World Cup Quarter Finals Preview

World Cup Quarter Finals

In what is proving to be a superb and surprising World Cup, England, Russia, Belgium and Uruguay have the opportunity to confirm their places in the semi-finals.

England v Sweden

England can build on their dramatic shoot-out triumph against Colombia by edging to another tight victory against solid, if unspectacular, Sweden.

The Swedes are certainly no mugs and qualified for Russia by finishing ahead of the Netherlands in their group, before knocking Italy out in the play-offs.

They then topped Group F, helping to eliminate Germany in the process, and recorded an impressive 3-0 victory against Mexico before edging to a 1-0 win over Switzerland in the round of 16.

They have kept three clean sheets in Russia and their success is built on excellent team spirit and a solid defence.

England 5.50 to beat Sweden 1-0

Whether that will be enough to beat Gareth Southgate’s vibrant, young side is debateable though and the momentum appears to be with England, as they seek a first World Cup semi-final appearance since 1990.

It looks certain to be another nail-biting and tight encounter but England have the edge in quality and should progress to the last four.

France v Uruguay

Uruguay have been one of the most impressive teams at the World Cup and their defensive solidity could be key against a youthful but inconsistent France side.

There is a sense of stability in the Uruguay squad under the guidance of the veteran manager Oscar Tabarez, who has been in charge of the national side since 2006.

Uruguay 4.50 to beat France

They were underwhelming in their first two group matches but hit their stride in the one-sided victory against hosts Russia, before producing a magnificent rear-guard action and scoring two quality goals to see off Portugal’s challenge in the round of 16.

In Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, they have two of the best strikers in the world while the defensive partnership of Atletico Madrid duo Jose Gimenez and Diego Godin is rock-solid.

A strong defence is usually required to win a World Cup and France, for all their attacking verve against Argentina, did manage to concede three goals to what was a poor opponent.

Kylian Mbappe was of course superb against Jorge Sampaoli’s ragged outfit, but there is no way the Uruguay defenders will afford the teenager so much room to run into.

Les Bleus produced some lack-lustre performances in the group stage – the grim goalless draw with Denmark was not in keeping with what has been an outstanding World Cup to date – and doubts remain about coach Didier Deschamps’ tactical acumen.

Four of the last five matches between the two teams have finished goalless and it looks set to be another hard-fought encounter this time, with one goal probably enough to win the match.

Russia v Croatia

Russia’s run to the quarter-finals has been one of the more unlikely stories of this World Cup but the hosts could stretch credibility even further by getting the better of Croatia in Sochi on Saturday.

Croatia have a habit of impressing in the group stages of competitions before imploding and, if their insipid display in the round of 16 clash with Denmark is anything to go by, that could be the case again this time.

Since reaching the semi-finals 20 years ago, Croatia had never got past the group stage until this summer, while at Euro 2016 they produced a poor display when losing to Portugal at the round of 16.

Russia 8.00 to beat Croatia and both teams to score

At the European Championship a decade ago hopes were high when Croatia defeated Germany, Austria and Poland in the group stage, before they contrived to lose to Turkey in the quarter-finals.

They undoubtedly have a squad packed full of talent but there was little of it on show against the Danes, with the lumbering Mario Mandzukic proving to be more of a liability than a focal point for Croatia’s attacks.

In contrast, Russia’s giant striker Artem Dzyuba has become a cult favourite with the home fans who cannot quite understand how their team have reached this stage.

Russia’s progress is following a very similar pattern to South Korea’s incredible run to the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup, which they co-hosted with Japan.

Just three weeks ago the Russia team were a laughing stock, but they took confidence from their 5-0 drubbing of Saudi Arabia and the lowest ranked side in the tournament produced a sterling defensive display to stifle Spain’s attacking threat in the round of 16.

They could shock Croatia on Saturday and seal an unlikely spot in the semi-finals.

Brazil v Belgium

Brazil’s progress to the quarter-finals has been the most serene with their 2-0 round of 16 victory against Mexico being relatively routine, compared with the penalty shoot-out drama endured by England, Russia and Croatia and the excellent comeback by Belgium against Japan.

Brazil remain the favourites to win the tournament, they can currently be backed at 3.90, but nagging doubts remain about their ability to succeed when the pressure is really on, as it undoubtedly will be in Kazan on Friday.

Belgium 3.70 to beat Brazil

Tite’s side have looked good in flashes but they were held to a draw by Switzerland in the group stage and laboured for long spells against Costa Rica, before two last-gasp goals put a gloss on the final scoreline.

Belgium’s team is packed full of talent and, when everything seemed to be against them, against Japan they held their nerve and turned on the style when it mattered most, to win one of the great games at this most memorable of World Cups.

Kevin de Bruyne has not reached his Manchester City form so far in Russia, but this could be the game for him to shine, while any side that possesses the likes of Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Thibaut Courtois, Vincent Kompany and Dries Mertens will always be hard to beat.

In a World Cup that has already seen a host of surprises, maybe a Belgium victory against the five-time winners would not be the biggest shock.