Preview: World Cup quarter-finals too close to call

It's heating up at the FIFA World Cup 2018. Here's a look at what one can expect from the Quarter-finals at Russia.

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It’s the penultimate weekend of the FIFA World Cup 2018, but the excitement barely ceases to reduce. The Round of 16 that saw some of the best players in the world in action, lived up to its billing, delivering edge-of-seat action for every football fan.

Though the competition might have lost some sheen after the GOATs (Greatest Of All Time), Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, failed to deliver the goods for their countries, that shouldn’t dampen the mood as the quarterfinals is expected to take the competition to another level.

KEY ENCOUNTERS

Uruguay vs France

Preview: World Cup quarter-finals too close to call

Given the quality La Celeste have in their ranks, one shouldn’t be surprised if they go on to turn the table on their opponents on Friday. Taking pride in being a tough side, the Uruguayans have shown time again that they are extremely difficult to beat. Yet sometimes, they have been underwhelming in their show.

With a defence built around the central pairing of Jose Gimenez and the experienced 32-year-old Diego Godin, Uruguay have won all four games in Russia, conceding only a solitary goal. They might have been successful in keeping Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo quiet during their Last 16 tie, but in the quarters, Óscar Tabárez’s men will be up against a young and hungry France, that doesn’t revolve around the brilliance of a single player.

It is as tough a World Cup fixture as France could have and any hope that their stars will enjoy the same space they enjoyed in their 4-3 win against disorganised Argentina have already been extinguished. The Frenchmen were at their lethal best as they dissected a hapless Argentine outfit with doctor’s precision in the Round of 16. On Friday, the French will be hoping that their men continue their all-conquering run at the World Cup and take them a step closer to regain the title they last won in 1998.

Belgium vs Brazil

Preview: World Cup quarter-finals too close to call

Brazil’s bid to claim a sixth World Cup title is set for a stern test when they take on Belgium. The two sides have faced off four times in the past with the Selecao running away victors three times. Their latest showdown dates back to a Last 16 tie at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, where goals from Rivaldo and Ronaldo helped the South Americans record a fine win.

However, a lot has changed since then and it would not be wrong to consider Belgium a strong contender. For Brazil, their front three - Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Willian, hold the key to unlocking a Belgium defence that seems to be lacking pace. Belgium, on the other hand, will be hoping for a better display for centre-forward Romelu Lukaku, after he missed a sitter and failed to provide support to skipper Eden Hazard.

Roberto Martinez may pounder playing a seasoned defender in place of makeshift wing-back Yannick Carrasco, given the devastating pace of the Brazilians on the wing. He may opt to start with Marouane Fellaini instead of Dries Mertens to allow Kevin De Bruyne more space and freedom upfront. Thomas Meunier will be bracing himself to face the Neymar music, having already admitted that he doesn't know how to stop his Paris St-Germain teammate.

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KEY PLAYERS

Romelu Lukaku (Belgium)

Preview: World Cup quarter-finals too close to call

More than any other skill, it’s the positional awareness of a player that makes him stand out from the crowd and during Belgium’s Last 16 tie against Japan, this is what stood out for Romelu Lukaku. Into the final minute of the game, the Belgians embarked on a last-ditch attempt to eke out a win and Lukaku showed his composure to execute a dummy that left Nacer Chadli with an open net to tap the ball into. Against Brazil, the Red Devils will be hoping that their striker continues his fine run.

Igor Akinfeev (Russia)

Preview: World Cup quarter-finals too close to call

Goalkeeper, captain and stalwart. Russia’s Igor Akinfeev will undoubtedly go down as one of the best footballers in Russia’s history. Leading a team that was labelled as one of the worst in Russia’s footballing history, the shot-stopper has done well to rally his troops all the way to the quarterfinals. In the four matches Akinfeev has taken the goal for Russia, he has made 14 saves, keeping four clean sheets in the process.

Kylian Mbappe (France)

Preview: World Cup quarter-finals too close to call

All it took was four games for this teen sensation to make the 2018 FIFA World Cup his own. Up against the might of Argentina in the Round of 16, the PSG forward took the game to the Argentines and dismantled an ageing defence with his pace. Mbappe has scored three goals in his five attempts on goal so far and will be eager to cut past Uruguay’s sturdy backline and add more goals against his name.

DARK HORSE: RUSSIA

Ranked 70th in the world, Russia is the lowest ranked side in the quarterfinals. Though many suggest that this is the worst Russian side to ever play at the World Cup finals, their achievements so far seemed to have proved the critics wrong in some fashion.

Having scored goals at will against teams like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the Russians showed great character to come through testing times in their Round of 16 clash against 2010 champions Spain. The hosts waded off incessant waves of attack to push the game into penalties, only to see their skipper and goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev put up a great show to deny Koke and Iago Aspas from the spot and lead Russia into the quarterfinals for the first time in their history.

Against Croatia, the Russians will want their men to be on top of their form, if they are to get anything from the tie.

Words: Sportz Interactive

Images: PA

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