After three weeks of group matches, spectacular goals and plenty of yellow and red cards the tournament had begun to get serious. All eight teams are now just three games away from glory and immortalisation. But of course, only four can progress this weekend.
The Quarter Final draw has thrown up some fascinating ties, some worthy of the final itself. The most notable fixture is surely Brazil vs France in a repeat of the 1998 final. Brazil have struggled to impress this year despite being red hot favourites before the competition began. Gritty games in the group stage and a lack of flair has caused people to doubt if they are really up to the task. However the last two matches for Brazil has seen the goals coming thick and fast and this is a team which includes some massively talented players who can no doubt rise to the occasion.
France are having a good World Cup. They started a little slowly by their standards but have been gaining momentum. They had a poor game against Switzerland but were incredibly unlucky against South Korea before finally getting the results they wanted against Togo and Spain in the second round. Like Brazil, France have a lot of big game players who will be hungry for success, especially Zinadine Zidane who will be keen to go out with another World Cup winners medal before he retires after the finals.
Team news and Brazil have injury doubts over Kaka and Emerson. If they are unable to make it in time for Saturday’s game then Juninho and Gilberto Silva look set to deputise. France’s only injury concern is Zidane who sat out training with a sore foot but is expected to play in this match.
The other big Quarter final match sees the tournaments two form sides Germany and Argentina meet in Berlin. Germany, the host nation and finalists in 2002 have seemingly breezed through this tournament and boast a 100% record. Striker Miroslav Klose seems to love the World Cup. Top scorer in Japan four years ago he tops the charts this year too. Despite playing well many people believe that Germany have a weakness at the back but since the opening game against Costa Rica they have not conceded a goal. In Jurgen Klinsmann they have a manager who has been there and won it all at international level and he will no doubt be passing on words of wisdom to his team in the dressing room.
Since impressing in a difficult group stage, Argentina have overtaken Brazil as favourites to lift the trophy. Their 6-0 drubbing of Serbia and Montenegro tallied with good results against Ivory Coast and Holland have made the public sit up and take notice. The squad boasts a wealth of attacking talent which will test the Germany defence. This is going to be one of those games which is too close to call.
Argentina have injury worries over Scaloni who looks set to miss out and Burdisso (knee) and Luis Gonzalez (groin) also face late fitness tests. Germany’s only injury worries are influential players Ballack and Klose who look set to shake of injuries in time for the big match.
Italy vs Ukraine is the third quarter final. Italy coped well in another of the tough groups, overcoming Czech Republic and USA to progress. The second round saw a fortunate win over Australia which was decided by a dubious stoppage time penalty.
World Cup debutants Ukraine have been hit and miss in this tournament. A dreadful 4-0 defeat against Spain in their opening game had people doubting whether they were up to playing on the big stage but they hit back with convincing wins over Saudi Arabia and Tunisia to progress. However this was followed by a poor display against Switzerland which was decided on penalties after a 0-0 draw dubbed by some as the worst World Cup game of all time.
Italy’s experience and class is expected to overcome the Ukrainians but there is no doubting that Ukraine will not go down without a fight. The Italian defence will beware of the danger that Andriy Shevchenko will pose after his several years in Serie A. The Australia match has taken its toll on Italy as defender Marco Mattarazzi is out after being sent off. Alessandro Nesta is also unavailable through injury leaving the Italians light at the back. Andrea Barzagli is expected to come in as a replacement.
Ukraine too have problems. Andriy Voronin is out for the rest of the tournament which means a shuffle which sees former Tottenham and West Ham man Sergi Rebrov move into midfield.
Finally is the much anticipated game between England and Portugal. These two sides met in the quarter finals of Euro 2004 which saw the Portuguese win on penalties. Many eyes will be on the dug outs too as Sven Goran Eriksson meets his nemesis “Big Phil” Scolari, the man who has knocked him and his team out of the past two major tournaments (WC 2002 and Euro 2004) Scolari was also a leading contender to replace Eriksson who stands down after the World Cup but declined the job.
Portugal are having a great World Cup winning comfortably in both the group and second stages. All time top scorer Pauleta will pose the biggest threat to England’s defence.
The expectation on England is high once again. However they suffered a huge blow when Michael Owen was ruled out after injuring himself against Sweden meaning Sven Goran Eriksson’s striker gamble looks like blowing up in his face as he has only Rooney and Crouch along with the inexperienced youngster Theo Walcott. In addition, England have not looked overly convincing in the games leading up to this Quarter final and if they show the same weaknesses to better teams they will be punished.
Portugal are suffering the consequences of some terrible refereeing and as a result have key players Deco and Costinha suspended. Playmaker Christiano Ronaldo is also struggling with a thigh injury but is expected to make it. Other than Owen, England have no fresh injury problems. Gary Neville is expected to return and replace one of Michael Carrick and Owen Hargreaves will contest for the holding midfield role after both impressed with displays in the last two matches.
Whatever the outcome of these games they are all sure to make great viewing for the weekend.