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Zonal Marking: Assessing the World Cup quarter-finalists

Just eight sides – and eight matches – remain in this incredibly entertaining World Cup so far. It’s still difficult to choose a winner, with the pre-tournament favourites all looking more nervous than expected, and some outsiders turning in the best performances. Here’s a look at the eight remaining sides, and an assessment of their chances of winning World Cup 2014.

Argentina, 5/1 (Bwin)

Alejandro Sabella’s side haven’t been particularly impressive in reaching the quarter-finals, managing three one-goal victories in a poor group stage, before requiring 27 minutes of extra-time to score against a limited Switzerland side.

World Cups aren’t about putting on a show, they’re about getting the job done, but there’s nevertheless a feeling that Argentina aren’t efficient enough at either end – likely to concede goals, and wasteful in the final third.

They’ve been incredibly dependent upon Leo Messi – he’s scored four goals in four games, and teed up the winner for Angel Di Maria against Switzerland. But Switzerland double-marked Messi with Gokhan Inler and Valon Behrami, and no-one else stepped up to exploit the space. He’ll need more support if Argentina are to win this World Cup.

Belgium, 14/1 (BetVictor)

Another side who have recorded very narrow victories, Belgium’s major problem is the fact Marc Wilmots doesn’t know his best starting XI.

Wilmots has consistently depended on substitutes to earn Belgium victories, and he’s received rather too much credit for this. In the 2-1 extra-time victory over USA, he might have introduced Romelu Lukaku to great effect, but he failed to strengthen the midfield zone when his starting midfielders looked tired, and Belgium were under huge pressure in the latter stages.

There are too many question marks at this stage to back Belgium – other sides have better midfielders, and are more clinical in front of goal.

Brazil, 13/4F (Bwin)

So far, it hasn’t been particularly impressive. Like Argentina, Brazil have depended heavily on their main man, with Neymar fielded in a classic number ten position, and responsible for almost everything good about Brazil’s play. The contributions from the other attackers, however, have been poor.

The defence, too, is a cause for concern. Daniel Alves has looked nervous at right-back and could be dropped with Maicon coming into the side, while there’s a feeling Thiago Silva isn’t at his absolute best, and not entirely capable of mopping up for others’ mistakes.

There’s also a major worry against Colombia, because holding midfielder Luiz Gustavo is suspended. Brazil really don’t have a natural replacement for their anchorman, which will be a huge problem against James Rodriguez. They don’t appear a good price to triumph.

Colombia, 14/1 (Bwin)

Many viewed them as a dark horse at the start of the competition, and Colombia have been excellent so far, recording four victories from four – and they were the only side to win their second round match in a convincing manner.

They also boast the competition’s star man, in James Rodriguez, a brilliant playmaker capable of finding pockets of space, switching play neatly, and getting into the box to score goals. No-one has yet found a way to stop him.

Colombia have a tough draw – Brazil at the quarter-final stage, then France or Germany in the next round. But the fact remains that Colombia have been the most impressive side thus far, which means 14/1 seems an excellent price at this stage.

Costa Rica, 66/1 (Sky Bet)

Few expected them to gain a victory in this tournament, let alone reach the quarter-final stage – and Costa Rica’s amazing journey will surely come to an end against the Netherlands.

Part of the reason for their success has been their unusual formation – sides don-t seem comfortable playing against a three-man defence. But against a Dutch side who have excelled playing that system, they’ll lose a significant advantage, and it’s easy to imagine Arjen Robben terrorising the Costa Rican centre-backs.

They’re certainly in the easier half of the draw, which is why they’re as short as 40/1 in places, but Costa Rica surely don’t have the quality to reach the final.

France, 8/1 (Ladbrokes)

It still feels like France haven’t been properly tested – they were in the easiest of the eight groups, and then came up against Nigeria, probably the weakest of the 16 second round sides.

Against Nigeria, too, Didier Deschamps was lucky to get away with making a big selection error, trying to force Olivier Giroud and Karim Benzema into the same side. It didn’t work, and he took too long to fix his mistake – eventually summoning Antoine Griezmann in place of Giroud, shifting Benzema up top, and France dominated the final half hour.

8/1 seems a fair price, rather than a particularly tempting one – Germany have a deeper squad, and Brazil or Colombia will be tough semi-final opponents.


Somewhere within that 23-man squad, Germany have a World Cup-winning side. The question is whether Jogi Low can find it within the next three games.

So far, there are various problems. The centre-backs look vulnerable to pace, the full-backs aren’t really full-backs and therefore offer little going forward, while Philipp Lahm hasn’t been entirely impressive in the holding role, and there’s a lack of pace high up the pitch.

It feels like a couple of tweaks will be needed for Germany to triumph. Andre Schurrle made a good impact as a substitute against Algeria, running in behind and opening the scoring, and he could be the player that unlocks the potential of this side, bringing more penetration, pace and directness to an otherwise patient passing team.

Holland, 5/1 (Paddy Power)

They defeated Mexico by the skin of their teeth… and yet Holland seem a decent bet at 5/1. The comeback wasn’t about pure luck, it depended upon a clever tactical tweak from Louis van Gaal, shifting from 3-4-1-2 to 4-3-3, and having the bravery to remove Robin van Persie and put on Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who assisted the equaliser and smashed in the penalty for the winner. It’s that type of clever management that makes the Dutch real contenders.

They also have the easiest draw of any remaining side, and an on-form Arjen Robben, second only to James Rodriguez in terms of the best players at this tournament.

There are worries, though – Nigel de Jong is expected to miss the remainder of the tournament through injury, and there’s no replacement as a proper destroyer deep in midfield. Jasper Cillessen, meanwhile, has looked nervous in goal.

Still, the Dutch are the most likely to side to reach the semi-final stage. If they can avoid penalties, where they have a terrible record, they could be a surprise winner.

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July 2nd, 2014 by Michael Cox

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