The quarterfinal places are almost determined and oh my goodness what a pair of games we saw on Monday! Mexico versus Brazil was end-to-end from the start. Mexico fought valiantly but the class of Brazil deservedly won in the end. Neymar showed why he is the third highest paid player in the world as he brilliantly constructed the first goal when he turned home a shot-turned-cross from Willian. Then it was Neymar’s shot that was saved by the Mexican keeper before Roberto Firmino tapped it in to finish the game 2-0.
I couldn’t be paid to look away from the game between Japan and Belgium. Even if the first half of the game was scoreless it was still a spectacle. Japan came out of halftime with guns blazing and took a quick 2-0 lead only for Belgium manager Roberto Martínez to make two crucial substitutions that would help Belgium come back and win 3-2 with the last kick of the game. In my opinion it was the most enjoyable game to watch of the whole tournament so far.
Six of the last eight are set and Tuesday’s games will decide the final two teams to play in the quarterfinals. Sweden play Switzerland and England play Colombia. Neither Sweden nor Switzerland are powerhouse names but one will advance to the last eight, a tremendous accomplishment in itself. Sweden has been anchored at the back by captain Andreas Granqvist. The 33-year-old has lived up to his nickname “the Christmas tree” and has also contributed two goals from the penalty spot for the Nordic country. Their success has come from a very structured defense and patient build-up play when they go forward. They might be the overall slowest team in the tournament so they have done magnificently to play to their strengths. Switzerland has danger players in the form of speedy winger Xherdan Shaqiri and powerful striker Breel Embolo. In the central of midfield Granit Xhaka, Blerim Dzemaili and Valon Behrami have formed a dynamic trio that dictates the tempo of games. Sweden will have to stick to their plan and be solid at the back to have any chance of moving on to the last eight.
Expectations for England haven’t been this high since perhaps the 2006 World Cup. They have been outstanding thus far and if captain Harry Kane continues to score goals like he has been then whomever they face could be in serious trouble. Their dominance from set pieces has been fantastic and has yielded four goals so far. They can attack from the wide areas with pace from Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard with help from wingbacks Ashley Young and Kieran Trippier. When they get in a rhythm they are deadly.
Colombia haven’t shown the same prowess and creativity that they did in the last World Cup but they managed to get out their group in first place. Playing in the same group as Poland may have helped—Poland were one of the biggest disappointments of the tournament. Juan Quintero took the starting position from super star James Rodriguez in the opening game but since then they both played alongside one another and have created chances for their proven volume goal scorer, Radamel Falcao. Juventus winger Juan Cuadrado has the class and the speed to trouble any defense but the holding midfielders for Colombia may be the weak spot that England should try to exploit.
The games have only gotten more and more exciting and the quality of soccer has only risen. I suppose that’s to be expected as we head deeper into the tournament and the teams that remain are more organized and talented but if Monday was anything to go off of, Tuesday should deliver the goods once again!