04 July 2014

World Cup: Quarter-Finals Predictions, Day 1

Brazil's hopes rest squarely on Neymar's shoulders.
(Source: Danilo Borges)
The quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup take place this weekend, nicely coinciding with the Independence Day weekend, so even though the United States were eliminated in the last round, there should still be a major audience for the games. For the first time, all 8 sides that won their group have progressed to the quarters, and the only real surprise package is Costa Rica. For the first time this tournament, I'm going to have a shot at predicting the winners and score in each match; so if you fancy a little bet, whatever you do, don't follow my advice.

France vs Germany
The first quarter-final features a clash of central-European powerhouses, and two of the favorites coming in to the tournament. France have surprised some (mainly those who only follow soccer once every four years!) with their fluid play and goal-scoring, but have probably been the most impressive team of the tournament so far. Paul Pogba is receiving rave reviews worldwide (his agent claims he is now "worth twice as much as Gareth Bale") and Karim Benzema silencing his critics as the lead striker of team that has scored 10 goals in 4 games, all while putting up a Castrol Index score of 9.7. Germany, meanwhile, haven't quite lived up to their pre-tournament expectations, with their only convincing win the 4-0 defeat of Portugal in their first game. Much was made of Die Mannschaft's struggles to beat Algeria, but the African side were a lot better than many expected and very well organized, frustrating Germany well until extra-time. Arsenal's Mesut Özil came in for a lot of criticism on Twitter for a supposed sub-par performance, but, per WhoScored, had a match rating of 8.3 and made the team of the stage thanks to a goal, 4 chances created and three made tackles.

This will be an interesting match between a resurgent France and a Germany with a point to prove. Joachim Löw has revealed that seven of his squad are suffering from flu-like symptoms and usual first-choice center-back Mats Hummels has had a "negative setback" so will likely miss the match. After watching Manuel Neuer's suicidal runs and taking the illness into account, I'm going to back France to win this one, 2-1.

James Rodriguez has emerged as a favorite to
win the Golden Ball
(Source: copa2014.gov.br)
Brazil vs Colombia
The hosts are another side who have underperformed, needing penalties, and huge amounts of luck1, to beat Chile in the round of 16 after an underwhelming performance in winning their group. After several of the Seleção broke down in tears after the shootout win, Luiz Felipe Scolari has hired a psychologist to help his mentally prepare for a tough quarter-final. Despite Neymar being the golden boy in Brazil, it is Luiz Gustavo who has stood out most for pundits, and he will be absent from this game through suspension. Brazil will face Colombia, who other than France, have been the best side to watch and become a firm favorite of neutrals. Much of this is down to emerging superstar, "Big Game"2 James Rodriguez, the top scorer so far, and scorer of goal of the tournament so far. James is carrying a Castrol Index of 9.74 in to the match, second only to one of the defenders he will face; surprisingly, that defender is David "Sideshow Bob" Luiz, not his more established and defensively solid partner, Thiago Silva. Colombia are far from a one man team though; Pablo Armero, Juan Quintero, Teofilo Gutierrez and Jackson Martinez have all impressed, while in goal, David Ospina is a rumored-Arsenal target and has looked solid so far.

I fancy Colombia to end the host's involvement at this stage, with the game going 120 minutes. However, it wouldn't surprise me if this one went all the way to penalties, in which case it's a complete crapshoot, and the pressure may be too much for Brazil in a shootout. Either 2-1 to Colombia, or they advance on penalties.

1 Mauricio Pinalla has embraced his miss with a tattoo of the shot. I have no words.
2 Not his actual nickname, just one I'm trying to get to catch on.

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