The quarter-finals at World Cup 2022 are upon us, with the first two ties taking place on Friday 9 December.
Brazil will be looking to get past Croatia in the early game before the Netherlands do battle with Lionel Messi and Argentina.
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Croatia squeezed past Japan in the round of 16, triumphing 3-1 on penalties following a 1-1 draw after extra time. The runners-up at World Cup 2018 are still in contention to reach a second consecutive final, which would be a truly extraordinary achievement for a nation of fewer than four million people.
However, this will probably be the end of the road for this Croatia team. Zlatko Dalic’s side have done well to get this far, but they looked slow and tired against Japan. After a grueling two hours of soccer in that match, they will struggle to find the energy required to get the better of Brazil.
The Selecao have a fantastic defensive record and we are backing them to register another clean sheet on Friday.
Neymar’s return to the starting XI in the 4-1 victory over South Korea was a welcome boost for Tite’s team. The forward might not be to everyone’s taste, but there is no denying that Brazil are a better side with him in it. By scoring a penalty, Neymar moved to within one goal of equalling Pele’s all-time goal record for the Selecao.
From a betting perspective, though, Vinicius Junior is a much more enticing pick in the anytime scorer market. The Real Madrid man got Brazil up and running against the Koreans, notching his first goal of the tournament.
The left-sided forward has been lively throughout Brazil’s campaign and he could have some joy up against the aging Dejan Lovren.
The Netherlands delivered a professional performance to eliminate the USA last weekend. Gregg Berhalter’s side are at their best when the game is played at a high tempo, so the Dutch deliberately slowed things down and put their superior attacking quality to good use. A 3-1 victory booked their place in the quarter-finals.
Argentina squeezed past Australia 2-1 in the round of 16. They were made to sweat late on against the spirited Socceroos, but on the balance of chances created Argentina really ought to have won by a wider margin.
These two teams are much more evenly matched, which could result in a tight and tense encounter - especially as the Netherlands and Argentina are now just two wins away from a World Cup final. One goal might be enough to win this encounter.
Both Louis van Gaal and Lionel Scaloni no doubt anticipate a cagey affair, so neither manager will want to open up too early. There will be plenty of attacking talent on the field - Lionel Messi is in fine form, while Memphis Depay is fully fit again - so both coaches will emphasize the importance of keeping things tight and staying in the game.
When these two nations last went head-to-head, in the semi-finals of World Cup 2014, there were no goals after 120 minutes. This feels like a tie that could also go all the way to penalties, and we would not be surprised if we entered the closing stages of normal time with the score still level.
With that in mind, a draw with 70 minutes on the clock at the Lusail Iconic Stadium looks like a distinct possibility.
Dates: November 20 - December 18
How to Watch: Fox Sports, Telemundo, fuboTV
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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