STAR PREVIEW: Friday’s World Cup 1/4 Finals

Uruguay v France
FIFA World Cup 2018 Quarter-Final
15:00 ITV

And then there were eight, Brazil favourites, Sweden outsiders but it’s a brave man that can rule out any of the remaining eight with any degree of certainty in this most dramatic and open of World Cups.

As exciting as it has been – it’s grabbed the headlines more for failures than footballing excellence. The collapse of the previous superpowers Germany, Spain and Argentina have provided the majority of column inches on Russia 2018.

We’re still waiting for a team to come to the boil at exactly the right time.

The only team to have done that so far, in my opinion, is France who got off to a pedestrian start but exploded into life against Argentina and have a teenage sensation on their hands in the shape of Kylian Mbappe.

Uruguay are a hard side to break down and are strong defensively but have been dealt a major blow up front with the news that Edinson Cavani is expected to miss this match with a calf injury.

It looks likely that Cristhian Stuani will now play alongside Luis Suarez.

Didier Deschamps’ French side should prove strong enough to get the job done inside 90 minutes so the 21/20 makes of appeal.

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Brazil v Belgium
FIFA World Cup 2018 Quarter-Final
19:00 BBC One

This has already been christened by some as one of the best World Cups they’ve ever seen and we now have heavyweight clashes to enjoy after thrilling David v Goliath battles at the Quarter-finals and Brazil’s clash with Belgium ought to be just as good as any.

The Samba Stars have perhaps been a little slow burning in the tournament, with a 1-1 draw against Switzerland raising some alarm bells, but they have improved with each game and were deserving of a pair of 2-0 wins against Costa Rica and Serbia to progress from the group.

They improved once again to beat Mexico, when they were the beneficiaries of some very wasteful counterattacking but also better going forward than any point so far. They struggled with the early speed of the Mexicans early on in the game, but Neymar and Gabriel Jesus got in behind early on to force Ochoa into what would be the first of several excellent saves and by the time Firminho put the second away in the 88th minute Brazil had been dominating.

Belgium were expected to dominate against Japan but found themselves all at seas and absolutely dominated for 55 minutes as their midfield was pressed out of the game whilst they fell behind to two excellent goals. The axes were being sharpened for Roberto Martinez, but the former Everton manager pulled a masterstroke in putting on Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli. The height and strength of the United man made an instant difference as Hazard found him with a sensational ball for their equaliser whilst Chadli of course provided the cruel killer blow to a Japan side that lost because they played to win.

Both managers will probably need to make tactical changes. For Brazil, one has to wonder if they would not improve without replacing Gabriel Jesus with Roberto Firmino, who has looked a much better fit in their front four and scored the goals to prove it. The absence of Casemiro in midfield is a big blow, but such is their depth they may get more attacking joy out of Firmino. Tite has lots to choose from at fullback, with Danilo and Marcelo likely to come back, although perhaps Mexico are a more difficult team to hand out wide rather than Belgium and he has Fagner and Filipe Luís there.

Belgium managed to pull victory out of the fire on Monday, but Martinez will surely be considering a tactical change. Kevin De Bryune has to be further forward and one of Dries Mertens or Yannick Carrasco could be dropped to have Moussa Dembele in midfield. This should result in more service to Romelu Luaku, who had an off-colour game for the first time but whose brilliant run and late dummy allowed Chadli to score the winner.

Much of this game will be tactical and there’s less between the two sides than the margin suggests. The favourites should be taken on at the prices.

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