Two-time World Cup winners Uruguay and the 1998 champions France are the first two teams to battle for a place in the World Cup semi-finals. The finely poised appetiser then sets up a main course of the heavyweight clash between Brazil and Belgium.
The South Americans have won all of their four matches in Russia, but take on France with one of their key men Edinson Cavani unlikely to feature. The PSG striker was the match-winner for La Celeste in the Round of 16 with two excellent goals to see off Ronaldo’s Portugal, but limped off with a calf injury.
If Cavani is out, a huge burden will be placed on Luis Suárez, who is fully capable of giving any defence trouble as a lone striker. Óscar Tabárez’s men will also rely on Atlético Madrid defenders Diego Godín and José Giménez to keep club teammate Antoine Griezmann quiet.
Suárez (7) is one goal short of joining 1950 World Cup winner Óscar Míguez (8), as Uruguay’s top goal scorer in World Cup tournaments.
The Barcelona striker’s last two World Cups have ended under a cloud of controversy: In 2010, he was sent off for handling on the line against Ghana, although his country progressed; and four years later, he was banned after the group stages for biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini.
Les Bleus cruised through their group without getting out of second gear, but showed their character and quality to come from 2-1 down to beat Argentina 4-3 in the Round of 16.
In what was one of the games of the tournament so far, Kylian Mbappé stole the show, becoming the first teenager to score a brace at a World Cup since Pele in 1958.
To break down an organised Uruguay team, which has only conceded one goal this tournament, France will need Paul Pogba to be assertive. The midfielder had a productive game against Argentina, but is often criticised for his lack of consistency.
Griezmann was fundamental to France’s Euro 2016 run to the final with six goals. But with just two penalties so far, the PUMA Future striker is yet to replicate his best form.
Five-time winners Brazil have players that arrive at every World Cup expecting to be champions, whilst other nations hope it is their year. That mentality might just be enough to help them overcome Belgium’s golden generation.
Neymar, the world’s most expensive player, has overshadowed his undoubted talent with his theatrics, which have already seen him have a penalty overturned due to simulation.
Still, the flamboyant forward is happy to be finding his rhythm again, after suffering an ankle injury away to Real Madrid, which almost prevented his participation in Russia.
One Samba star not struggling to find his rhythm is Philippe Coutinho. The former Liverpool playmaker was the outstanding player in the group stages. And of all the talented players on show, Coutinho’s form could be the biggest problem for the Red Devils.
Roberto Martínez’s men could have been matched up with Sweden had Adnan Januzaj not scored against England. Whether or not Belgium rue that goal depends on what transpires when they face the Seleção.
Belgium’s impressive group performances are tempered by the quality of their opposition and the scare they received against Japan.
In their four games played, the Red Devils have been able to dominate possession. That is unlikely to continue against Brazil. And even if Belgium can dominate possession, the Brazilians can be even more dangerous on the counter-attack.
Thus far, Eden Hazard has excelled as captain, earning two man of the match awards. Meanwhile, Martinez’s tactical system appears to be limiting Kevin De Bruyne. If the Manchester City playmaker can assert his will on Brazil, Belgium could prevail.
Driving on Brazil will be the humiliation they suffered four years earlier against Germany, when they lost 7-1 as the host nation. They are undefeated in their last 15 games, and have conceded just three goals in that period.
Belgium are undefeated in 23 games, stretching back to September 2016. Therefore, they will feel confident that they can overcome the tournament favourites to earn a place in the semi-finals.
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