A nation breathes a heavy sigh of relief. England achieved what would have been seen as once inconceivable: winning a penalty shootout in the World Cup. With Captain Harry Kane steadily moving ahead in the Golden Boot for the Tournament, it’s time to focus on the road ahead for not only England, but the 7 remaining nations all vying for glory. The fixtures are as follows:
- France vs Uruguay
- Brazil vs Belgium
- Russia vs Croatia
- Sweden vs England.
- France or Uruguay vs Brazil or Belgium
- Russia or Croatia vs Sweden or England
So as we all blare out Three Lions and fill out every last booth across the nation’s Pubs, let’s try and predict who will advance to Moscow for the World Cup final, capping off one of the greatest tournaments in modern memory.
QF 1: France vs Uruguay
Route to the QF:
France got off to a nervy start in Group C, narrowly defeating tournament outsiders Australia and Peru by one goal margins, before producing the only 0-0 draw of the Tournament’s 56 games played so far. The side that many expected France to play as then emerged in a brilliant last 16 tie against struggling Argentina. Prodigy Kylian Mbappe in particular drew parallels to former World Cup and Ballon D’or winner R9 Ronaldo, as Les Bleus dumped out Messi and Co in a thrilling 4-3 encounter.
Uruguay dominated proceedings in Group A, securing a perfect 9 out of 9 points and being the only team not to concede in the entire group stage. Atletico Madrid’s defensive partnership of veteran Diego Godin and teammate Jose Gimenez proved to be impenetrable against Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Russia. They then knocked off Portugal 2-1 in their first knockout game, showing greater signs of quality akin to their 2010 effort.
Uruguay, surprisingly, are considered the outsiders in this one. Football Twitter and Pundits alike were tripping over themselves to praise and herald Mbappe and Pavard for their heroics against Argentina. In comparison, Uruguay have flown under the media radar, and no one knows just which Uruguay will turn up on Friday the 6th. Although the in form Suarez/Cavani and Atletico CB partnerships are visibly and statistically the greatest threat France have faced so far in Russia, Deschamps’ men will be confident and fuelled with vital momentum to send the the Sky Blues home. It may not be the prettiest or most exciting game on display, but France will be looking to make a statement to both Brazil and Belgium at Uruguay’s expense. Mbappe’s rumored £200m+ move to Real Madrid will mean all eyes are on the youngster (one year older than me…means I have one year to turn professional. Easy.), and isn’t likely to buckle under the weight of the expectations.
Result: France 2-1 Uruguay
QF 2: Brazil vs Belgium
Route to the QF:
Both teams topped their respective groups, with Brazil only drawing with Switzerland to deny them a 100% record. Capping off the group stage with a definitive 2-0 win over Serbia that highlighted the midfield might Paulinho and Coutinho (the suffix “inho” means little, so does that mean that Paulinho translates to little Paul, and Robinho to little Rob?) brought to a Brazil team too focused on Neymar and his antics. Two tap ins against Mexico secured Brazil a place in the Quarter Finals. Having scored 7 goals in 4 games, the attack may not have lived up to its potential, but Brazil’s strength and prowess is clearly found in its midfield and defence.
Belgium, like Uruguay, secured 9 out of 9 points in Group G with bullying performances over Panama and Tunisia, before the clash of rest teams led to a 1-0 win over England. Upset was on the cards for the Red Devils in the Round of 16 though, as Japan went 2-0 up early in the second half, with Martinez having Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli to thank for rescuing Belgium in the 90th minute for a 3-2 win. Questions have been raised over Martinez’s selection of the likes of Boyata and Witsel, but one cannot deny that a world class team on paper does produce results. Star striker Romelu Lukaku looks to catch up with Harry Kane in the race for top goalscorer, but this could prove difficult against the defence of PSG’s Thiago Silva and the underrated Miranda from Inter Milan.
Belgium and Brazil are eerily similar in their qualities and performances as a team. Despite both teams fielding a world class 11 each, neither team have swept aside any credible opposition like France’s dominant display over Argentina (a match with an ill-fitting scoreline in my opinion). The pressure is on both sides to affirm their status as more than just beneficiaries of lacking real credible competition on route to the quarter finals. It’ll be Neymar vs Hazard in flair and talent. De Bruyne vs Coutinho in midfield supremacy. Vertonghen vs Silva in the rock solid defences. These 6 names are enough to salivate over, to say there will be goals is an understatement. In regards to a victor, Brazil’s strategy of ‘Coutinho to Neymar and hope he does something” may meet a brick wall against the towering figures of Meunier and Spurs’ Belgians, whilst Hazard and Mertens may capitalise on the attacking nature of Brazil’s high defensive line. Brazil’s desire to attack and entertain may be their own undoing. The semi finals will end up being an all-european affair.
Result: Brazil 1-2 Belgium