England Expects While Hosts’ Party Pooped
It seems like just yesterday we were counting down the days until World Cup 2018, and yet here we are entering the final stretch of the tournament with the identity of the final eight teams known.
We may have lost Spain and Germany – amongst the favourites – along the way, but we still have an octet who will all fancy their chances of reaching the final on Sunday July 15.
The pair of quarter-finals in the top half of the draw should be humdingers: both France and Uruguay enter their match in high spirits after strong showings in the Round of 16, while Brazil and Belgium boast some of the most talented attacking talents on the planet.
As for the bottom half of the draw, hosts Russia won’t want their party to end – the impressive Croatia stand in their way, while England, newly anointed penalty kings after their spot kick success against Colombia, may have to grind out a victory over the defence-minded Sweden.
So who will book their place in the semi-finals of World Cup 2018?
C’est Magnifique: France to Benefit from Absent Friends
As we know, football matches are contested by eleven players per team, but it’s amazing how the absence of one single figure can affect the outcome of the whole game.
Edinson Cavani, who plays his club football for French side PSG, looks set to miss out for Uruguay after picking up a hamstring injury last time out against Portugal, and that is a huge blow to the South Americans.
His partnership with Luis Suarez up front has contributed a combined tally of five goals to their team’s cause, but also his work rate and endeavour is key in Uruguay’s 3-5-2 system.
France, for their part, saved their best performance of the tournament for last when taking down Argentina, and that mouth-watering front three of Antoine Griezmann, Olivier Giroud and Kylian Mbappe finally found top gear.
It’s going to be difficult for the South Americans to make the ball ‘stick’ in the final third without Cavani, and you suspect that France’s constant pressure will eventually tell.
A few bookmakers are still offering even money on a French victory, and bet365 are one of them.
Kazan Can Expect Goals from Brazilian/Belgian Clash
As far as attacking talents are concerned, there will be a few classy sorts on display on a sultry Friday evening in Kazan.
Neymar, Philippe Coutinho, Gabriel Jesus, Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne, Dries Mertens, Romelu Lukaku….it’s a game you would fully expect the attackers to come out on top in.
And on that note, you do wonder if the Belgians are a little too gung ho. Their wing backs, Thomas Meunier and Yannick Carrasco, charge forward, leaving the wider centre backs – Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen – vulnerable down the outside.
If they are forced out wide, as they may be to tackle Neymar and Willian, that could leave Vincent Kompany – surely bound together by masking tape at this point in his injury-ravaged career – one-on-one against Manchester City clubmate Gabriel Jesus.
The Belgians found themselves 0-2 down against Japan after struggling to cope with their opponents’ pace and guile in the final third, and it took a fortuitous Vertonghen goal – and the introduction of the sizeable Marouane Fellaini – for them to force a 3-2 victory.
Roberto Martinez will be hoping that Plan A works, as the physicality of Plan B won’t ruffle Brazilian feathers like it did against Japan.
Indeed, the South Americans have defended well all tournament long, and so odds-against prices on them to eat a flaky Belgian side – you can get 23/20 with Betfred – seems like fair game.
Three Lions Must Be Prepared to Grind It Out
Many onlookers have noted something different about England at this World Cup.
Whether it’s the poised, understated class of Gareth Southgate, to the sense that this young squad have the talent and the psychology to cope with the world’s best, the Three Lions are roaring.
They will be tired, of course, both physically and emotionally from Tuesday’s penalty win over Colombia, but the good news is that quarter-final opponents Sweden won’t put up the sternest of tests.
Well organised, disciplined and defensively sound, the Swedes have earned their place in the last eight, but they are a rather limited outfit.
They have scored just three goals from open play in the tournament, and one of those was Emil Forsberg’s limp effort that took a huge deflection on its way into the Switzerland goal.
Perfectly functional and well drilled, Sweden will take some breaking down, but England should – and they have a habit of defying expectation of course, for better or worse – just about get over the line.
Betting value is hard to come by here, but how about Under 1.5 Goals at 29/20 with ComeOn?
Home Comforts Are No Joy for Russia
Somehow or another, Russia have progressed to the quarter-finals on home soil.
Demolished by Uruguay in their final group game, they were put to the sword by a Spanish side bizarrely unable to pull the trigger in the last 16.
The hosts would go on to win on penalties, but they still haven’t really convinced against decent opposition, and that’s a category we’re happy to add Croatia to.
They have been inspired thus far, coming through a potentially difficult group with ease and besting Denmark in the last 16; recovering well after conceding a first minute goal.
There are still question marks over the Croatians defensively, but this is a side with six different goalscorers at the tournament so far, and their attacking play has been very much on point.
A sizeable ‘home’ crowd will cheer on Russia in the Olympic Stadium in Sochi, but that will only take them so far. This might just well be the end of their party….
From a punter’s perspective, we’re more than happy with the price of 6/5 available at 10bet and other bookmakers on a Croatia victory.
Written by Craig Simpkin
A sports journalist with a smorgasbord of experience writing for a variety of publications, Craig is a Leicester fan hoping that England can also achieve the impossible this summer.