2018 World Cup Quarter Finals Preview

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)

Top 5 Best Performers Of The World Cup (As of Game Week 2)

After 2 games, let’s see which players have performed for their respective countries, and shown their ability to the world.

5. Romelu Lukaku

When it comes to strikers, the choices were between Kane or Lukaku, and because all of Kane’s goals have required near zero skill, I’m giving it to Lukaku. The Belgian forward has been superb in the opening 2 games, scoring 2 braces. He is now averaging 17 goals in his last 10 for Belgian, which is an absolutely incredible record. He has worked so well in that front three, with Mertens and Hazard beside him. Mertens has given so much of the ball work, and Hazard has given his usual trickery. Lukaku has been getting in those positions and adding that perfect finish. While I like to criticise Martinez for so many things, one of them isn’t his use of Lukaku. My issue with Lukaku at United is how he is used as a target man. While he can be used that way, he is much more effective when running in behind, using his size and pace as his biggest advantages. Lukaku seems to be the favourite for the Golden Boot, and it’s justified. I don’t like to count penalty goals when discussing top goalscorers, because it doesn’t show the skill of that certain striker. Lukaku’s goals have all been from open play, and all have shown his ability in the air and in front of goal. What a brilliant performance so far from the big Belgian.

4. Carlos Vela

Mexico are usually a team to be threatened by. They have always possessed quality players all over the park, and this World Cup might be the last for many of their mainstayers. The likes of Hernandez, Ochoa, Guadrado and Herrera have all been great servants to the National Team. One of those said servants I would like to highlight would be LAFC’s Carlos Vela. The former Arsenal Winger has been absolutely key for his side in this world cup. Since moving to the MLS, Vela has actually been incredible. His has been the fulcrum of his side, being the main creator and goalscorer for a brand new club. He has carried his superb form over to his national side, where he has been key in Mexico’s games against Germany and South Korea. Looking at his stats, it is clear to see how superb he has been. He has been averaging a ridiculous 3 key passes per 90 and 3 dribbles completed per 90. He is also shooting 1.5 times on target per game. He was especially key in the first game against Germany, where he had the freedom of the pitch, with Kimmich going forward as much as he would. It meant Vela could tear the rest of that defense apart. He has by far been Mexico’s best player, and got what he deserved with a goal against South Korea. Well done Carlos!

3. Isco

I wholeheartedly believe that Isco is the fourth most talented player on the planet (the three ahead should be obvious). Only Messi is able to dribble out of tighter spaces than him, and his importance in that Real Madrid side cannot be emphasised more. He took a world record signing Gareth Bale out of the team and made Zidane rearrange his entire set up to accommodate the Spaniard. His importance for Spain also cannot be more emphasised. While there are plenty of talented players in that team, with Koke, Busquets, Ramos, Costa and Silva all showing in the past their world class ability, Isco is easily the best out of a great bunch. Already in this world cup he completed 140 touches in a match, which is the second highest. It shows his importance to the side because of how often they want him on the ball. While his key passes aren’t as high as they usually are, dropped to a 0.5 from a 1.7. the most interesting stat to take would be his passing in general. It has risen from 50 passes per game to 99. It shows how he keeps things ticking in this Spain side and helps them dominate games so effectively. Isco has been absolutely superb in helping Spain dominate their way through games, and let’s hope he continues it.

2. Cristiano Ronaldo

Portugal have been pretty bad so far in this tournament. Their midfield contains a 30 year old Moutinho and William Carvalho, a player not known for his ability. Someone along the lines of Ruben Neves or if Danilo was available would have been much better. Even in attack they haven’t been too great. Guedes is a player I really like, but so far hasn’t shown that same ability he did at Valencia. However there is always one player Portugal can always rely on to drag them out of any situation, and that is Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo has always struggled in World Cups. The Balon d’Or winner only managed a measly 3 goals in 3 different world cups for his country. However after his success with the national team and with his club, he seems more motivated than ever to finally do it on the big stage. He doubled his overall tally in the first game, scoring a hat trick against their neighbours Spain, including a fabulous free kick where Ronaldo finally learned how to take free kicks again. He then got the goal that helped seal the win against a much better Morocco side on the day. What is most impressive is his shot numbers. Ronaldo seems to be taking less shots but taking them in much better places. His shot numbers have dropped from 6.3 to a 5. While that is still incredibly high, it is showing how he knows that taking the right chance in a much inferior team is the right thing to do. Ronaldo will always be that player who keeps impressing me in some way, and he has done it again.

1. Luka Modric

My love for Luka Modric is so hard to put in to words. If someone asks me what a perfect midfielder is, I simply ask them to watch Modric. He can simply do everything a midfielder can do. He can tackle, read the game, dribble, create, dominate, shoot, he is simply well rounded in every department. Croatia themselves have a pretty great team. They have the best midfield in tournament, with Modric playing alongside Rakitic, Brozovic and Kovacic. They have a midfield full of players who can do different things, and it gives them plenty of options. Modric scored the penalty that won Croatia their first game of the tournament, and then put in a man of the match performance to beat a very poor Argentina team. He dominated that midfield with so much ease and continued to show his class. Throughout this tournament he has done so much defensive work, putting in 4.5 tackles and interceptions per 90, a vast improvement from his 2.7 for club. But it goes to show why Modric is just so good. He never had to do that defensive work because Casemiro would do that for him at Real Madrid, but at 32 he still shows that he can do anything without hesitation. His creative numbers have dropped as a result of his defensive work, with his key passes dropping from 1.5 to 1 (this could also be due to a small pool of evidence). His goal against Argentina just showed his pure elegance. He just bends it on the outside to fool Caballero and win the game for Croatia. He is such a huge part to this side and if Croatia do anything significant, it will be because of their midfield maestro.

Honourable Mentions: Aleksandr Golovin, John Stones, Jose Gimenez, James Rodriguez.