Your ultimate guide to the World Cup quarter-finals

Things are getting down to the business end at the FIFA World Cup with quarter-final action to kick off on Friday.

Kane Neymar

Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, Harry Kane, Neymar Source: Getty Images

Uruguay v France

Date, time and venue: Friday, July 6 - Nizhny Novgorod Stadium - LIVE on SBS from 11pm AEST (kick-off at midnight)

World Cup head-to-head: Played: 3 | Uruguay: 1 | Drawn: 2 | France: 0 

After a rather subdued group stage yielded just three goals, France found their feet in the round of 16, coming from behind to defeat Argentina 4-3 in Kazan.

The scoreline did not reflect the nature of the match in truth, with Didier Deschamps’ men looking both untroubled in defence and clinical on the counter, thanks in large part to the blistering speed of Kylian Mbappe.

Les Bleus’ star-studded squad will look to the likes of Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann and Mbappe to create some openings against their South American opponents.

That however, will be easier said than done, with Uruguay a genuine dark horse, buoyed by their impenetrable tournament-best defence and devastating strike partnership between Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani - though the latter is likely to miss out through injury.

Oscar Tabarez’s flat 4-4-2 has newfound creativity in the centre of the pitch thanks to Matias Vecino and the emergence of 22-year-old Arsenal target Lucas Torreira. 

This, coupled with his experienced backline, have presented opposing attacks with rarely little weakness to exploit - as Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal found out for much of their last-16 encounter.

Keys to victory: After making the most of just 32 per cent possession against Portugal, Tabarez will no doubt order his men to sit back once more, press when necessary and pounce in transition through Suarez.

As a result, France will need to abandon the counter-attacking tactics employed against Lionel Messi’s men in favour of a more possession-based approach. 

With the likes of Mbappe and Griezmann looking to stretch Uruguay and create holes in the centre of the pitch for Pogba and Giroud to exploit, N’Golo Kante and co. will need to be on high alert should La Celeste counter through Nahitan Nandez and Rodrigo Bentancur.

Players to watch: Despite both players likely to never cross paths on the pitch, bad blood exists between fellow forwards Suarez and Griezmann after the Barcelona star accused the Frenchman of pretending to be Uruguayan.

With Griezmann known to have a special fondness for the South American nation, Suarez’s comments may spur him on to put feelings aside and find the back of the net from open play for the first time in Russia.


Brazil v Belgium

Date, time and venue: Saturday, July 7 - Kazan Arena - LIVE on SBS from 3am AEST (kick-off at 4am)

World Cup head-to-head: Played: 1 | Brazil: 1 | Drawn: 0 | Belgium: 0

With both Brazil and Belgium boasting similar styles of attacking football, this mouth-watering quarter-final has all the makings of an instant World Cup classic.

Notwithstanding Neymar’s excessive antics, the 26-year-old grabbed both a goal and an assist in the Selecao’s 2-0 last-16 victory over Mexico.

Tite’s men have conceded just one goal so far in Russia and have complemented this defensive solidity with a squad stacked with goalscoring talent in each position.

Thiago Silva, Paulinho and early Golden Ball contender Philippe Coutinho have all found the back of the net, with the latter forming a formidable partnership behind Neymar on the left side of midfield.

But while goals may not be an issue for the five-time world champions, scoring more than Belgium might, with Roberto Martinez’s men averaging three goals per game.

Japan found out the hard way in Rostov-on-Don, squandering a 2-0 second-half lead to lose 3-2 courtesy of Nacer Chadli’s dramatic 94th-minute winner. 

The Red Devils will take full confidence from their performance - a victorious two-goal comeback not seen at the Word Cup in almost 50 years - and will fancy themselves to break a Brazilian backline yet to face a side of such quality.

Keys to victory: Controlling the midfield will be central to either side coming out on top. 

Marouane Fellaini and Thomas Meunier will look to stifle Coutinho and Neymar’s rhythm out on the left side of the pitch but will require assistance from their three-man defence to stop the overlapping run of returning left-back Marcelo.

Nevertheless, the stylistic similarities between Brazil and Belgium should create a to-and-fro encounter likely to hinge on whether the likes of Neymar and Gabriel Jesus or Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku can find the back of the net.

Players to watch: Second in the race for the Golden Boot with four goals, Lukaku has been on a goalscoring mission in Russia.

On another day, the Belgian brute may well have had two of his own against Japan and he will approach Brazil with similar intentions.

Standing in his way is captain Silva. The 33-year-old marked Javier Hernandez out of the game in the 2-0 win over Mexico and will welcome Lukaku’s pace and physical presence with open arms.


Sweden v England

Date, time and venue: Saturday, July 7 - Samara Arena - LIVE on SBS from 11pm AEST (kick-off at midnight) 

World Cup head-to-head: Played: 2 | England: 0 | Drawn: 2 | Sweden 0

Having seemingly freed themselves of the baggage which has held back previous England teams, Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions outfit are on the cusp of a special World Cup run after their historic penalty shootout win against Colombia in the round of 16.

Fielding the youngest team at the FIFA World Cup in Russia, England’s performances have come a long way from their dismal showing in Brazil where they were knocked out after only two games.

While the England team sheet may no longer feature the likes of Gerrard, Terry, Lampard, and Rooney, young rising stars Alli, Sterling, Stones and Kane are giving fans from London to Manchester and beyond a new found pride in their national team.

This team has a belief not seen in an England side in quite some time with captain Harry Kane leading by example with an incredible six goals in four games.

Looking to stop them will be a Sweden side following a similar path at this World Cup.

Long seen as a one man band, Sweden were guilty of relying too heavily on the once-in-a-generation talent of striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic until his retirement from the national team in 2015.

Without the talismanic striker, the Swedes have become a team which performs greater than the sum of its parts scrapping and edging their way through the tournament.

A 1-0 win against Switzerland in the round of 16 was a quintessential victory for this Sweden team and they will be out to suffocate England’s stars on the way to an unlikely semi-final berth.

Keys to victory: Sweden are a team which prides itself on being a cohesive unit which is difficult to beat.

They will sit back and absorb pressure from England before looking to strike on the counter with long raking balls in behind.

It will be hard work for England to break down the Swedes but if they can nab an early goal it could be enough as Sweden have struggled in front of goal this tournament.

Look for England to also take advantage of their opponents lack of pace by unleashing speedsters Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Jamie Vardy.

Players to watch: England captain Harry Kane has been outstanding for the Three Lions so far this tournament with his six goals the most scored by an Englishman at a World Cup.

He is the centre point of their attack and is clinical when given opportunities to find the back of the net.

For Sweden , winger Emil Forsberg is arguably their most talented player and also the most likely to trouble England’s defence.

The RB Leipzing player can create chances with his pinpoint passing and is able to beat defenders with his close control and dribbling skills.


Russia v Croatia

Date, time and venue: Sunday, July 8 - Fisht Stadium - LIVE on SBS from 3am AEST (kick-off at 4am)

World Cup Head-to-head: Played: 0 | Russia: 0 | Drawn: 0 | Croatia: 0

Croatia is set for a grueling encounter on Sunday morning as an inspired Russian outfit, backed by a vocal home support, set out to shock the world with yet another incredible upset win.

Sbornaya, as the Russian team is affectionately known, are the lowest ranked nation at the World Cup and earned their spot at the tournament as hosts.

Their fans had modest hopes of success at the tournament but after a 5-0 win against Saudi Arabia in their opening game, Russia has gone from strength to strength including an incredible win to knock out one of the favourites Spain.

Stanislav Cherchesov has assembled a side which makes up for its lack of star power with team unity and resilience.

A 3-0 defeat at the hands of Uruguay in their final group game has been the only blip on a solid tournament performance so far for Russia with their penalty shoot-out win against Spain the highlight.

Hard working striker Artem Dzyuba has been the main man for the Russians and while he may lack the silky skills of some of the other front men at the tournament, his direct style has helped him find the back of the net three times in five games.

While the Russians have relied on determination and a backs against the wall approach, their opponents Croatia have been one of the standout performers of the competition so far.

Zlatko Dalic’s players cruised through the group stage claiming nine points from three games including a 3-0 drubbing of Argentina.

Croatia made hard work of their round of 16 clash against Denmark with Vatreni securing victory in a penalty shootout after captain Luka Modric had a spot kick saved at the end of extra time.

The form of the Croatian’s will make them favourites for this clash but don’t write off the Russians in this contest as the feverish home support could push them over the line.

Players to watch: Croatia’s midfield has both speed and skill. They will need to put it to good use against a Russian side more than happy to sit back and hit back on the counter.

Modric and Rakitic are two of the best central midfielders in the world and have the keys to unlock a stubborn Russia defence and tee-up striker Mario Mandzukic.

Russia will most likely set up with five in defence with Dzyuba upfront. If they can absorb the early pressure from the Croatians it should put them in good stead to strike on the counter attack.

Keys to victory: Veteran Russian shot stopper Igor Akinfeev will be in for a big shift and his performance between the sticks will play a big part in whether his side will be able to nab a semi-final berth.

Croatia will be hoping striker Mario Mandzukic has his measure with the Juventus front man the main target in the box for Dalic’s side. Mandzukic’s ability to press the opposition defence will also play a big part in the result.

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11 min read
Published 4 July 2018 at 3:20pm
Source: SBS The World Game