We now enter the final eight, the quarterfinals. Not too many surprises, lots of powerhouses, long time rivalries, former champions, and Costa Rica. Lets take a look at how the teams all got here.
The first quarterfinal is by far the most intriguing, you have the host nation Brazil squeezing by in the tightest of fashions by Chile. One cross bar was the difference maker for Brazil, who continue to under whelm. They are a solid defensive team that relies on Neymar far too much, will that get them past the resurgent Colombians? Colombia was the only team that won their round of 16 game convincingly, although it was against a weakened Uruguay missing the bite of Luis Suarez. James Rodriguez has been the breakout star player of the tournament with five goals and four assists. The twenty two year old Monaco attacker's first strike against Uruguay was something to behold. Goal of the tournament. The game will be billed as Colombia versus Brazil, but in many ways it will be Neymar versus James, I expect that whomever has the better supporting cast will get the victory. Brazil will need all the home cooking they can get. My opinion is Brazil somehow makes it through, don't ask me how, but a 2-1 victory is not out of the question. I would love to see Colombia go through and spoil the host nation's bid for a sixth championship.
The other all continental quarterfinal is the antique European rivalry of former champions, France against Germany. The old boys go at it again for the fourth time in World Cup history. Before their game against Nigeria I thought France had been the strongest side. Nigeria had been getting better each game though, and France required all of 80 minutes to get one past the defensive Nigerians. After that first goal, Nigeria appeared to just give up, which was unfortunate, as this World Cup has been full of late goals and comebacks. France played a rather uninspired game and they are going to need all the attacking power in their arsenal against Germany. The Germans also had their hands full against the Cinderella Algerians, who amazingly enough had multiple players on the roster fasting for Ramadan. Once in extra time the Algerians looked like they could get Germany to penalty kicks. You have to give it to the Germans for revving it up a notch and finding that extra gear to grab those two goals, and Algeria for managing to pull one back and almost tie it up. German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer put on an astounding aerial clinic, flying outside his box throughout, he completely controlled the last third of the pitch for Germany, without him the Germans don't advance. Tough out for Algeria who have been one of my favorite teams to watch. Look for a goalkeeping showdown between the two best keepers in Europe, Neuer and Hugo Lloris. I think this game goes to penalties with France prevailing somehow, that's how hotly contested this game will be.
The real Cinderella of 2014, Costa Rica will take on another heavy favorite, the Netherlands. Costa Rica is the only team outside of South America and Europe to make it to the last eight, the CONCACAF torch bearers. They had an extremely nervy, entertaining game against a tough Greek team. Keeper Keylor Navas was so on point throughout and ultimately saved a fantastic penalty attempt in the shootout that took Costa Rica through. The Dutch had to wait 94 minutes to break down Mexico, a complete heartbreaker for the Mexicans, who had lead throughout and looked content to sit back after scoring the first goal, and then looked like they were fine with extra time after conceding Wesley Sneijder's 88th minute strike. Really unfortunate they didn't keep attacking, because we could have been looking at an all CONCACAF quarterfinal. As it is the Dutch will be heavy favorites and I think that suits the Costa Ricans just fine. I'm putting the Ticos down to continue their fantasy run, 3-2 in a high scoring game.
The last quarterfinal still pains me to talk about, as we'll be seeing Argentina taking on Belgium. Argentina had to go 118 minutes before sneaking by the Swiss with yet another Lionel Messi jaw dropper. Messi made a swerving run, knifing through the heart of the defense and dropping off a pass to Angel Di Maria to expertly finish off. Never anticipated Argentina taking that long to beat an underrated Switzerland side. Belgium also needed extra time to get by the USA. The Americans bravely fought off attack after attack by Belgium. Tim Howard was thrilling throughout and was voted man of the match in the loss. He had so many clutch saves as the US couldn't keep possession long enough to look threatening for long periods of time. Unfortunate, as we now must wait another four years and it's likely we've seen the last of Howard, Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones, and DeMarcus Beasley, although the US does have enough promising youth to make 2018 an interesting tournament, and a whole lot can happen between World Cups. It's been the tournament of goalkeepers so far, will Thibaut Courtois be able to keep Messi and company out? Or will that South American magic continue? I think Messi does it again, as Belgium hasn't looked cohesive enough to get by a powerhouse South American squad. Look at this ending 2-1, with Messi pulling something out of his hat, and Fellaini going forward at the end but not having enough in the tank to beat Argentina.