The World Cup has reached the last eight phase, with the mouth-watering ties seemingly in the first half of the draw.
Favourites Brazil proved to have too much for a battling if limited Mexico side who seemed to run out of steam in their last 16 tie. Neymar and Roberto Firmino both converted second-half tap-ins, with the former again displaying overreaction antics which have dominated social media accounts ever since. That said, coach Tite’s celebration dash after the clinching second we believe has won the Internet… (https://twitter.com/ODMendel/status/1014196345803067392).
They will meet Belgium, who produced a memorable comeback to see off unlucky Japan 3-2. Goalless at the break but showing determination, organisation and no shortage of skill against their more fancied opponents, Japan stunned Roberto Martinez’s side with a two-goal burst, Takashi Inui’s 25-yard strike to make it 2-0 the pick of them.
But for the first time since 1970 a side came back from two-down in the World Cup knockout phase to clinch victory. Despite gaining a reputation for a safety-first possession based approach, Martinez’s substitutions of winger Nacer Chadli and the towering Marouane Fellaini proved pivotal, although it took a slice of luck for them to get back into the game, Jan Vertonghen’s looping header was surely directed back across goal, rather than in at the back post where it ended up.
Fellaini then headed in Eden Hazard’s cross before Chadli converted Thomas Meunier’s pass to finish off a flowing move and help the Red Devils avoid a huge shock. Arguably the winners of this one could be the most likely world champions – although they themselves will face a tough semi-final test.
France meet Uruguay in the first quarter-final, the French again unconvincing in defeating Argentina 4-3 but, in Kylian Mbappe, it looks like a star really is born, the teenager scoring twice. It could also prove to be an international swan song for Lionel Messi, with his side always looking second best despite leading 2-1 early in the second half.
For France, Uruguay should pose a tougher proposition, their organisation and defensive solidity in stark contrast to their fellow South Americans. However, the possible absence of two-goal Portugal hero Edinson Cavani through injury is likely to make their task all the more difficult.
Hosts Russia meet Croatia, after both came through dramatic penalty shootout triumphs against Spain and Denmark respectively after 1-1 draws. Russia defended doggedly and earned their luck against their more fancied opponents although Spain, for all their possession, flattered to deceive in the final third. You suspect this is another end of an era for a squad who have won so much on the international stage in the last decade.
Croatia are many people’s fancies to reach the final and in Luka Modric they have a player not frightened to step up to the plate. The midfielder saw a penalty late in extra time saved by Kasper Schmeichel but he still stepped up to successfully convert in the shootout. Potential winners though? On this evidence they need more from their other celebrated midfielders…
And then there was England, who meet Sweden with the expectations of a nation now at fever pitch following their first World Cup penalty shootout victory, against Colombia. However they, like Sweden in defeating Switzerland 1-0, will need more from their more celebrated players to triumph, with Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard and Raheem Stirling all disappointing. Sweden will prove a tough nut to crack, unless the Three Lions can again rely on the penalty-taking prowess of Harry Kane…