I have spent the past two days riding an emotional roller coaster as my club team, Liverpool FC, have appointed a new manager, Roy Hodgson, to lead the team; I've been so immersed in the world of web forums, chats, emails and simple reflection, scrounging for information on Liverpool's future, that I haven't focused one iota on the upcoming Quarterfinal matches at the World Cup. But now that I am coming to terms with the changes at my club, I feel more than ready to lay it on the line and make some guesses about the Quarterfinals. So, without further ado, and with no more bragging about the fact that I went 7 for 8 on the Round of 16, here's my best guess as to who makes it to the semi finals.
Brazil vs Netherlands
Ouch. Both teams are undefeated to this point in the Tournament and to be honest, this would be an amazing Final, so it is kind of a shame that, with all of the overachievers in the top half of the draw, these two have to meet so early. Still, the match is scheduled and the teams are set, so I have to pick someone, and it has to be Brazil. My reasoning? Performance up front, where it counts; while I see Sneijder and Kaká as cross-canceling one another (although I prefer Sneijder), it is the under-performance of Robin Van Persie against an in-form Luis Fabiano where I see the damage really getting done. The Netherlands have not been tested at the back so far; expect that to change in this match as two very, very similar teams go after one another.
Key Match-Up: Watch for the battle between Arjen Robben and Michel Bastos on the sideline to determine just how effective the Dutch attack can be; if Robben has a big game, the Dutch should be able to pull it out. That said, Bastos has been great himself and I think the Dutch will struggle without any real width-- both Robben and Kuyt like to bring the ball inside instead of crossing it, so the wide play might determine the effectiveness of the Dutch in this crucial game.
Uruguay vs Ghana
As much as I appreciate how much Ghana means to in terms of an African World Cup, I just can't get past the sense that, had the USA come out with the right tactics and the right players, we would have beaten Ghana. Uruguay will not make the same mistake Bob Bradley did; they have two lethal finishers in Luis Suaréz and Diego Forlan and they have only given up one goal in four matches. Ghana is also nursing a few injuries as well, and while they are a deep and gifted team of young players who should be in the conversation for years to come, I don't see them scoring against Uruguay or stopping Forlan and Suaréz for a full 90 minutes. In the end, I have to go with the South Americans, who should continue their magic run into the Semis with a win here.
Key Match-Up: It has to be Forlan against Kevin Prince Boateng, who looks to have recovered from a hamstring strain to make it for this important match. If Boateng and Kwadwo Asamoah can sit on Forlan and mark him out the match, Ghana have a fighting chance. But this is Diego Forlan we're talking about here; if you've been watching Uruguay, you've seen Forlan pulling back into the space between the midfield and the forward line, pulling the strings while Suaréz plays the traditional striker's role. If Forlan is allowed to make plays, Uruguay walks this one. If Ghana can contain him, this match should be a tense affair.
Argentina vs Germany
Oof. Another match that would be a great Final. After the debacle that Argentina started at the end of the 2006 World Cup match between these two, which Germany won on penalties, I think the long memories of both teams will make this a physical and electric match between two teams who can really attack. Here's a look back at 2006:
And here is what Germany's Bastian Schweinsteiger had to say about Argentina this week:
"The shootout is still in our memory, but what really weighs heavily on our minds is what happened after that match," Schweinsteiger said Wednesday. "We have to remain calm and not get provoked and I hope the referee will be very alert. You could see their behavior at halftime of the game against Mexico. When you look at their body language and gesticulations, the way they try to influence the referees, they have no respect. It's their mentality and character and we'll have to adjust."
It's ON. This match is really tough to predict because I could easily see either team winning it. That said, I am going to pick Germany to win it because I believe this will be the match where Maradona's midfield finally get exposed and where his backline finally give up some goals. Argentine goalkeeper Sergio Romero looked incredibly tentative against Mexico, and while that might fly against an inferior opponent, Klose, Özil and company will punish any hesitation. It's going to come down to Messi and the Argentine forwards to get it done, and while they have been brilliant so far-- Tevez and Higuain especially-- I'm not sure they can get it done against a big, physical and disciplined Germany side. I won't be surprised either way, but my gut is telling me Germany on this one.
Key Match-Up: While Bastian Schweinsteiger praised Juan Sebastain Veron for his play, I assume his tongue was in his cheek; I just can't see how Veron will be able to influence this match with Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira pushing forward from the midfield, so it is going to come down to an epic match-up between Schweinsteiger and Javier Mascherano, the best defensive midfielder in the world, in order to determine midfield supremacy. People rarely discuss Mascherano because he has the unglamorous job of simply shutting down everything in front of him, but he is a pure destroyer who can bail out the midfielders in front of him and protect the Argentine back four. If Schweinsteiger can get the ball to Özil and Müller, well, Germany will be in really good shape. This will be a war in the midfield.
Spain vs Paraguay
Here is where Paraguay's magical run comes to an end; unable to score against New Zealand and Japan, Paraguay have lived off of their defense too long now. Against Spain, who will pass the life out of the ball for the full 90 minutes, the Paraguayan philosophy of organization and defense first will pay dividends for a while, but you need only look at Portugal, a team more talented on both ends of the pitch that Paraguay, to see how it will end. I see Spain scoring a few in this one as they finally get into their groove and build on their collective confidence. I've got Torres getting off the mark here, with Villa putting one in for good measure.
Key Match-Up: Justo Villar against Torres and Villa. No doubt about it, Villar has been a revelation in this Tournament, one of the best goalkeepers in the World Cup, only allowing one goal in four matches. But up against Villa, who is on fire right now, I don't fancy his chances. Still, if Paraguay are going to pull the upset, he'll have to be as huge as Diego Benaglio was for Switzerland in Spain's opening match loss. It's not impossible, but I wouldn't count on it.
Quarterfinals begin tomorrow at 10:00 AM; two great games and two decent ones with everything at stake. can't wait for it... Who do you have winning in the Quarterfinals? Leave your predictions in the Comments below.
Up Next: Day Twenty: Quarterfinals