Uruguay vs. France: Friday July 6th at 10:00 a.m. Eastern
As stated in our latest Corner Kickabout, this quarter final is one filled to the brim with talent, but will most likely be a cagey affair. Uruguay have the best defense in the tournament, conceding only one goal so far, and Diego Godin and Jose Maria Gimenez have looked as organized and cohesive as they normally do when playing together at Atletico Madrid. Uruguay were perfectly willing to allow Portugal to possess in their round of 16 knockout fixture, and the Uruguayans were able to counter with the elite class and finishing of strikers Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez. The big worry for Uruguay will be surrounding the fitness of Cavani, their highest scorer at the tournament, and it is more than likely that he won’t be fit to start this clash. Cavani’s absence will ease some tension on the shoulders of French center backs Samuel Umtiti and Raphael Varane, who will be familiar with the trickiness of a lone Suarez. As for the French, their offense finally clicked against Argentina, and the attacking trident of Olivier Giroud, Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann have finally learned to feed off one another instead of attacking as individuals as they did against Australia and Peru. Les Bleus will look to use their pace, amplified by the addition of either Thomas Lemar or Ousmane Dembele to replace a suspended Blaise Matuidi, to unlock the narrow channels of a very solid defense. Conceding three goals against a pretty average Argentina side will be worrying, however the absence of Cavani will give France a lot of confidence. France have benefited from their quality from back to front, and players such as full backs Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez have blossomed into consistent performers, and star midfielder Paul Pogba has provided clutch goals and assists to help Les Bleus get this far. I think Uruguay will perform admirably, but France have far too many weapons and will find a way to break through.
Prediction: France 1-0 Uruguay
Brazil vs. Belgium: Friday July 6th at 2:00 p.m. Eastern
Brazil versus Belgium promises to be a true clash of juggernauts. The South Americans enter the fixture unbeaten in the tournament while also steadily improving their performances in each successive game. While Coutinho and Paulinho played starring roles in the opening fixtures, Neymar’s awakening against Mexico (despite some rolling on the ground) suggests the Selecão are on the verge of a statement victory before what is shaping up to be an all-important semifinal. Belgium meanwhile showed immense resolve to come back from two down against Japan to win 3-2 with one of the final kicks of the game. Belgium will want to avoid conceding, as it will be much harder to mount a comeback against a stingy Brazil defense that has only allowed a single goal so far. Yannick Carrasco again struggled defensively as a left wingback against Japan and unless Jan Vertonghen plays sufficient stay-at-home defending, Willian may eat Belgium like a waffle on the wing.
Prediction: Brazil 3-1 Belgium
Sweden vs. England: Saturday July 7th at 10:00 a.m. Eastern
I saw an incredible graphic when I was scrolling through social media before the England game.
“Members of England’s current World Cup squad have played for: Alfreton, Darlington, Burton, Carlisle, Bradford, Preston, Northampton, Sheffield United, Barnsley, Hull, MK Dons, Millwall, Stocksbridge Park Steels, Halifax, Fleetwood, Coventry, Peterboro, Welling, Harrow, Aldershot, Bristol City, Charlton.” It is really amazing to see a list in that vein, as every single member of this year’s squad played in the Premier League last season. That history sums up the Three Lions: they are somehow both an underdog and favorites at the same time, a perplexing blend of over and underachievement. The same feeling is certainly nascent in the hearts of England supporters ahead of this game–Sweden are a team with similar qualities to the Iceland squad that famously knocked them out in the 2016 European Championship. Sweden will play in a 4-4-2 with rigid defending, headlined by Andreas Granqvist, and the Swedes will look to attack from the wings, with Leipzig’s Emil Forsberg providing the quality out wide. England will certainly look to attack, playing the 3-5-2 that has invigorated them under Gareth Southgate. While Jamie Vardy looks set to miss out with a groin strain, the attacking prowess of Golden Boot leader Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, and Dele Alli will threaten the Scandinavians from the off. Don’t be surprised to see this England team pushed to extra time by the Swedes, though.
Prediction: England 2 – 1 Sweden AET
Russia vs. Croatia: Saturday July 7th at 2:00 p.m. Eastern
Russia leave their match against Spain with their strategy validated. Perfectly happy to sit back and soak up pressure to an extreme, Russia made it clear they are willing to take their chances with penalties. Croatia can’t match Spain’s possession, and their wide players such as Ivan Perisic and Ante Rebic thrive in transition play with space to run. Therefore, Russia will either have to play slightly higher or Croatia will have to be content with more possession than normal, which puts even more of an onus on Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric to produce in midfield. Croatia are a much more physical outfit than Spain, and should look to strikers Mario Mandzukic and Rebic to frustrate a Russia side that looked vulnerable against Uruguay’s physicality during the group stage. Modric’s penalty miss in the dying minutes of extra time gave Denmark a way back into the game; against Russia, Croatia will be desperate to put things away in 90 minutes, but if Igor Akinfeev can continue to play as brilliantly as he did against Spain, we could be in for another long haul.
Prediction: Russia 0-1 Croatia