We have reached the stage of the FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 where big men cry like girls and after Saturday four more teams would have been reduced to tears while an equal number will jump for joy towards the semi-finals.
The round of 16 was bitter-sweet for lovers of the beautiful game as two of the best players of their generations Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were giving their marching orders perhaps for the last time as both Argentina and Portugal crashed out of the tournament in a thrilling fashion.
Uruguay, France, Brazil, Belgium, Sweden, England, Russia and Croatia all remain. Well if anyone thought that this tournament had a clear-cut winner think again.
During the group stages, I remember saying that this will be an unforgettable World Cup as the first couple of results were in the bag.
As the tournament entered the knockout stage the upsets continued. Well if the defending champions Germany exiting at the hands of South Korea wasn’t enough to persuade football fans that this wasn’t a normal competition, maybe the host nation Russia sending the 2010 World Cup winners Spain packing have convinced them.
The variables are plenty. There is a big possibility that when all is said and done on July 15 the World Cup trophy could be bearing the name of a first-time champion or a champion who has not won the title in a while.
Based on the records of the teams still standing none has won the last three world tournaments and only three have ever won the competition.
After a 2-0 victory over a disappointing Portugal side Uruguay will turn their attention to arguably the most impressive team in these 2018 World Cup finals in France.
The Frenchmen booked their ticket to the quarterfinals with a very convincing 4-2 performance against Argentina which I believed at this stage has propelled them to favourites based on current form.
The only worry will be that they conceded two goals but despite that France were dynamic and definitely looked and played the part moving the ball swiftly and getting 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe on the end of a number of passes which led to him scoring a brace.
Uruguay, however, will be much harder opposition to break down having only conceded one goal so far and they could frustrate France if they decide to shut shop as Denmark did but with the likes of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani leading the attack, playing for spot kicks would be very surprising.
It will be a tight contest but given that Didier Deschamps’ men are now looking like a unit and not just raw talent scrimmaging in Paris I will give then the edge and if Mbappe, Griezmann and Paul Pogba show up it will be au revoir to Suarez and company.
Brazil versus Belgium is shaping up to be the game of the quarterfinals considering the depth and quality of both squads.
Brazil had the easier route to the final eight when they easily got past a Mexico side which offered little to no threat by a 2-0 margin.
Belgium, on the other hand, were staring a shock exit full in the face with an hour played versus Japan who were in dreamland having a two-goal lead.
The Japanese took their feet off the gas and allowed Belgium right back into the game. The Europeans scored two goals in quick succession before Nacer Chadli sealed the deal with the final kick of a game which looked destined for extra time and a possible penalty shoot-out, to give Belgium the 3-2 victory.
What is interesting to note is that Brazil have conceded one goal and haven’t trailed for the tournament while Belgium have conceded on four occasions playing very open football.
The samba boys have not yet hit full strength but with a game of this magnitude and their ability to somehow find goals from somewhere, it will make them hard to beat with Neymar Jr., Coutinho, Jesus and Willian set to lead the front line.
Belgium will also pose a big threat with Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne, and Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku and Marouane Fellaini as their potent weapons.
The third match will feature Sweden and England.
The three lions created history early this week when Eric Dier scored the winning penalty in the first shootout England has won at the World Cup.
The tournament’s leading goal scorer Harry Kane give England the lead in the 57th minute from the penalty spot versus Columbia who equalised in added time to force another half-hour of play before losing 4-3 on penalties.
I think England are starting to believe that maybe this could be their World Cup. Sweden will not be an easy team to beat but given the quality of the English side, one would definitely expect the Lions to continue roaring with Kane, Lingard and Sterling.
The final quarterfinal encounter will see the host nation Russia take on an impressive Croatia side. Can the fairytale story get any better? Or will it come to an end? Irrespective of the result Russia will walk away with a lot of positives from having this tournament in their backyard. I don’t think the hosts are quite ready to leave the dancefloor at their own party but Croatia have the quality players to march on to the semi-finals with ease. This will be very tricky for both teams.
Predictions: Uruguay 1-2 France; Brazil 2-1 Belgium; Sweden 0-2 England; Croatia 0-1 Russia.
Anmar Goodridge-Boyce is a 19-year-old sports journalist, IOC Young Reporter, football commentator with an associate degree in Mass Communication.