quarterfinal matches

I have mentioned a little competition I'm in ... seven of us in a complicated prediction game where I admittedly don't really understand how the scoring is done. I am currently in second place ... I did well in the Round of 16. You get points for picking winners, picking scorelines, picking goal scorers, and in the knockout phase, how long the match goes (90/120/PK). I am first in picking winners, I am tied for first in scorelines, and I am first in 90/120/PK. But I stink at picking goal scorers ... the only reason I'm 6th instead of last is that one person forgot to pick goal scorers for the group stage.

So when you see me predict a winner, I might actually know something. But if you see me predict who will score goals, ignore me.

Thus, I offer my predictions for the next round.

Uruguay-France. I predict it will go to penalties after a 1-1 draw, goals by Suárez and Mbappé. France will win the shootout.

Brazil-Belgium. Brazil, 2-1, in regulation 90 minutes. Goals by Neymar and Firmino for Brazil and Lukaku for Belgium.

Sweden-England. England, 2-1, in regulation time. Goals by Kane and Lingard for England and Toivonen for Sweden.

Russia-Croatia. Croatia to win, 2-1, in 120 minutes. Goals by Rakitic and Mandzukic for Croatia and Golovin for Russia.

england v colombia analysis from michael cox

"England vs Colombia, World Cup 2018: Drop in performance raises question about Gareth Southgate’s tactical nous"

[A] dramatic drop in performance towards the end of normal time raises a question about Gareth Southgate’s ability to influence matches tactically. ...

Southgate will surely spend the next couple of days assessing England’s performance towards the end of normal time and at the start of extra-time, when Pekerman’s changes handed Colombia the initiative. England struggled to find solutions, from players or manager, and while they’re safely into the quarter-finals, they must learn to weather the storm if they’re to lift the World Cup.



Andres Cantor and Manuel Sol. They have been joined by others on occasion, but Sol is the regular partner of Cantor. Cantor has been at the top of his game ... nothing new there, you already know what you're getting. Sol has been OK at color commentary, but as I say every Cup, I can't really be trusted to evaluate the color folks, because my Spanish isn't quite good enough to trust. Cantor's best call so far was probably Marcos Rojo's game-winner against Nigeria (Cantor was born in Argentina):

 Sammy Sadovnik and Eduardo Biscayart. I'm a big fan of Sammy's, and he has had a fine tournament. There really isn't any drop in quality when Sadovnik takes over from Cantor.

Copán Álvarez and Viviana Vila/Claudio Borghi. I've seen them do a few matches, but they haven't made an impression one way or the other. Vila has been good ... both women commentators have been a pleasure.

There's also Horacio Elizondo, an ex-referee who comments on rules stuff and the like.


I only watched a few matches in English, and only saw the #3 team of Derek Rae and Aly Wagner. Rae has been doing soccer in the U.S. seemingly forever, and is a solid choice. Wagner has done quite well as color commentator.

The breakout star of the announcers has been someone I've only seen/heard on YouTube highlights. Jorge Perez-Navarro is familiar to Spanish-speaking listeners in the States for his work on MLS and Mexican League matches, but this is the first time I've heard him do English-language. What he's done in this Cup is bring the style of the Spanish announcing to English broadcasts. Not as easy as it sounds; even the great Cantor loses something in English. Perez-Navarro has been a delight.

today's matches


Colombia-England. Now that's more like it. The number of yellow cards reflected the scrappy play of Colombia more than it did any shortcomings by the referee.  Between the 52nd and 69th minute, he gave four yellows to Colombia, two to England, and awarded England a penalty. They played more than 40 minutes after that, with only one yellow card just before the end of the match. In other words, the players got the message at last, well done by the ref. (Oh, let's say his name, since he's American: Mark Geiger.) There were a couple of standouts, particularly England's Kieran Trippier, but overall, the play wasn't great. But both teams were trying their hardest to score, and if they were too tired to add any goals in the half hour of extra time, well, they were deservedly tired. It was nice for England to finally get over their penalty-shootout curse. I didn't think I had a rooting interest in this match, until Colombia finally score and I shouted and thrust my hands in the air. Guess I was rooting for Colombia after all. That goal was the only non-penalty of the match.


tomorrow's matches

Sweden-Switzerland. Not exactly the match everyone is looking forward to, but then, who expected Belgium-Japan to be a classic? Sweden's only loss in the group stage came via Toni Kroos' wonder strike ... they shut out South Korea and Mexico in their other matches. Defender Andreas Granqvist has been their best player ... he even has two goals from penalty kicks, and was Man of the Match in both their victories.  Switzerland has yet to lose, and they managed a draw against Brazil. Xherdan Shaqiri has been their best ... he scored a 90th-minute goal to beat Serbia. His performance fell off against Costa Rica, and Switzerland will need him to rebound. The Swiss are also missing two starters to suspension. Sweden should win this one. Although they have met each other 27 times, this will be their first meeting in 16 years. They played a six-goal scorcher in Euro qualifiers in 1994:

Colombia-England. James had a terrific match against Poland, but left the Senegal match with an injury and is doubtful against England. Juan Quintero has been Colombia's top player so far in the tourney, with a goal and two assists. Any discussion of England must begin with Harry Kane, who already has five goals despite being rested against Belgium. Kieran Trippier has also looked good. I get the feeling that England fans are already assuming this match is theirs, but I wouldn't be so sure. It should be a good, even, match. But my predictions haven't been right too often. The teams have only met five times previously, with England winning three and drawing the other two. They met in group play at the 1998 World Cup, with England knocking Colombia out of the competition.


today's matches

You never know.

Today we had one of the favorites of the tournament, Brazil, against what amounts to a local favorite, Mexico. And, oh yeah, Belgium was going to destroy Japan.

Brazil-Mexico was a decent match. Memo Ochoa was great in goal for Mexico, and Carlos Vela and Chucky Lozano did well up front. Chicharito apparently injured a hamstring early and was eventually subbed out. And what was Rafa Marquez doing in the starting lineup? None of that really matters, because Brazil was clearly the better team, and they remain favorites to win it all. Mexico poured on the pressure early, which might have been a bad idea, given the 93-degree heat ... they appeared to tire as the match went on. Neymar pissed everyone off with his diving, but he had a great game. And after a mediocre group stage, Willian had his best match by far. Also worth noting: Brazil's defense has been excellent.

And then came Belgium-Japan. The match this reminded me of was Brazil-Netherlands in 1994. That match, too, had a scoreless first half and five second-half goals. Brazil got two early in the second half from Romario and Bebeto, one minute later Dennis Bergkamp got one back for the Netherlands, then Aron Winter equalized with 14 minutes to play. Then 9 minutes from time, Branco smashed home a tremendous long-range free kick to put Brazil ahead to stay.

That was the best half of World Cup soccer I can remember. But I think today, Belgium and Japan topped it.

The first half wasn't without interest, but if felt a bit like the teams were still feeling each other out after 45 minutes. But then it got crazy. Japan got a quick goal from Genki Haraguchi, made easier by poor defending from Jan Vertonghen. Four minutes later, Takashi Inui scored from distance, and it looked like a World Cup full of surprises was about to add another to the list. Belgium manager Roberto Martinez brought in Nacer Chadli and Marouane Fellaini in the 65th minute, but was it too late? Four minutes later, Vertonghen made up for his earlier gaff by scoring an accidental goal off a very bizarre header. Five minutes after that, it was Fellaini with a header to equalize. Belgium clearly looked to have more than Japan, but time was running out. What followed was a play that will remind U.S. fans of Landon Donovan's goal against Algeria. As the clock ran out, Japan took a last corner. Belgium keeper Thibaut Courtois made the grab and quickly rolled out a pass to start a last-gasp attempt before time ran out. It worked. Five Belgian players rushed down the field. Romelu Lukaku took a defender with him, then dummied a cross, leaving it to Chadli to score on the last kick of the match.


tomorrow's matches

Brazil-Mexico. It would be nice if Mexico gave a good performance here. I don't expect them to win, but it would be nice if they lost without looking as crappy as Spain did against Russia. Chucky Lozano has been their best player, as he was for PSV Eindhoven during the recently-completed season. Trivia note: the Spanish-language announcers pronounce his nickname "Chooky". If the Mexico we saw against Sweden shows up, the will be a blowout. Let's hope the team that beat Germany returns. Marcelo is a question mark for Brazil ... he played well in their first two games. Truth is, only Brazil can beat Brazil. It may happen ... they're weak in goal, and ... oh, let's face it, they have lots of good-to-great players. The two teams have met many times over the years, with Mexico being held scoreless the last three matches. In the World Cup, they have met four times, with Brazil picking up three wins and a draw and outscoring the Mexicans, 11-0. Here are a couple of clips of Mexico's last win over Brazil, six years ago in a friendly:

Belgium-Japan. I've been wrong before, but this should be no contest. Japan only got this far because they didn't get very many yellow cards ... Belgium won all three of their matches by an aggregate score of 9-2. I'm not sure who Japan's best players are ... Yuya Osako was Man of the Match against Colombia, but hasn't done much since. Defender Gen Shoji had a couple of good matches before sitting out against Poland. Maya Yoshida is another who crapped out against Poland after a good start to the tourney. Meanwhile, Romelu Lukaku scored two goals for Belgium in both matches he played in, and Eden Hazard has two goals and an assist in two matches. Japan's only hope lies in the possibility that Lukaku will miss the match, but Belgium manager Roberto Martinez says Lukaku is good to go. Japan and Belgium met in the 2002 World Cup in Japan. It was an exciting match, with a tremendous goal from Marc Wilmots:


today's matches

First, I should note that overall I've been enjoying this World Cup. I told myself ahead of time to try not to bitch and moan constantly, but I needn't have bothered ... the matches have been fine, and occasionally great.

Today, though, I felt like I was experiencing the past.

Let's talk about goals, although I know there is more to appreciating soccer than actually scoring. Yesterday, there were 10 goals in 180 minutes. Today, there were 4 goals in 240 minutes, and one of those was an own-goal and another was a penalty. (That both of those came in Spain-Russia says a lot about the entertainment value of that match.) The "better" match of the two suggested better things, with two goals in the first four minutes. Unfortunately, they played another 116 minutes without scoring another, although there was a missed penalty.

To finish what little I have to say about Spain-Russia, I point to an article on ESPN. The title says it all: "Spain's shocking exit - 1056 passes, 1013 touches, 0 chemistry". Or, to go to The Simpsons well again:

I predicted Isco and Golovin would be the best players for their respective teams, and I was right about Isco (Golovin played well, too, but their keeper, Igor Akinfeev, was the Man of the Match).

As for Croatia-Denmark, I tabbed some good players for that match, as well. I had Rakitic leading Croatia, and he had a good game and scored the final, winning, penalty. And I singled out Kasper Schmeichel, which was easy ... he had a great World Cup, and was the best player in this match. For the rest, I go to Twitter. First, there was the great Jennifer Doyle, who tweeted, "I am just gonna go to France and wait for the Women’s World Cup. Because watching this is work!" To which I replied, "Hopefully by the time you get to France, this match will be over." Even better was Jeff VanderMeer, who tweeted, "I've come here from a week in the future to tell you the Denmark / Croatia match is still going on -- and it's glorious and surreal and a lot of us now need a shower quite desperately, but we'll keep staring into the sun. Oh god. Send help. Help. Help. ".

I was glad Luka Modric had a chance to take a second shot at a penalty ... I've been a fan of his for a long time. And I'm glad Croatia advances ... nothing against Denmark, but in four matches, they scored 3 goals and allowed 2. Almost as boring as what we saw from Spain today.

Still, I remain optimistic. Brazil-Mexico should be a good one.

tomorrow's matches

Spain-Russia. This is where the party ends for the hosts. Spain haven't always been at their best so far, but Russia's 3-0 loss to Uruguay is probably more telling than anything else. The Russians beat up on lesser opponents, and deserve props for that, since they were supposed to be one of those lesser opponents. But they aren't going to beat Spain. I wouldn't be surprised if they are held scoreless once again. I expect Isco for Spain and Aleksandr Golovin for Russia being their team's best players.

Here are highlights from a match between the two at the 2008 Euros. Ten years ago, but some familiar faces for 2018 World Cup fans, although the faces are older and the hairstyles have changed:

Croatia-Denmark. Croatia should roll on, having won all three of their group matches. Ivan Rakitic was dominant against Argentina, and he might find good pickings here, as well. Denmark's hopes lie in keeper Kasper Schmeichel, who is having a great tournament. Denmark only allowed one goal in three games, and that came via a penalty. On the other hand, Denmark has only scored twice so far. I think they will struggle to score in this one.

These teams haven't played a non-friendly match since 1997, so here's a different kind of highlight: Croatia-Denmark 2018, played on FIFA 18. Fun for a bit, but spoiler alert: no one scores until around 21:50 of the video.