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Russia World Cup 2018 Quarterfinals Preview

France v Uruguay

France has shown the world how scary their attackers are. The rising superstar Kylian Mbappe dismantled Argentina’s defense single-handedly in round of 16, and they still have Antoine Griezmann eagerly seeking opportunity to shine. Actually, it is not just the attackers: the entire French squad looks scary. With world class talent in every position, this team is arguably the strongest team of the last 8. Just think about these big names: Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, Raphael Varane… I don’t know what’s going to happen in this World Cup but this team is unbeatable in FIFA. I can tell you that.

Uruguay, however, do not have a world class midfielder to balance the team. The two hot prospects Vecino and Torreira certainly have the potential to be great players but they’re just too young this time. It requires extraordinary mental toughness for them to step up and take over a game like this, so I would not expect them to take the center stage, but I would love to see that happen. Suarez is doing well in this tournament but Cavani’s injury is going to drag him down a little bit. With all that being said, I expect Uruguay to fully utilize the tactic of counter attack, which is dominating this tournament. Uruguay’s defense is strong: Godin and Gimenez duo helped Atletico to only concede 0.58 goals per game in La Liga last season, so if France somehow fail to penetrate Uruguay’s defense effectively, Uruguay will have a bigger chance of winning.

Personally I believe that if France win this one they’re going to win the whole thing. Historically France is the nemesis of Brazil, and if France and Belgium meet in the semifinal Belgium is going to be a little sluggish. In the final, Croatia and England are the two teams that are able to pose threat, and anything can happen in a final. But it is obvious that if France reach the final they are definitely the favorites.

For the quarterfinal game, however, because I am supporting Brazil in this tournament, I would like to see an upset. I expect Uruguay to beat France in overtime 2-1. (Although logically I would say France 2-1 Uruguay but… eh.)

 

Brazil v Belgium

After the epic comeback against Japan, Belgium certainly demonstrated that they are a quality team that could possibly lift the trophy on July 15th. Head coach Roberto Martinez finally figured out how to deal with Belgium’s once messy backline. Although his tactic with 3 defenders didn’t work so well against Japan, but it is a viable plan B when Belgium’s opponent doesn’t have good wingers. Romelu Lukaku looked like the best striker in the world in previous games. As a United fan I am happy to see it but I am also a little confused because he didn’t look like he is that good with United. If you ask me earlier this season can Romelu Lukaku win 1v1s against Thiago Silva, I would give you a big no, but now I think Lukaku may actually win the matchup and create enough spaces for Belgium to employ. KDB and Hazard can give any team massive headaches. Hazard is a very underrated player who I believe is one of the top 5 best players in the world, and some may argue that KDB should be on that list as well. I agree.

Brazil looks like a proper title contender as always. Their 4-3-3 formation is very balanced: Neymar-Jesus-Willian trio is extremely agile. Coutinho can also pose threats from both inside and outside of the box. The only problem they’re having is that Casemiro won’t play in this game, Fernandinho will probably take his place. Fernandinho had choked in big games before, which can be a weak link, but he knows KDB well as they are teammates in Manchester City, hopefully that knowledge can help him out a bit. Brazil have underrated players as well and here I’ll introduce two: Augusto and Paulinho contributed a lot in Brazil’s qualifier success. Before his injury Augusto was a starter in Tite’s squad. His playmaking skill is extraordinary. Paulinho helped Barcelona to get out of the preseason setbacks last season, and did really well protecting the space behind Messi. Although Paulinho used to play in China, and Augusto is still playing in China, they’re still top tier players and can make a difference in games like this.

Generally speaking Brazil is a better team than Belgium. Although Belgium’s lineup looks amazing and maybe even has more talent and star power than Brazil’s, Belgium is still in the challenger’s seat. Brazil will win 3-2.

Russia v Croatia

People were talking about Putin and his possible shenanigans after their win against Spain, but people, you have to realize that Russia is actually a pretty good team in this tournament. For the 32 teams that qualified, anyone can beat anyone. That’s why we love this game. I don’t want to see a matchup like the NBA finals which everybody knows who’s going to win. Anyways, Russia is a good team. Cheryshev was amazing  in terms of making plays and determining tempo. Russian strikers can convert chances into goals, and in general this Russia team can really punish their opponent for not being clinical. I believe that it is partially because of the home field advantage, as the crowd can make huge impact in knockout rounds, and you have to respect Russian players’ fighting will. Morale can close the gap in skill, and we’re seeing it from this Russia team.

However, Croatia may be too strong for Russia to handle. Their midfield is just beyond amazing: Modric is a great player. He is the best midfielder in the world right now. He should fall in the Zidane category. He is a true master. And, the scary thing is, he also has Rakitic and Kovacic by his side to help out. It is just impossible to cut off Croatia’s midfield connections. It is just impossible. Croatia’s defense is strong as well, it is structured and physical. I think the only way to outplay Croatia’s system is to keep pressuring their wings with speed. Which means, to me, only France is capable of stopping them. This game should be an easy win for Croatia if this game is shenanigans-free. 4-0, Croatia.

Sweden v England

Except talking about Putin, people also talk about how Sweden is a better team without Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Now, this is going to be the game that helps people realize how important and irreplaceable Zlatan Ibrahimovic is. If Zlatan’s in this game, although he may not score another ridiculous bicycle kick, he could reduce Sweden’s pressure in midfield and score in crucial moment. If Zlatan played Sweden’s last game against Switzerland Sweden would have a much easier win. Sure, these statements can’t be proven, but you did see how Toivonen struggled to find space, and how lonely Forsberg looked in the midfield. Toivonen is no Henrik Larsson, and Forsberg is no Ljungberg. Sweden is winning games but this team is not balanced at all. They rely too much on the efficiency of attack. People will miss Zlatan Ibrahimovic after this game.

England will not give Sweden too much space to utilize. Despite the fact that they are inconsistent, they are talented and motivated, and more importantly, they have better players. Sterling and Rashford are just faster than Swedish defenders, and Harry Kane is just better all-round. However, I think England actually have a lot of issues that need to be fixed. For example, they are not clinical in front of goal; they don’t really know how to come back from behind; and they tend to get too excited too easily or too early that they always overestimate themselves. You’ll never know when these hidden problem is going to kick in in a crucial match like this.

I expect this game to be quite boring. I think both teams will fail to score in 120 minutes and it will go to penalty shoot-out. This is totally 50-50 but I say England wins this time. Just because they won last time, and they failed to win any time before last time.

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