Previously I had predicted that the final four of this year’s World Cup would be Argentina, Brazil, Germany and Holland, and I am happy to report that they have not yet let me down … too much.
Brazil have hardly looked their best following their draw with Mexico in the group stages and then having to hang on for dear life to beat Chile in a penalty shoot-out in their last game.
Similarly, Germany expended a lot more effort than anticipated to beat Algeria 2-1 last time out, and France is expected to give them a much harder time of things when the teams clash on Friday. By contrast, France looked at relative ease in their 2-0 win over Nigeria, even if they left it late, so my top four may not be as secure as originally thought.
Argentina limped to victory over Switzerland as it took an injury-time winner from Angel Di Maria to separate the teams. And again, Saturday’s opponents, Belgium looked considerably more comfortable when they defeated the battling USA last time out.
Even the Dutch had to rely on, what is in my opinion, a blatant dive from Arjen Robben to beat Mexico. And the fact that Wesley Sneijder’s thunderbolt to level matters came as late as the 88th minute, hardly inspires confidence.
The Netherlands face Costa Rica on Saturday, who themselves had to dig deep to deny Greece in their last match as they, too, were made to rely on a penalty shoot-out to progress.
Brazil vs Colombia
Colombia made short work of Uruguay when the sides clashed last Saturday as a James Rodriguez double was enough to see off a side without their talismanic Luis Suarez. While many attribute Uruguay’s exit from the World Cup to Suarez’s absence in this game, they should bear in mind that Uruguay have a few marquee players of their own such as Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan, and captain Diego Godin was hardly a shrinking violet in the competition either.
What Colombia may lack in the way of a star-studded line-up, they more than make up for in passion. In fact, the only notable names in the squad are Fredy Guarin of Inter Milan and James Rodriguez who plays for Monaco.
Passion only tends to go so far though, and in the face of what is a truly sparkling team like Brazil, I fear this is the end of the road for the Colombians. Brazil boast a number of household names, such as Dani Alves (Barcelona), Thiago Silva (PSG), David Luiz (PSG & Chelsea), Ramires (Chelsea), Willian (Chelsea), Hulk (Zenit), and Neymar (Barcelona).
I agree that while a team sheet hardly makes a team, consider that Luiz Felipe Scolari has already won the World Cup with Brazil in 2002. And given that Brazil will rightly see Colombia as the considerable threat they are, means the hosts should raise their game to the level required.
The writing’s on the wall for this one and I say it’ll finish 3-1 in favour of the hosts.
France vs Germany
The French should have made light work of Nigeria on Monday as Paul Pogba finally netted his long-awaited first goal of the tournament, but both French goals were scored late on in a match heavily tipped in the European’s favour. The Africans eventually limped out of the competition in ignominious fashion as Joseph Yobo’s injury-time own goal allowed France to progress at their expense.
Karim Benzema is France’s top scorer and he goes head-to-head with Germany’s Thomas Muller. While Benzema has pace, power and technique, Muller continuously seems to be in the right place at the right time to make opponents pay dearly for allowing him space in the penalty area. In some ways, I liken him to what Filipo Inzaghi used to be for Italy – always in the right place, or making a deceptive run off the defensive line, and sometimes scoring with an erroneous body part, but immensely talented nonetheless.
Both teams are littered with stars, which always provides a great spectacle for the neutral fan. But let’s be honest – this is the World Cup, and there are no neutral fans at World Cup time. This match promises to be a titanic tussle between two former world champions, and while both have blown hot and cold at times in the competition, both will be red-hot when they meet at the weekend.
France can definitely give as good as they get, but I think Germany have just a little more in them – so I’m going for a slim 1-0 win to Germany in what should be an epic tussle.
Argentina vs Belgium
Is it not surprising to see how many household names there are in the Belgian squad? Hazard, Fellaini, Courtois, Kompany, Vertonghen, De Bruyne, Lukaku, Vermaelen, Mignolet, Mirallas, Januzaj – it almost reads like a World XI until you realize Ronaldo, Suarez, Di Maria, Aguero, Higuain and Messi are not there.
The only thing is, I just don’t think Belgium have lived up to the promise made by the names in their squad. Each of their victories have been by slender one-goal advantages, but they have WON all their games.
Argentina’s record in this World Cup tells a remarkably similar story to their Belgian counterparts – four wins from four matches, all by a solitary goal.
This is really a game that hangs in the balance as Belgium will enjoy a sort of home-ground advantage, if the Argentina/Switzerland match was anything to go by. And while both teams are studded with star players, neither can claim to have an advantage over the other.
Argentina have the illusive Messi, but it is possible to have him marked out of the game. Belgium may well assign two players to keep the diminutive genius at bay, but the thing about genius is that it only needs a moment to make history.
Belgium have the likes of De Bruyne, Lukaku, Mirallas and Hazard to call upon, but Argentina should have the defensive nous to cope with their threat.
I have to stick to my guns though and say Argentina will go on to win this match, if only by a goal, but a win is a win. 2-1 to Argentina, and it may yet go to penalties.
Netherlands vs Costa Rica
I’ve been saying for years that the Netherlands are the best team never to win a World Cup, and it’s only a matter of time before they do. And truth be told, they may never have a better opportunity to do so than at this World Cup.
The 5-1 victory over Spain in their opening Group B match was ample retribution for being outclassed in the 2010 World Cup final.
Arjen Robben seems to be the driving force in the Dutch side and his pacy, mazy runs often has defenses backtracking, too afraid to commit to challenges given his ability to change direction suddenly at speed.
They also have Robin van Persie to call upon, not to mention Wesley Sneijder and Memphis Depay, so Netherlands are at least as strong as the other World Cup protagonists.
Costa Rica have definitely surpassed my expectations. They’ve claimed eye-opening victories over Uruguay and Italy, but they have failed to repeat those performances against either England or Greece.
Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz have been in sparkling form for the Central Americans, but I just cannot see Costa Rica coping with the Netherland’s considerable threat – I’m going for 3-1 in favour of the Dutch.