Well, crikey. What a World Cup it’s been so far, eh? We’ve had some 55+ games already, with only eight remaining. They’re eight key games, though (well, seven key games and a pointless third place play-off). If they’re anything like their predecessors, these matches will be jam-packed with incident and high drama. We’ve had netbusters, weird tactics, VAR controversies, high-scoring thrillers and tense penalty shootouts. We’ve even had the heart-stopping antics of Maradonna, that mad throw-in fail from Iran’s Milad Mohammadi and even a topless Ross Kemp roaring at us all.
Now, the end is almost in sight. The competition has whittled the 32 nations down to just eight. And it’s a mixed bag, for sure. We knew there’d be no Italy, Chile or Holland. But there’s also now no Germany, Portugal, Argentina or Spain…
Let’s see what we’ve got to look forward to over Friday and Saturday’s crunch games, shall we…?
France vs. Uruguay
This is a real clash of flair against steel, attack against defence, South America against Europe. When the irresistible force of France meets the immovable object of Uruguay, sparks could fly. Expect Didier Deschamps’ men to retain the ball and chip away their opponents’ impressive back line. Which is usually a scary prospect, given that Uruguay don’t concede and have a genuinely world class strike partnership to call upon on the counter.
When & where? The first of the four Quarter Finals takes place in the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium in Nizhny Novgorod. The game kicks off at 3pm on Friday.
Team news: Mendy and Sidibe, the French full backs should be declared fit, but may not be risked. The impressive Blaise Matuidi is out, thought – through suspension. By far the biggest talking of the game centres around Edinson Cavani’s fitness. The PSG man will be desperate to play against Les Bleus, but his calf problem may just keep him out. Rumours of Luis Suarez supposedly pulling up in a recent training session don’t help Uruguay’s chances much, either.
Odds: Uruguay: 100/30, draw: 2/1, France: Evens.
Prediction: 2-1 France. Given the injury concerns for La Celeste.
Brazil vs. Belgium
Belgium certainly seem to like scoring goals. And why not, eh? They help you win games. But they’d better sort the other end out if they want to steer past Neymar and the boys. Conceding two against a well-drilled but limited Japan side doesn’t exactly fill Belgians with confidence ahead of a showdown with the most feared nation on earth, Brazil.
When & where? For this one we head on over to the Kazan Arena, home of top flight Russian side Ruben Kazan. The game’s also on Friday, kick off is 7pm.
Team news: There are no significant new injury worries for either side. Brazil are still without their wild-haired wildcard on the left, Marcelo. But his replacement, Atleti’s Luis Felipe is a better defender, anyway.
Odds: Brazil: 23/10, draw: 5/2, Belgium: 13/5
Prediction: 3-2 Brazil, potentially even after extra time.
Sweden vs. England
Whether by chance or design, Gareth Southgate guided England safely through the group stage and avoided the trickier half of the draw. The Three Lions then squeaked past Colombia after a magnificently purging penalty shootout triumph. Their reward? A seemingly easy game against Sweden. Sure, the yellow of Sweden doesn’t put the fear of God into opposition quite like the yellow of The Seleção. But England underestimate the Swedes’ grit, determination, skill, gamesmanship, professionalism and ability to get past defenders at their peril.
When & where? Most of you know darn well when The Big Game is on. But for those of you with sketchy memories, The Three Lions take on the Swedes at 3pm on Saturday. The stadium? The Samara Arena in, well, in Samara.
Team news: Suspensions are no issue for England and – weirdly – nor are injuries. That said, a few late fitness tests will be needed, on Dele Alli and Kyle Walker (both of which have ready made replacements in Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Gary Cahill). Jamie Vardy’s groin twanged in extra time on Tuesday night, but he wasn’t due to start anyway. As for Janne Andersson’s lot, there’s nothing medically concerning. But their England-based central midfielder Sebastian Larsson misses out after picking up one too many cards matching his shirt in previous games.
Odds: Sweden: 7/2, draw: 12/5, England: Evens
Prediction: 1-0 England, a second half Kane effort, probably another from the spot. This’ll be tight, tight, tight.
Russia vs. Croatia
No one expected Russia to do the business this summer, least of all the Russians themselves. They face one of the tournament’s most impressive-looking sides in their QF tie, Croatia. Modric and mates can turn it on when they want to. And they probably want to. Russia are dogged and wily and never stop running (although we can’t think why that is…). But the guile of Modric and Rakitic should unlock the hosts here.
When & where? The final quarter final, Croatian and Russia fans will have to wait until 7pm GMT on Saturday to see their sides go into battle. They face off at the Fisht Stadium in the Olympic city of Sochi.
Team news: Zlatko Dalić has no selection issues, with the only person missing from his squad being Nikola Kalinić, the player he sent home a fortnight ago. Stanislav Cherchesov will probably have to make do without the veteran former Chelsea wide man Yuri Zhirkov. Which is a shame as his name is never not funny. The only other player ruled out is Zenit right back Igor Smolnikov, who’s suspended.
Odds: Russia: 11/4, draw: 2/1, Croatia: 5/4
Prediction: 2-0 Croatia
For the World Cup 2018 Quarter Finals, you’ll want a decent seat, a big screen, free-flowing booze and tasty food to team with your World Cup Quarter Final fun/nerves. Click on the image above to go about booking yourself a table at your local Rileys.
Oh, and C’MON ENGLAND!