The quarter finals for the 2014 World Cup shall be held this Friday and Saturday. 24 of the 32 participating teams are already eliminated, leaving four teams from Europe, three from South America and one from North & Central America to fight it out for places in the semi finals.
Of the eight remaining teams, Colombia, under their Argentine coach Jose Pekerman, have been the most impressive so far. They won their three group matches with ease and followed it with a fluent win over Uruguay. Their star performer has been the attacking midfielder James Rodriguez (# 10). He alone has scored 5 of their 11 goals in 4 matches (including one against Japan when he came on as a substitute). His first goal against Uruguay has arguably been the goal of the tournament so far.
But Colombia have shown that they are far from a one-man team; their defence, led by their 38 year-old captain Mario Yepes (# 3), has looked rock solid for the major part, backed by their excellent goalkeeper David Ospina (# 1). The fact that they have conceded just 2 goals in 4 games underlines their defensive strength. The midfield is hard-working as well as creative, with Juan Cuadrado (# 11) being outstanding. The strikers Teofilo Gutierrez (# 9) and Jackson Martinez (# 21) have been adequate; their jobs being made easier by Rodriguez. All in all, Colombia have arguably been the most impressive team on display. And they have done all this without their iconic striker Radomel Falcao, who is injured.
Colombia play Brazil in Friday’s second quarter final. Brazil, some believe, have been lucky to survive the Chile test in the previous round; for that they have to thank their goalkeeper Julio Cesar (# 12), and their good fortune to some extent. They have won just 2 of their 4 matches within regulation time and have looked almost pedestrian by their own exalted standards. They have scored 8 goals, and have conceded 3.
Brazil’s star striker Neymar (# 10) has looked very good at times, having scored 4 of his teams goals; but he clearly lacks support. Players like Hulk (# 7), Oscar (# 11), Fernandinho (# 5) and Paulinho (# 8) will have to raise their respective games to help Neymar break down the Columbian defence. Meanwhile their defence, led by captain Thiago Silva (# 3) and David Luiz (# 4) will have to be at their very best to stop Rodriguez and company.
However, it would be foolish to write Brazil off – they haven’t lost a competitive match at home for years and years. In Felipe Scolari they have a master tactician, and the players will be keen to prove the critics wrong. They will miss Luis Gustavo (# 17) for the quarter final – being suspended after being booked twice.
Friday’s first quarter final shall be between France and Germany. The French, under their 1998 World Cup winning captain Didier Deschamps, have won 3 of their 4 matches, scoring 10 goals and conceding just 2. They have looked brilliant at times, with striker Karim Benzema (# 10) and midfielders Yohan Cabaye (# 6) and youngster Paul Pogba (# 19) catching the eye consistently. Their defence has been more than adequate, where another youngster Raphael Varane (# 4) has been a revelation.
The Germans, as usual, bring their efficient, no-nonsense team game to the table. Attacking midfielder Thomas Muller (# 13) seems to love the World Cup, he’s already scored 9 goals in 10 Cup matches. With 36 year old Miroslav Klose (# 11) being used sparingly, Germany lack a genuine striker, but Muller, along with Bastain Schweinsteiger (# 7), Mesut Ozil (# 8), Mario Gotze (# 19) and Andre Schurrle (# 9) have carried the team forward. This should be a very interesting match.
Argentina, like Colombia, have won their 4 matches thus far, though they have been far less fluent. Their captain Lionel Messi (# 10) has proved his class time and time again to carry his team, having scored 4 of Argentina’s 7 goals himself, and assisting in the others. But Argentina struggled to beat their opponents in each of their 4 matches, winning each game by a single goal margin.
Their opponents on Saturday shall be Belgium, who, too, have won all their matches so far. In Eden Hazard (# 10) they possess one of the best young players in the world, though some feel he is yet to reveal his best in this competition. Belgium appear to be a well-balanced team, with a splendid young goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois (# 1) to back up a strong defence, led by skipper Vincent Kompany (# 4). The mid-field and attack has looked impressive at times, and is always cohesive. Argentina will have their task cut out to overcome this Belgian side and progress to the last four.
Saturday’s second quarter final feature the Netherlands, the 4th team to have won all their matches. They have scored 12 goals so far, and while they haven’t looked as impressive in their last three matches as they did in their opening encounter against defending champions Spain, they have shown great spirit and determination to overcome one-goal deficits in three of their games to win. In captain Robin van Persie (# 9), Wesley Sneijder (# 10) and Arjen Robben (# 11), they have three world class players to trouble any defence any day. Their own defence looks strong, backed by yet another good goalkeeper Jasper Cilessen (# 1).
Their opponents in the quarter finals shall be Costa Rica. Now, to me personally, Costa Rica have been the team of this World Cup, no matter what happens next. Before the start of the tournament, having been thrown in a group with three former World Cup winners (with 7 titles between them), even their most ardent fan would perhaps have been happy with a point or two at most, and some gritty performance at least. However, they have confounded most football pundits again and again.
Costa Rica started with a 3-1 win over Uruguay. True, the Uruguayans were without Luis Suarez that day, but that doesn’t take an iota of credit from the marauding Costa Ricans. Having gone behind to a penalty goal in the 1st half, they turned in a superb performance in the 2nd half to win convincingly.
Many thought that Costa Rica’s first win was a mere flash in the pan. Their next opponents, Italy, found to their great chagrin that that was not so. The Italians weren’t allowed to settle down to play their normal wait-and-pounce game by the fast tackling Costa Ricans. After frustrating the Italians for nearly the whole of the opening half, Costa Rica took the lead through their captain Brian Ruiz (# 10) just before the interval. In the second half Italy strove hard to equalise, but such was the belief and work-rate of the whole Costa Rican team that their slender lead never actually looked threatened.
After two wins in 2 matches, Costa Rica coasted to a draw against England in their last match to emerge as group winners – ahead of the 3 former champions! Now, perhaps, their fairy tale would be over, against Greece, who had themselves authored a modern mythology ten years ago by winning Euro ’04. After a goalless 1st half, Costa Rica took the lead through Ruiz. They then had a player sent off but still defended grittily, until Greece equalised in injury time to take the game to 30 minutes of extra time. This was surely the end of the road for those tired ten men, but no, Costa Rica held on and then stunned Greece with 5 well-taken penalties in the tie-breaker.
Perhaps against the Netherlands this fairy tale will eventually end. No matter, this Costa Rican team, without any so called star player, have already given us immense pleasure with their happy and fearless approach and their perfect team game; they have also given hope to all other weaker footballing nations that with a little bit of luck and great doses of courage, spirit and determination, it is possible to elevate themselves into the elite eight in the world’s greatest tournament.
~Rajat Subhra Banerjee