By Niall Clarke and Neil Leverett
- The Britwatch Football team give their quarter-final predictions for the World Cup
- France vs Uruguay, Brazil vs Belgium, Croatia vs Russia and of course England vs Sweden
MOSCOW, RUSSIA – After a pulsating round of 16 the World Cup is down to its last eight participants. Who will advance to the semi-finals? The Britwatch Football team have had their say.
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France vs Uruguay (Friday, 15:00)
Niall: This is a match of great attack vs great defence, making it possibly the most intriguing stylistic match-up of the last eight.
19 year old Kylian Mbappe announced himself to the World Cup with the best individual performance of the tournament against Argentina. The Frenchman terrorized the Argentine defence with his electric pace and to top it off he grabbed two goals in their 4-3 win. However it was not just Mbappe that had a great game as Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann out in stand-out performances too. It was the first time we saw what Les Bleus are capable of in this tournament after a lacklustre group stage performance.
Uruguay were predictably solid against Portugal with Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez holding the fort defensively to largely keep Cristiano Ronaldo and co out. The difference came up top though as Edinson Cavani and Louis Suarez finally becoming a tandem. The former netted twice in their 2-1 win over Portugal, the latter caused havoc with some brilliant hold-up play and movement. Unfortunately for Uruguay though, Cavani picked up an injury and will not feature on Friday.
France got a lot of room to counter attack against Argentina which favours their style to a tee. Uruguay will not afford them that space and will sit back and let France keep the ball and dictate. That means the likes of Pogba will be a key to unlocking the best defence in the competition as they will need his full passing range. Uruguay will not pose as much of a threat going forward without Cavani but Suarez is still a huge threat just by himself, and they will use him as an outlet for their counter attacks as France push forward.
This is a ridiculously close match to call, but ultimately Cavani’s injury may be the difference. We know how well Uruguay can defend, but going forward they have not looked that impressive. France will struggle to break them down, but it may be a case where one goal might be enough to see them through to the semi finals.
Prediction: France 1-0 Uruguay
Neil: I am very hopeful for this one, but the game could likely come down to a very cat and mouse game with Uruguay looking to snub out the very potent French attack as La Celeste’s best chance to knock out Les Bleus.
Whilst both sides have the very best front lines in world football, the game I feel will be decided in the midfield battle ground, in a fixture where conveniently both France and Uruguay have a fierce rugby rivalry. Lucas Torreira has been impressive in front of the back four having been brought in from the second game of the group stages, with Arsenal set to his next destination to Premier League shores.
Like Niall, I agree this will be very close and tough to call, but even though France exposed the soft underbelly of the Argentinian last weekend, this is a far bigger test. Having conceded just once all tournament I have a sneaky feeling for Oscar Tabarez’s men which would be a nonetheless big upset however it might take extra time to do it.
Prediction: France 1-2 Uruguay AET
Brazil vs Belgium (Friday, 19:00)
Niall: This is perhaps the most exciting match on paper as two of the pre-tournament favourites square off.
Brazil had early troubles against Mexico, but once they settled they cruised to a 2-0 victory. It still feels the five time champions have not yet kicked into full gear despite being very solid since their 1-1 draw with Switzerland. Neymar got on the scoresheet against Mexico, but he is yet to show his best in this tournament as has Gabriel Jesus. Philippe Coutinho has been Brazil’s stand out player and it feels like the Barcelona man will be key to their chances once again.
Belgium have been the tournament’s highest scorers with 12 goals in the four matches they have played so far, and they needed that firepower to overcome Japan. The Red Devils found themselves 2-0 down to the Japanese before realising they had a big physical advantage and overturned the match to win 3-2. Belgium have a lot of creativity and a lethal striker up front in Romelu Lukaku but there are chinks in their armour defensively.
Brazil have not shown many weaknesses, but they are yet to be tested by one of the elite teams in the competition. Belgium will no doubt test their defence but conversely Brazil will expose their weaknesses. It still feels Roberto Martinez has not got the best out of the talent at his disposal and that will become an issue against a team like Brazil. It will be a highly entertaining game, but the South Americans will be too solid for the Belgians on this occasion.
Prediction: Brazil 3-1 Belgium
Neil: This should be very, very good. After surviving an almighty scare against Japan on Monday night, the Reds Devils fought back superbly to win with virtually the last kick of the game.
That game again proved the Belgian defence has its’ vulnerabilities, which Brazil will be bent on exposing here. But Selecao have their own issues for this game however, with their talismanic midfielder Casemiro suspended. That might see Manchester United fans get a glimpse of their newest signing in Fred, but in the short term for Friday, Tite’s men will need to temporarily plug the gaps.
Both sides have got goals in them by the bucket, but whilst Belgium had to move into top gear to beat Samurai Blue, I still feel Brazil have another few to work through. They will need to be in top gear to progress and despite the absence of the influential Real Madrid man, it might be curtains for Martinez’s men.
Prediction: Brazil 2-1 Belgium
Sweden vs England (Saturday, 15:00)
Niall: England will keep up their bid for a first World Cup final since 1966 when they face bogey team Sweden in the quarter finals.
The Three Lions finally won a penalty shoot-out after an intense 120 minutes against Colombia and it feels like their confidence is as high as it has ever been. England largely controlled a scrappy game in Moscow but an overall lack of creativity was an issue for Gareth Southgate’s side. They will need all the creativity they can get when they face a well organised Swedish side. England did look solid defensively though and showed a great mentality to get over the line after staring a last 16 exit in the face.
Sweden put in a very Swedish performance to get past Switzerland 1-0 in their last 16 tie. Emil Forsberg scored the only goal as they frustrated Switzerland with another solid defensive performance. The Swedes are very much a team rather than a group of individuals and it is that camaraderie that has seen them through to the last eight of the World Cup.
And that is what makes them a difficult test for England. This Swedish side have been tough to break down and they will sit back and look to catch England on the counter. It feels as if the first goal is crucial in this game, especially for England so they can get Sweden to open up. This could go all the way again, but England will grab a goal in extra time.
Prediction: Sweden 0-1 England AET
Neil: I like many millions of fans across the land went through the ringer on Tuesday night, but finally coming out on the winning end of penalties was one of the sweetest feelings football has ever given me.
The Lions go again looking for a first major tournament semi-final berth since 1996, but in order to do so will likely be in for another nervy afternoon in a red-hot Samara this Saturday afternoon.
Whilst England will likely dominate possession, with the Swedes reduced to counter-attacking football, the lesser threat from Janne Andersson’s side could work either way. If England can break through early, the obstinate Swedes will be forced to go on the offensive but I have my doubts whether that will happen.
Southgate may just need one moment of magic to forge the difference. I hate making predictions now we are in the latter stages of the tournament but my gut says we will just scrape through, though we could easily be denied – well, I had to say that.
Prediction: Sweden 1-2 England
Russia vs Croatia (Saturday, 19:00)
Niall: The hosts look to continue their fairytale World Cup campaign when they face Croatia for a place in the semi finals.
Croatia were disappointing against Denmark in the round of 16, but they managed to come through on penalties after a tense match. Croatia are another side where we have seen a lot of quality in patches, but they have rarely kept it up for a full 90 minutes. The midfield duo of Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric is perhaps the best in the competition and if they can influence a game then Croatia are a top side.
Russia provided one of the shocks of the tournament when they defeated Spain on penalties. It was a disciplined and defensive performance from the hosts, and spurred on by their home crowd they managed to overcome one of the tournament favourites. With home advantage the Russians have performed above their usual level and are having a run similar to the South Koreans in 2002.
Can they keep it up? That is the big question when heading into the game against Croatia. The hosts will likely sit back and look to frustrate the Croats, much like they did against Spain, but the difference here is that Croatia has more options than just passing. That could be the key here and if Croatia get the first goal then they should see off the Russian challenge.
Prediction: Croatia 2-0 Russia
Neil: By this time we will know three sides into the last four, with just one of these nations to take their place in next week’s semi’s.
Russia took advantage of nothing short of Spanish arrogance last weekend in the host’s capital city, and were deservedly knocked out on penalties. If the La Roja had simply been more offensive however, the story could have been very different.
Vatreni will not have the same issues in terms of passing inexorably sideways though, which for me can only end in one outcome. By this stage home support will be fever pitch, but despite a frenzied home support for the Russian Bear, Croatia will edge through, though I do see the hosts scoring.
Prediction: Croatia 2-1 Russia
The World Cup Quarter Finals kick off with Uruguay vs France on Friday at 3pm BST
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