By Joel Silverberg / @JoelSilverberg
We’re past the first round of the knockout stage at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia and we’re looking at a very different cast of characters in the quarterfinals than many thought would be there. Household names such as Argentina, Spain and Portugal all lost their round of 16 matches while defending champ Germany failed to advance past the group stage.
With the field down to eight teams here’s a preview of the quarterfinals for your entertainment (and for a chance to redeem myself after my initial bracket went horribly downhill).
Uruguay vs. France. Friday @ 10:00 AM EST.
Uruguay did well to contain Christiano Ronaldo and Portugal in its round of 16 win. Uruguay hasn’t won the World Cup since 1950 and most recently made the semifinals in 2010, when it finished fourth. France’s relentless offense exploded after falling behind early in the second half against Argentina. Benjamin Pavard might have made the shot of the tournament and Kylian Mbappé scored twice for France, which has looked solid through four games.
Brazil vs. Belgium. Friday @ 2:00 PM EST.
Brazil beat Mexico in a World Cup (again) while shutting out El Tri (also again). Neymar’s antics during the second half were greatly embellished, but Belgium will still need to cater its defense to offset his playmaking ability for Brazil’s offense. The Red Devils completed one of the wildest comebacks in World Cup history against Japan in the round of 16, including the game-winning goal coming on virtually the last play of the game. Romelu Lukaku is second in the race for the Golden Boot with four goals and will warrant a lot of focus from Brazil’s defense. Eden Hazard also has two goals and two assists. Belgium has the talent to win a game like this. After making the quarterfinals four years ago the Red Devils look poised for their first semifinal appearance in 32 years.
Sweden vs. England. Saturday @ 10:00 AM EST.
Sweden snuck by Switzerland despite losing the possession battle, being outshot and surviving 11 Swiss corner kicks. However, a win’s a win and Sweden took advantage of winning a difficult group that included Mexico and Germany to advance to the knockout stage. England nearly squandered its round of 16 game against Colombia before winning in a shootout to finally exercise some demons from a long history of penalty kick futility. England didn’t play its best, but should rebound in the quarters. Sweden’s only goal against Switzerland came off a mediocre shot that took a fortuitous bounce off the foot of a Swiss defender on its way to the net. Sweden has been out-possessed and outshot in its last three games. England will put a team like that away.
Russia vs. Croatia. Saturday @ 2:00 PM EST.
Croatia coasted through group play, which included a 3-0 beatdown of Argentina, before advancing to the quarterfinals on penalties over a very skilled Denmark squad. Now the Croatians are in the last eight for the first time since their third place finish in 1998 and just the second time overall since separating from Yugoslavia in the early ‘90s. Russia took advantage of the weakest group in the tournament to make it to the round of 16 and took advantage by upsetting Spain on penalty kicks. However, Russia’s 3-0 loss in group play to Uruguay showed this team is still a step behind the remaining field and Croatia should expose the flaws in the host squad.