Image from FIFA.com
The World Cup final is drawing ever nearer and we now know the first two teams that will battle it out for a final place after France and Belgium both won today. For the first time ever in a World Cup the semi finals will not involve Germany or Argentina or Brazil!!!! This world cup has delighted and shocked, it has entertained and disappointed, it has had everything and the biggest surprise could still be waiting to happen.
France and Uruguay opened up proceedings in the quarter finals stage. It was the unstoppable force against the immovable object as France’s juggernaut attack met the brick wall that is Diego Godin and the Uruguay defence. Uruguay’s task wasn’t helped when it was confirmed that Cavani would miss the game. There was no surprise in tactics in this one as France looked to get the goal that would open up Uruguay and Uruguay looked to stay tight and hit the French on the break. It set up for an intriguing game. It took France 40 minutes to break through the Uruguay’s brick wall when a clever free kick from Griezmann found the head of Varane to give them a 1-0 lead. The goal didn’t bring Uruguay out and without Cavani, Suarez cut a frustrated figure. France doubled their lead on the hour mark when Griezmann hit a long range effort tamely towards the goal but Fernando Muslera made a mess of the save and the ball slipped past him. France are quietly going about their business in this World Cup and after dispatching Argentina and Uruguay are the new favourites to lift the trophy. They didn’t really need a big performance from anyone today and still made it through with ease.
Goals, Goals, Goals that’s what we were expected from the second quarter final. We didn’t get that but we got a great game. Brazil and Belgium, both teams full of attacking talent but it felt that the winners of the game would be the teams whose defence stood up to the test. Belgium made the early break though with a Fernandinho own goal from Nacer Chadli’s corner. They doubled their lead on the half hour mark when Lukaku led a quick break he gave the ball to De Bruyne and he lashed the ball into the back of the net. Brazil got one back with 14 minutes left to set up a grandstand finish when Augusto ran into the box unmarked and Coutinho found him to give Brazil hope but it was all in vain. I have said for most of this World Cup that no team managed by Roberto Martinez would win a World Cup no matter how talented his squad was. Today he seemed to finally admit he has been wrong with his insitance on playing De Bruyne deep. Pushing him further caused Brazil all sorts of problems and it also brought out the best in Hazard (who was brilliant all night) and Lukaku, The three front men wondered all over the pitch and each of them at one point led Belgium on a dangerous attack. Brazil came up against a good side for the first time and lost. It wasn’t really a shock, they hadn’t been that good and their reliance on Neymar and his theatrics finally caught up with them.
On a quick note on the above. Neymar should be nowhere near any conversations of best player in the World while Ronaldo, Messi, De Bruyne and Hazard are playing the way they are playing.
With the exit of Brazil and Uruguay the World Cup is now the European Championship.
In the first of the quarter finals England take on Sweden. England will be playing in the Quarter Finals for the first time since 2006 and will looking to make their first World Cup semi final appearance for 28 years. England are heavy favourites for this game but that is simply because they are England. England’s record against Sweden is not good, they have only won twice in the last 15 games. Sweden will be looking for their first semi final since 1994. The two side have met twice in the World cup with both meetings ending in a draw.
The final quarter final sees Croatia take on hosts Russia. Russia have surprised everyone on their run to the quarter finals. Russia will obviously have home advantage, something that served them very well in their penalty shootout victory over Spain. Croatia also squeezed though the last round after a Penalty shootout victory of their own over Denmark. Russia had never made it out of the Group Stage while known as Russia, they did make it to the Semi’s in 1966 when then the Soviet Union. Croatia’ best finish was third in 1998 and they have fancied themselves to go better at this tournament.
Couple of close games tomorrow and probably won’t be the most exciting days football. All four teams will be looking at this as a huge chance to make the Semi Finals and Final, in a tournament draw that is highly unlikely to happen again. There will be huge pressure on all four of the sides as media and fans are now expecting so much.
As far as England are concerned this opportunity is probably 4 years ahead of schedule but still not an opportunity to be sniffed at. England did well against Colombia, it was not a performance that will live long in the memory but the shootout will not be forgotten in a hurry. What they must do know is take that positive feeling and put into the first 15 minutes of the game against Sweden. A confident, fast start from England will help settle the nations nerves. A Harry Kane goal wouldn’t go a miss either!!!
COME ON ENGLAND!!!!!!!