, Belgium will lose his athleticism once again, meaning Jesus could benefit by making some excellent runs behind the aging back four. Willian will be key in stretching the defense and exploiting the space that the left wing back will leave. For Belgium to beat Brazil, they need to make every chance count. They have had the benefit of playing teams who do not have their same quality. They are playing a team that have been brilliant defensively. They cannot afford to take the same luxuries they have in their previous games. Japan was their warning, so they need to wake up now. I do believe Brazil will win here, and it will not be as close as many think
Brazil 4-2 Belgium
Sweden Vs England
A tie that many are righting off before it has even began. As I have mentioned so long ago, I’ve been rooting for Sweden through out this competition, after Wales’s disappointing campaign, I saw Sweden knock out Holland, and then knock out Italy in the play offs. They have been defying expectations ever since qualifying began, including a victory over France. They have been beating these big teams throughout the world cup. They have also been excellent defensively, keeping 3 clean sheets out of 4 games. Even against Switzerland, their approach was quite perfect. Berg and Toivenen were both excellent in pressing the goalkeeper and ensuring any short passing lane was blocked. It was to ensure that they were always in the game and it definitely worked, with Switzerland struggling to create chances. They also kept Switzerland’s most dangerous player, Xherdan Shaquiri, very quiet. Usually when he had the ball, there would be two players ready to put pressure on him. Their biggest issue is easily converting chances. Against the Swiss, Sweden had some very good chances, including an easy chance at the back post, and Berg in a one on one, but failed to convert the chances. They seem to get in these good areas but then failed capitalise, leaving them always with a worry of falling behind. Marcus Berg has also been quiet poor, being the player to have the most shots without scoring. They need to hope he will be having a good game.
After finally beating a team on penalties, England and their fans are on top of the world. They have a team of players who seem hungry and no pressure is pulling them down. It does help that their captain, Harry Kane, has been putting the ball in the back of the net whenever he can. This team contains a solid blend of defensive workhorses and quality players in the final third, and playing 3-5-2 seems to get the best out of those attacking players. They haven’t been perfect however. England have so far failed to keep a clean sheet, with them giving away goals that should be relatively easy to stop. Worst of all they seem to be failing to use Sterling effectively. I love Raheem Sterling. He gives so much movement in the final third and takes a lot of pressure away from Kane. However against Columbia, he was not given enough support, resulting in him being attacked by 3 different players. If they want to continue to play him, Lingard and Alli need to be giving him runs on the outside, so all of his runs are worth something. Another issue could actually be their fitness. England had to go to extra time against Columbia, and while it might not sound like much, it took a lot of energy out of them. Southgate needs to make sure these players are ready to do another 90 minutes.
For Sweden to beat England, they need to take their chances. As previously mentioned, Marcus Berg has been poor throughout this tournament. Sweden need to hope he can turn up for this game. They also need to be patient and wait for that perfect opportunity. England concede goals and usually have a lot of players attacking at once. The Swedes need to wait for that perfect moment and strike. For England to beat their opponent, they will need to use Alli and Lingard as much as possible. England do not possess a great creator, which means the only way to get past this Sweden team would be to use their dribblers to beat players. If they can beat that first line of defence, then they should be okay. I’m actually going for a draw here, with a penalty shootout occuring again.
Sweden 1-1 England (Sweden to win on penalties)