The 2014 FIFA World Cup continues to deliver block buster performances that defy comprehension with records broken almost on a daily basis. Winning your second round match guaranteed you a sit at a table only for eight of the best teams in the world.
It’s Neymar against Rodriguez, its Benzema against Muller, its Hazard against Messi and its Campell against Robben. It is the World Cup Quarter-Final.
For the first time in history all winners of the eight groups made it to the Quarter-finals of the World Cup, many of the teams not surprising but for Costa Rica who have continued to impress. Least of their triumph was defeating Greece in the Round of 16, after all they had eliminated England and Italy to top their group. Next up it’s the formidable Dutch team, rejuvenated under new Manchester United Boss Louis Van Gaal who themselves had to come through a tough outing against a very determined Mexican team and in particular Guielmo Ochoa, one of the best goalkeepers at the tournament. Jose Luis Pinto has had 13 jobs in the last 10 years but you wouldn’t know that with the way the team has been performing, carrying out his instructions to perfection and making themselves very difficult to defeat. They have only conceded two goals all tournament. Star man Joel Campbell should be fit for the Costa Ricans as their answer to Arjen Robben, his performance would be key as they would look to catch Van Gaal’s side on the break. For Robben its much of the same terrorise and tantalize the opposition defence until a breakthrough arrives or in the alternative look to talismanic striker Robin Van Persie for the goals. If the World Cup has thought us anything so far, it’s that this game would be tight in the blazing heat and the Costa Ricans wouldn’t mind going all the way to a penalty shoot out.
France and Germany rekindle old rivalries on the biggest stage of them all, for Germany it’s a chance to reach yet another semi-final of a major tournament, for France it’s a chance to tread waters they have not tested since they won the tournament on home soil in 1998. The Germans you may say scrapped past the Algerians in the Round of 16 no less to their ability to throw away guilt edge chances, that’s where Thomas Muller comes in. 4 goals in the competitions so far and one away from James Rodriguez, he would fancy his chances against a French team who would come to play, a tactic that would favour the Germans attacking and possession football with Toni Kroos running the midfield. France got past Nigeria but only just with a late goal from Paul Pogba settling their nerves. They would need a better performance against the Germans to progress.
Finally Lionel Messi has dazzled at a major tournament not called the Under 20 World Cup. Having previously failed to light up the World Cup in 2006 and 2010, he has taken this tournament by the horn and neck and ankle. 4 goals in the tournament so far and distinguishing performances in all matches, surely this has to be his year. Cristiano Ronaldo has fallen by the way wide but a new star has also emerged in James Rodriguez, Messi would want to prove he is still here to stay. He was the difference against a bullish Swiss side who pushed them to within two minutes of penalties, setting up Angel Di Maria for the winning goal. Against the Belgians who have not really gotten into their stride with a string of unimpressive performances so far, the Argentines would look to exploit their inexperience at this level while Mark Wilmots would be looking to prove that this golden generation is here to stay. They got past the United States of America but only just, Secretary of Defence, as he has been called, Tim Howard with an heroic performance to keep the Belgians at bay for so long. It should be a tight affair with both teams parading star players but a little bit of magic here or there should be the difference.
Perhaps the most anticipated match of the Quarter Final round Brazil v Columbia, poster boy Neymar v James Rodriguez. Brazil have not lifted this World Cup with their performances so far but if the last time they won the competition in 2002 is anything to go by then the end would justify the means. Against Chile they struggled albeit after Neymar was kicked off the park, the defence which I believe is still the best at the tournament looked tired and shaky, there were no penetrating passes up front with Fred and later Jo looking dismal in front of goal. For the most part Columbia have impressed, doing so without talisman and Real Madrid target Radamel Falcao. Well they have a new talisman, James Rodriguez, 5 goals 4 assist, superstar looks and a country on his shoulders, he has not disappointed. His supporting cast deserve an Oscar as well, Cuardado, Quintero and Armero have all shone. The match promises to be anything but a cagey affair with both teams coming to play. Brazil with everything to lose and nothing really to gain, after all they are meant to win the tournament on home soil and Columbia with nothing to lose and everything to gain, get ready for end to end action with no team looking to back down. Managers Jose Pekerman and Felipe Scolari are as experienced as they get with years managing at the top level and their tactics would be key. The Columbians are less likely to kick Neymar but then again the Brazil defence has not faced a more skilled player in Rodriguez at the tournament so far. Expect fireworks with probably Brazil being too strong for them.
The business end of the World Cup is upon us and only three wins stand in the way of all 8 teams in the quarters……do not bet against anyone, even Costa Rica.