This is it. The business end of the tournament has begin. Some of the World Cup’s “big boys” have been sent home by the heart, or brains, of a “lesser” side, while many still stand to fight another day.
Spain, Portugal and Argentina are out of contention, each having too many issues to overcome because of poor coaching or just untalented sides, in Argentina’s case. But, who has become the new favorites of Russia 2018?
Here are our rankings for the sides entering the quarter-finals:
The host nation makes it to the quarter-finals off of… well, luck quite honestly. Stanislav Cherchesov set his eleven up to sit back, defend and counter when possible. Problem was, although this was working quite well against Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the Russian players could not seem to even put two passes together, let alone an entire counter-attack against the Spanish. This left a number of question to surround Russia in the next, two of the largest being: who travels home and who leaves straight from Sochi for holiday.
They are uncomplicated and uninspiring, but their pragmatism has gotten them into the quarter-finals, topping a Group H with Germany, Mexico and South Korea along the way. Their talisman Emil Forsberg showed he could be the focal point of this Swedish attack against Switzerland, scoring a goal in the process. Jann Andersson continues, and will continue, to rely on his incredible defense with Victor Lindelof having a stellar match against the Swiss and captain Andreas Granqvist being dominate as ever.
One of the favorites coming out of the group stage because of their superiority seemed to be suppressed as Denmark almost ended the Vatreni’s World Cup run in penalties. Croatia can look incredible at times, with Ante Rebic and Mario Mandzukic making problematic runs forward and Luka Modric slipping in balls left and right. Yet, they don’t always look like they should for the talent they have, looking more disjointed than not from front to back. They should easily make it past Russia and into the semi-finals, but if and when they meet up with one of Sweden or England, it could be a much more difficult path to the finals.
It wasn’t pretty, but Gareth Southgate’s England have turned the Three Lion’s skeletons into their ambition. It was penalties in which the Premier League stars had to capitalize in after Yerry Mina’s towering header in stoppage time. But, tit is the lack of midfield to front three fluidity that remains a concern for Southgate, with Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard both seemingly not clear to which is the creator and which is the runner. Next is Sweden for the Three Lions, as this new England side have a chance to go far and make history this summer.
A very nervy win against the Samurai Blue sees Belgium take on Brazil in the quarters, a game that will surely be an instant classic. But, Roberto Martinez and his men have much to think about after going down 2 goals early in the match against Japan, leaving them to rely on Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli to score the equalizer and winner, respectively. There is an abundance of talent in this Red Devils squad, but Roberto Martinez still doesn’t seem to know exactly how to get the absolute best out of them. On top of that, their star-studded defense has shown to be weak because of the lack of support from their wing backs. They’ll put up a fight against Brazil, but it doesn’t look promising for Belgium’s Golden Age.
La Celeste have seemingly found their stride with Edinson Cavani being the elite, dangerous frontman he has been all of his career. Uruguay are not an easy opponent for France, probably having the best defense in the cup next to Brazil. But, it’s not just the defense to be afraid of. The Uruguayans have found their creative spark with Rodrigo Bentancur and Lucas Torreira finding their roles in this side, opening up the game for Uruguay and allowing Cavani and Luis Suarez to do what they do best, attack and score. It’ll be equally as difficult for Uruguay to pass France, but it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise in this tournament if La Celeste advance.
The scoreline of France v Argentina does not exactly tell the whole story of France’s brilliance on the night, particularly from 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe. A brace for the youngster and a stunning strike from Stuttgart and French right-back Benjamin Pavard sent Argentina packing, but it was the way France played that was reminiscent of two years prior in Euro 2016. There was a purpose in every move for Les Bleus, something we hadn’t quite seen in the group stage. They looked ready pounce and punish any, and every, mistake Argentina made. Breaking down Uruguay’s terrifyingly good backline will be a challenge in itself, but this French side could make it semis and compete for a spot in the finals.
This Brazil team has grown into almost overwhelming favorites to win the World Cup now. Coach Tite has tweaked his tactics to get the best out of every player on the pitch, and not just Neymar like in past tournaments. The Selecao are also, one of the smartest groups in Russia, if not the smartest, always figuring out how to adapt to any situation they’ve been thrown into and thriving in doing so. Tite has selected the perfect mixture of experience and youth here, having the most experienced backline left in the Cup and are using that to their advantage. Brazil have a couple of more challenges to overcome if they want to make it to the finals, but there is little doubt this team won’t be going home without a trophy in hand.