Geared up for the Quarterfinals
Two days with no soccer seems like two days too many during the World Cup. I'm glad the quarters get underway tomorrow, but I wish FIFA would give us one game per day from here on out. In any event, I think there are two marquee matchups and two intriguing matchups in the round of 8.
Brazil vs. Netherlands
Brazil has been in fine form, but what else would you expect? They face a tough quarterfinal test in the Dutch, who have won all four games at the World Cup, and are unbeaten in the last 23 matches. Brazil eliminated the Oranje in 1994 and 1998.
There has been a bit of unrest in the Dutch camp this week. Reports say striker Robin van Persie, who was upset at being subbed out against Slovakia, told media outlets that his teammate, Wesley Sneijder, should have been replaced instead of him. It's amazing that there can be these kind of ego-driven quarrels at this stage of such a big tournament. The team has done nothing but won, yet one player is upset about being pulled out for the final few minutes of match.
Brazil is talent-laden, but they will be a bit thin in the midfield. Ramires is suspended after two yellow cards, Felipe Melo has a hurt ankle, and Elano is out with an ankle injury. There are still stars galore on the Brazilian side, and they will have to be in top form to get past the Dutch.
On the Dutch side, Arjen Robben, who is lethal with his left foot, should be in better shape after missing some time with a hamstring injury. Wesley Sneijder is a wonderful attacking player, and van Persie is also quite dangerous.
Brazil is coached by Dunga, a former defensive star. The team has posted two consecutive clean sheets. Running the streak to three will be an enormous challenge against the attack-minded Dutch. This should be one of the most exciting games of the Cup.
My prediction: Brazil
Uruguay vs. Ghana
This is probably the least attractive of the quarterfinal matchups. Of course, it would have drawn the most interest if the U.S. had just…forget about it.
I have been impressed by Uruguay in this Cup. I certainly didn't start out saying “I'm going to enjoy watching Uruguay play.”, but their strikers, Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez, are for real. Uruguay is usually a tough-minded, defensive team, and they did not concede a goal in winning their group. They skirted past South Korea thanks to a marvelous strike by Suarez.
Ghana, on the other hand, have been very opportunistic. In their first game, they received a late penalty-kick to defeat Serbia. After that, they tied and lost before taking advantage of some poor defending to defeat the Americans.
I think you can see which way I'm heading on this one. I know Ghana is carrying the torch for all of Africa, but I don't see them having enough to get past Uruguay. Their best bet may be trying to take it to penalties.
My prediction: Uruguay
Germany vs. Argentina
Without a doubt, this is a marquee matchup. Two countries with great soccer history and plenty of success. These two teams faced off in the quarterfinals in 2006. The game was won by Germany in penalty-kicks, and it was marred by a fracas between the teams after the victory. There are many players on the rosters who were involved in the skirmish, and the bad blood has festered over the past four years.
The Germans have had more success on the world stage in recent years, but the Argentineans have looked unbeatable during this tournament. Germany finds themselves in the underdog role for a change. This “upstart” German team has been very exciting in a couple of matches, thrashing Australia in their opener, and dismantling England in the round of 16.
I'm looking forward to this game because I have no idea what to expect. Argentina has the best player on the field (Messi) and plenty of talent alongside him. Germany has one of the all-time great World Cup scorers (Klose) and a lot of very exciting younger players (Muller, Ozil).
This one is a toss-up.
My prediction: Argentina
Spain vs Paraguay
This isn't a blockbuster matchup, but I'll watch any game that Spain plays. David Villa is my favorite to win the golden boot for most goals in this World Cup. He has scored some great ones, including the strike that beat Portugal.
Paraguay hasn't been particularly impressive, and needed penalties to dispatch Japan. This should be a case of the team with an overwhelming talent advantage moving on, but strange things have happened at this World Cup.
Having said that, I will be stunned if Spain loses this one.
My prediction: Spain