After three weeks of pulsating action and 56 exciting matches, the 32-team World Cup has narrowed down to eight teams who have made it to the quarterfinals. The stage is set and the battle lines are drawn as the remaining eight teams slug it out for a place in the semifinals.
Neymar’s Brazil are the favourites to win a record-extending sixth World Cup at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium on July 15 but France, Belgium and Uruguay are all in their side of the draw.
Gareth Southgate’s England are the only former winners in the bottom half of the draw, along with host nation Russia, Croatia and Sweden.
Uruguay vs France
It’s a battle between the team that knocked Lionel Messi’s Argentina out of the tournament and the side that shattered the hopes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal.
If the in-form lethal duo of Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez have raised high hopes for the Latin Americans, a gangling 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe with his raw pace and sublime skills has outpaced and outclassed his rival defenders and caught the eyes of the football pundits.
The Uruguay defense, spearheaded by captain Diego Godin and the likes of Jose Gimenez, Martin Caceres and Diego Laxalt, along with goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, have been almost impregnable so far and are expected to pose a big threat to Les Bleus hopes of breaching them with Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann.
However, Cavani is still doubtful for the big game after limping off against Portugal. Paul Pogba will hold the key in the midfield in the crunch game for France.
Brazil vs Belgium
With two of the current GOATs out of the tournament, Neymar is the biggest superstar in the Messi-Ronaldo era, who still has a chance to lift the coveted silverware. Brazil haven’t displayed their trademark “joga bonito” or the popular Samba soccer so far but they do the needful in scoring the match-winning goals at the right time to sail into the quarters.
On the other hand, Belgium and its ‘golden generation,’ spearheaded by Eden Hazard, have already started as favorites to win their elusive title and have made quite a high-flying start. However, their hard-fought victory over Japan came as a reality check for the all-conquering squad, who, some pundits feel, peaked too early in the tournament.
Manchester United star Romelu Lukaku is in red-hot form and has scored four goals so far. However, the Red Devils’ defense has been a cause of concern for them as apart from scoring heavily they also conceded a number of goals in each game, thanks to their vulnerable back four. The bench strength of both the sides are also good but Neymar is certainly the man whose performance will hold the key for both the teams.
Sweden vs England
In this all-European contest, a gung ho England will surely start as the favorites and going by their form so far, led by Harry Kane, the Three Lions have a good chance against the Swedes. Kane is already leading the golden boot tally with 6 goals while the likes of Raheem Stirling, Jesse Lingard and goalkeeper Jordan Pickford have already emerged as important cogs of the invincible wheel of good fortunes for Gareth Southgate’s young and talented team.
On the other hand, Sweden in the post-Ibrahimović era doesn’t have a single star player to pull them through but they have been playing a robust and rock-solid team game to make it to the quarterfinal stage. They are overcoming their lack of flair and talent with grit and determination to do well.
Russia vs Croatia
Russia have proved their critics wrong and turned out to be a giant-killer after knocking out a fancied Spain in the second round.
Led by a towering Igor Akinfeev under the bar, the Russians have made full use of playing at home and in front of a partisan home crowd to say the least.
However, Croatia are one of the most formidable as well as star-studded team in the competition. The magnificent midfield, marshalled by the other LM10, Luka Modric, has already toyed with Messi’s Argentina in the group stage and has been rolling like an unstoppable juggernaut.
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