With just eight games to go in what has been an entertaining 2014 World Cup, the quarter-finals get underway on Friday.
Perhaps the biggest tie of the last eight is the one that kicks us off when France face Germany at the Maracanã.
Hosts Brazil are not in action until later this evening when they face fellow South Americans, Colombia.
The two other nations to reach the semi-finals will be decided on Saturday when Argentina take on Belgium and the Netherlands face Costa Rica.
A tight match is expected in the only all-European tie in the quarter-finals as 1998 winners France face the three-time World Champions, Germany.
France had gone 185 minutes without scoring between their fifth goal against Switzerland and the opening 78 minutes of their second round tie against Nigeria before Paul Pogba opened the scoring after a mistake from Vincent Enyeama in the opposition goal.
Les Bleus made an impressive start to this World Cup with eight goals in their opening two matches, or eight goals in the space of 119 minutes in thrashing Honduras 3-0 and Switzerland 5-2.
This was followed up by a 0-0 draw against Ecuador and being matched by Nigeria for long periods of their game.
Karim Benzema has not looked so sharp during the last two matches, showing no understanding with his fellow attacking players having made several runs in the opposite direction to teammates’ passes. The Real Madrid striker has been reduced to long-range efforts and is without a goal since the second group game.
Didier Deschamps’ side could do with some pace up front against a German defence that looks vulnerable to speed, especially on the counter-attack. Moussa Sissoko offers this down the right wing and has played in all four of France’s matches in this tournament so far, starting twice.
Defensively, France have only conceded two consolation goals at the hands of Switzerland with Hugo Lloris being comfortable in keeping a clean sheet against Honduras and Ecuador and not being tested too often versus Nigeria. Germany’s attack offers a different proposition though.
I would expect a tight opening between these two sides who won’t want to lose the game in the first half. The last six matches at this World Cup have been 0-0 at half-time, who’s going to stop it being seven?
France-Germany 0-0 at half-time is 2.40
Although it took Joachim Löw’s side extra-time to both score and beat Algeria in the last round, Germany do boast one of the best attacking units in this World Cup.
André Schürrle came on to open the scoring, Mesut Özil even had energy in extra-time, Thomas Müller has been one of the best players in the tournament, Miroslav Klose knows where the back of the net is, Lukas Podolski has a lethal left foot, Mario Götze is a skilful player and Toni Kroos ties all the pieces together in the middle.
If, or once Germany hit their stride in this World Cup I don’t think anyone is going to stop them with the sheer brilliance they have going forward. Statistically, there’s not much between the remaining defences in the tournament with all eight nations conceding between 2-4 goals in their first four matches, and the Netherlands have conceded the most with four.
This match really has the potential to go either way. We could be in for extra-time once more or even a third penalty shoot-out. It’s very close to call.
France-Germany to draw is 3.20
The hosts were unimpressive in their 1-1 draw with Chile in the last round that saw them win on penalties. They even let slip of a 2-0 lead in that shootout before former Nottingham Forest defender Gonzalo Jara smacked his penalty off the post.
Brazil have been relying on Neymar going forward in this tournament. The Barcelona forward picked up an injury during the last game but is said to be fully fit for this encounter.
If Colombia can keep Neymar quiet they can essentially shut down the majority of Brazil’s attacks. Fred has been woeful in this World Cup – failing to hold onto the ball, failing to find teammates, barely having a shot. Hulk had his best performance of the World Cup in the last round so perhaps we shouldn’t write the Zenit St Petersburg forward off just yet.
Defensively, they may have only conceded 3 goals in this tournament but Brazil have not looked solid at the back. They were lucky to escape with only conceding one in their opener against Croatia before Mexico barely threatened an attack – the only game in which Júlio César has kept a clean sheet.
Luiz Felipe Scolari is without the protection of Luiz Gustavo in front of his back four for this game with the Wolfsburg player suspended. Fernandinho is a fine and energetic player to have in there but Paulinho hasn’t been the best in this tournament.
The pacey Juan Cuadrado will look to get the better of left-back Marcelo going forward for Colombia. He also does his defensive duties to help Juan Zuñiga against both the attack-minded full-back and Neymar.
James Rodríguez has been one of the stars of the tournament and the only player to have scored in four matches at the 2014 World Cup. Brazil will have trouble picking up his movement but I would expect Fernandinho to give it a good go whilst having Thiago Silva behind him to prevent too many clear shots on goal.
James Rodríguez is 3.25 to score anytime in 90 minutes
Jackson Martínez has looked good in the two starts José Pékerman has given the FC Porto striker. All three of the aforementioned Colombian players have pace to hit this Brazil team on the counter-attack – something Brazil haven’t looked comfortable defending.
Questions will be asked of 38-year old Mario Yepes in that defence, playing his second game in the space of a week. Perhaps marking Fred is as good as a rest but with Neymar and Hulk cutting inside as well as the likes of Oscar attacking from midfield, Colombia will need to be at their best.
Colombia have the best goal difference of the remaining nations having scored 11 goals and conceding only two. They have not fallen behind in this competition so far and unlike Brazil, they did not have 30 minutes extra-time in the last round.
Brazil have the home crowd and the fear factor in their favour but I think we can see Colombia pull off an upset tonight.
Double chance: Draw or Colombia is 1.91
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