Thursday, July 5, 2018 3:21 pm
As the quarter-final matches of the ongoing World Cup kick off on Friday at the different venues in Russia, concerned football fans and neutrals would be guaranteed nothing, but spectacular football.
If the Round of 16 matches were action-packed, the expected brilliance from the upcoming quarter-final pairings would without any iota of a doubt, provide fans with performances that will keep them at the edge of their seats.
The showdown between Les Bleus of France, winners of the 1998 FIFA which they hosted — and La Celeste Olímpica of Uruguay, winners of the 1930 and 1950 editions of the World Cup — will set the ball rolling.
Coach Didier Deschamps of France and Oscar Tabarez of Uruguay would have to go the extra mile to coax the best out of their players in the win-or-be-eliminated match that would certainly guarantee the winner a place in the semi-finals.
Uruguay’s approach in their opening match against Egypt was more on the negative side because of their ultra-defensive approach, but the South Americans have gradually shown their true colours.
France have been more dynamic, but showed vulnerability as they seemed to lack ideas on how to breakdown Denmark, after the Scandinavian country tightened their defence in the final group game which ended goalless.
The South Americans are shrewd old defenders, having conceded their first goal of the year against Portugal in the last 16. On paper, the contrast suggests this could be one of the games of the tournament.
Head-to-head, the draw has been the most common result over the years. Their previous four meetings have ended in draws, while Uruguay have won two and lost one. They have met thrice in a World Cup before with two draws and one victory for Uruguay back in 1966.
Brazil vs Belgium
Brazil, for all their flair, have not looked like they have hit full tilt at the tournament yet because of Coach Tite’s pragmatic approach.
Belgium, meanwhile, started out the tournament like a house on fire and have since simmered down a bit. In the last 16 against Japan, Coach Roberto Martinez had to prove his worth against the Blue Samurais of Japan; when the Asian underdogs surged into a two-goal lead.
But that Belgium seared back to win 3-2 will go a long way to restoring full confidence. Brazil have been tested to this extent just once against Switzerland in the group stage, but they couldn’t engineer a way out and had to settle for a draw that ultimately changed nothing for either side en route to the quarters.
But the Samba Boys are five-time champions – and they should not be written off.
Head-to-head, Brazil have lost to Belgium just once in four meetings, in 1963. They’ve won all the others, including a 2-0 victory in the last 16 at the 2002 World Cup.
Sweden vs England
Sweden have not endeared themselves to football fans with their style of play, but they are in the quarter-finals for the first time since the USA ’94 World Cup where they won the bronze medal.
But if they can frustrate their quarter-final opponents as much as they’ve stifled all the others and keep their cool, they can fancy their chances against England looked.
England on the other hand having buried their penalty shootout jinx at the World Cup after years of disappointments have grown in confidence and look poised to pick the semi-finals ticket at the expense of the hard fighting Swedes.
Head-to-head, the two sides are well acquainted with each others style of play. England have won eight, drawn nine and lost seven.
Both their World Cup encounters (2002 and 2006) ended in scoring draws, but neither of those came in a knockout scenario.
Russia vs Croatia
The hosts are the most unlikely contenders for the quarter-finals, but it’s been that kind of World Cup.
Russia were written off before the tournament started, coming into it ranked below even Saudi Arabia.
Yet they’ve booted out 2010 champions Spain on penalties and hold the joint-largest margin of victory after their 5-0 trouncing of the Saudis in the opening match in Moscow.
Croatia are perennial dark horses, but had to battle for their spot through one of the worst penalty shootouts in recent memory against stubborn Denmark.
With a nation behind them at last, Russia have every reason to believe they are in with a chance.
Head-to-head, the sides have met three times, two of those games ended in a draw with Croatia winning the other. Their most recent meeting finished 3-1 to the Croats in a 2015 friendly.
Chris Ngwodo, a public affairs commentator described the upcoming showdown between France and Uruguay as a match that could swing either way.
Ngwodo told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) said that the quarter pairings would certainly live up to the bated expectations of fans.
He stressed that the likely absence of Edison Cavani due to a calf injury from the opening match on Friday would not dilute its complexion.
“Even with Cavani as an injury doubt, Uruguay will prove difficult to beat as usual in spite of France’s firepower.
“France should ultimately prevail, while Russia will seek to continue its fairytale run but will probably fall short against Croatia.
“Belgium fresh from their morale boosting win over Japan, have what it takes to halt the Brazilian juggernauts.
“Sweden are confident of overcoming England, but the Three Lions may have a trick or two up their sleeves,’’ Ngwodo said.