What a fun, early December for World Cup play. The semi-finals filtered the contenders from the remaining pretenders. While most of the eight teams knocked out showed promise and fight, the remaining eight were better and earned their wins to make round three. As was mentioned in the last FIFA article, there are no draws nor points given from ties. Every round is elimination, meaning overtime and shootouts/penalty shots will decide winners. Before picks are made, the numbers are for who finished at the top two in each group, and the letters are from the group each team was in. Here are the predictions for which four teams advance to round four.
1A Netherlands v. 1C Argentina
The quarter finals begin with a thrilling Netherlands versus Argentina matchup. It appears as a deadlock in stats, coaching and talent. This could be the best game of the quarter finals.
Both teams have a forward who’s scored three goals (Cody Gakpo for Netherlands, Lionel Messi for Argentina), two midfielders who’ve scored two goals each, and good goaltending.
Two critical things will be how coach Louis van Gaal counters both Messi and Julian Alvarez especially when substitutions become a factor. The second is how Alvarez takes pressure off Messi and create scoring chances against defensive anchors Denzel Dumfries and Daley Blind.
Argentina hasn’t lived up to the hype compared with the other seven teams. Netherlands hasn’t lost a game for good reasons: they adapt well against their opponents and have better scoring depth. The Dutch will give their next round opponents problems.
Prediction: Netherlands advances 2-0
1A England v. 1D France
The biggest of the four matches. The current world champions led by MVP frontrunner Kylian Mbappe face their toughest test against the best British team fielded in decades.
The game could be decided between the matchup of Mbappe versus Bukayo Saka, a young phenom who’s scored three goals on four shots with 78 passes. This matchup gives Olivier Giroud and Adrien Rabiot of France and Harry Kane, Phil Foden, and Marcus Rashford of England better scoring, passing and break-away chances.
There’s one shocking stat for France in scoring: the team’s scored nine goals, five coming from Kylian Mbappe. That’s the same number England’s forwards have netted. The French team faces more pressure due to them being the recent champions. Coach Gareth Southgate has positioned the English team to advance and make a title game run similar to last year’s UEFA’s tournament. They’re also more determined given the team’s title drought.
Prediction: England advances 3-2
2F Croatia v. 1G Brazil
The first match to take place Friday, this appears a lopsided match with the scoring depth Brazil has and the overwhelming style of play executed. Many forget Croatia has a calculated mindset where penalty shots fall in their favor. Still, that requires them to last 130 minutes against the best team in the tournament and it’s hard to see that happening despite the superb play of goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic.
Prediction: Brazil advances 4-2
1F Morocco v. 1H Portugal
Morocco’s Cinderella season continues and could last one more round due to their perfect shutout against opponents. An own goal is still the only score against their defense, meaning Portugal will be flustered despite their beatdown of Switzerland last round. Cristiano Ronaldo coming off the bench would be a great tactic for the Portuguese late where the Atlas Lions could face more pressure. Regardless, no team has found a way to puncture Morocco’s suffocating style of play.
The Atlas Lions’ ability to not score on breakaway offensive opportunities could harm the team if Portugal jumps out to an early lead. Don’t be surprised if this game heads to overtime and penalty shots.
Upset Prediction of the Round: Morocco Advances 3-1 in Penalty Shots
Previous Round/Semi-Finals Predictions: 7-1