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Friday, 4 July 2014

World Cup 2014 Quarter Final Picks (July 4-5)

After the bright, attacking start to the World Cup which featured a lot more goals than has been the tradition for the tournament, I suggested it was a real surprise that teams had played with such freedom. Some believed it was a change in the mindset, but I wasn't convinced and I think that has proven to the be the case with games becoming tighter and tighter as the tournament has progressed.

That bared out most noticeably in the Second Round where seven of the eight games ended up with two or fewer goals in the first ninety minutes, while five of the eight matches needed extra time/penalties to decide a winner.

In fairness to a few of the games, and I don't mean the terrible Argentina versus Switzerland game, had shown a lot of attacking intent, but poor finishing/good goalkeeping kept the games from really opening up. There were three goalless draws in the Second Round, although two of those should have seen goals in normal time and I am not of the belief that the trend is going to continue as we move into the Quarter Finals.

All four games look to be fascinating ones and this World Cup is building very nicely to the final week of the tournament with plenty of good football to look forward to. Arguably the best eight teams have made the Quarter Final with all the Group winners coming through the Second Round and it does look an extremely open competition that could be won by almost any of the teams left.

I would rule out Costa Rica right now, especially with the tiredness they began to display in the game with Greece last Sunday, but the other seven teams in the final eight will have their backers.

I am looking forward to the next ten days or so as the World Cup is decided and still believe there is plenty of top football that will be enjoyed by fans around the world.

France v Germany Pick: This has all the potential to be the best game of the World Cup to this point with both France and Germany believing they have all the tools to win the tournament.

The expectation before the tournament began was all on Germany who have come so close to winning a number of major international tournaments since taking the European Championship title in 1996. It has been twenty-four years since Germany last won the World Cup (as West Germany) and being Semi Finalists at the last two World Cups and at Euro 2012 has left them with the 'nearly men' tag.

The fans at home won't be happy with anything other than Germany lifting the trophy so going out at the Quarter Final stage would be a real disappointment.

France have been playing well enough to send Germany home and build some momentum heading into Euro 2016 which will be hosted by the French in two years time. The team have played as a unit, which has not always been the case for France, and they seem to have as good a balance as any team in the tournament.

Didier Deschamps has to get the tactics and personnel right- in my opinion, I wouldn't start with Olivier Giroud but would keep Karim Benzema as the focal point of the team and leave the pace in the wide positions. Algeria showed Germany's back four are susceptible to pace and the French have a lightning counter-attack that could give them the edge in the contest.

That isn't to say I am taking Germany lightly- their six players in the forward positions are all very effective, but I can't get the memory of how Italy played them in the Euro 2012 Semi Final out of my mind. On that occasion, it was the speed and power of Mario Balotelli that finished Germany off as the long, direct passes to the forward players caused plenty of problems.

A rumour has also been going around that Germany are suffering with a flu through the camp, although Joachim Loew didn't want to reveal which players are a little down. I am not a big believer of their 'false nine' tactic and I do think the Germans are ripe to be attacked on the counter so the first goal is going to be critical.

If France can get the opener, I can see them counter-attacking Germany effectively enough to book their place in the Semi Final and I have had a gut feeling about this French team since watching them in the Group. I called them beating Germany in the Quarter Final before the final Group games had been completed and I am not going to back off on that prediction so will back the underdog to knock out one of the favourites for the World Cup.

Brazil v Colombia Pick: If you love football, you are surely going to be engrossed in every Quarter Final that has been set, but the one between Brazil and Colombia could be the best of the lot if the earlier games in the World Cup are anything to go by.

Both teams do like to get forward and score goals, and I have been so impressed with Colombia that I do believe they have a great chance to win this game and move through to the Semi Finals.

Brazil are nervous- this Colombia side has reminded the media and the fans of the old traditions of Brazil and the way their nation used to take to the field with a freedom of expression and pace in the forward positions. I haven't been that impressed with the Brazilian defence and you have to believe Colombia will create chances as long as the new three centre half system that 'Big Phil' Scolari is likely to employ doesn't make all the difference.

On the other hand, Brazil will also have more space to exploit as Colombia will push forward in numbers, but they have to get more out of the likes of Hulk and Fred if they are to achieve all of their goals from this World Cup.

The game is a tough one to really predict, but I have had a sneaky feeling over the last few days that Colombia can cause the first major surprise of the tournament. However, instead I am going to focus on this game reversing a recent trend at the event and actually featuring at least three goals.

In the Second Round, seven of the eight games finished with two or fewer goals, while more than half of the games needed extra time and that may have sapped some energy in teams. In this case it would be Brazil who noticeably tired against Chile and Colombia certainly have the goal threat to take advantage.

I would be surprised if Brazil didn't score at least once, while early goals could open up the game and there should be chances for both teams. At 2.25, the chance for goals looks overpriced and will be my pick.

Argentina v Belgium Pick: These two nations met at consecutive World Cups back in 1982 and 1986 and each won one of those games- on current form, Belgium will certainly feel they can win only their second game against Argentina in their history and replicate the triumph from the 1982 tournament held in Spain.

While I do think Belgium have played as a better team unit than Argentina, I also think the absence of Christian Benteke has hurt them as they have struggled for goals and seem to be just missing his combination of pace and power. The two forwards in his place seem to have one or the other of those attributes and not the consistency that Benteke can offer Belgium and they have seemed a team that can do a lot of good stuff until the final third.

On another day, Belgium would have beaten the United States easily having had all the chances and the play, but they then suffered mentally after conceding a sloppy goal in extra time despite having a 2-0 lead.

While Belgium have played decently at times, it is hard to say that Argentina have ever hit top form in the tournament, but they are being dragged through the Rounds by Lionel Messi who could join Diego Maradona as an all-time great by leading his country to World Cup glory.

Unfortunately for Messi, it is win or bust for Argentina who have been the favourites at the last three World Cup tournaments but have only had two Quarter Final appearances to show. This time, the fans believed having a World Cup in South America gave Argentina another edge to take advantage of, but performances have been poor and they have struggled to see off modest competition.

Each game has needed a moment of magic from Messi to help Argentina win games and they do look a vulnerable favourite against this Belgium team. My concern for Belgium would come from the fact that they will allow this Argentina team to play more than Switzerland did and they looked panicked when the United States put pressure on them.

I also would be concerned by Belgium in the final third- they should create chances against a poor Argentina defence, but will they be as wasteful of their chances as they were in the Second Round which will ultimately cost them.

Picking a winner is tough, but I would be surprised if both teams didn't score at least once in this match with the way their games have developed in the tournament. I think Argentina will enjoy having a little more room to operate when they have the ball, while Belgium will feel they can hurt the South Americans on the counter which could lead to another game with at least three goals scored.

Netherlands v Costa Rica Pick: Out of all the Quarter Final matches to be played, the Netherlands are the biggest favourites to move through to the Semi Final and you can't argue with those sentiments if you had seen the Costa Rica match against Greece in the Second Round.

The Costa Ricans looked out on their feet six days ago and had to come through a penalty shoot-out after being reduced to ten men for almost an hour of that game. With injuries before the World Cup, Costa Rica don't have a lot of room for manoeuvre when it comes to changing squad members and I think it is a big task for them to raise their game against another major international nation.

That has reduced my concern for Holland who are coming out of the ridiculously hot conditions in Fortaleza with the same recovery time as Costa Rica. However, they avoided the extra time with a late winner against Mexico and clearly have the better players on the pitch who have the pace and clinical finishing to make the difference.

Arjen Robben may not have charmed his way into the neutral's heart with admission of diving in the game against Mexico, albeit not for the penalty that won the game for the Netherlands, but he is at the top of his game. His pace and drive is going to hurt a Costa Rica team that may have had their energy sapped already and won't have a lot to offer in the second half if they haven't recovered.

Since the win over Spain, I haven't been overly impressed with Holland, but they have shown they are capable of taking any chances that do end their way. They should punish Costa Rica if they are ahead and the Central American team begins to chase, especially with the pace in the forward areas that Louis Van Gaal can call upon from the start and off the bench.

Holland should be able to win this game by a couple of goals, especially if they score first, and then set up what could be a brilliant Semi Final either against Argentina or Belgium no matter who gets through.

MY PICKS: France @ 3.20 Coral (2 Units)
Brazil-Colombia Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.25 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Argentina-Belgium Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.40 Pinnacle (2 Units)
Netherlands - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.00 Pinnacle (4 Units)

Second Round: 4-4, + 3.49 Units (14 Units Staked, + 34.54% Yield)
Group Stage: 17-31, - 14.44 Units (84 Units Staked, - 17.19% Yield)

1 comment:

  1. Well done, extensively written analysis,with a lot of interesting information, I agree with the prediction of the match Brazil Colombia similar outcome I predicted on my blog.