And for the first time, the eight group winners have made it through to the quarterfinals – a feat that is most impressive once you realize that Brazil, Argentina, France and others have yet to hit top gear and really get going.
Belgium overcame the heroics of Tim Howard’s record setting performance for the USA, while everyone’s darling nation Costa Rica continues to drive forward showing that CONCACAF are no pushovers.
Germany v France
How delightful is this matchup? As a pure fan of the game, this is about as delicious as it gets for a quarterfinal showdown – the resurgent French against a German team that has continued to impressive at the very peek of the sport.
There is no doubting the strength of the Germans: a fourth successive World Cup semifinal berth awaits them, but an athletic and resilient French side stand between them and that lofty goal.
The youth of France in Pogba, Griezman, Varane and Matuidi against the guile of experience in Klose, Muller, Ozil, Scheinsteiger and the younger Kroos.
During a Summer where the heat of Brazil was to suffocate the skill of European nations, France and Germany have both dealt with expectations but have yet to hit full throttle.
With a berth in the semifinal awaiting, expect a chess match like tension from the off with both sides trying to assert control of the ball – the pace and speed of France can cause fits to a flu-ridden German side, but I fully expect Muller to continue his venomous form and drag his side into the semifinals.
With so much youth and tensions high, I fear we’ll see a first half red card in Rio de Janeiro.
Prediction: Germany 3 – 1 France
Man of the Match: Thomas Muller
Brazil v Colombia
A true battle of South America, a very real chance of Colombia upsetting the host nation and a team of superstars still waiting to click – Brazil v Colombia gives us so much and more.
I doubted Brazil would make it this far after some poor, but winning, performances but this is where Scolari’s team comes together – better to peek late than peek early and crash out of the tournament, right?
While Neymar has shown moments of brilliance and Brazil has flashed their skill and flair, they have yet to really get going – the weight of a nation, the pressure of a host nation and the desperation to win in the spotlight.
But with the monkey off their back after sneaking past Chile, I fully expect Brazil to stand up and be counted, showing their talent and snatching a spot in the semifinal.
Don’t get me wrong, Colombia is more than capable – as they have shown so far this Summer – and will be another stern test for the hosts, but this is where the party ends for the South American upstarts.
James Rodriguez has been brilliant, perhaps the best young player at this tournament, but much like Costa Rica against Netherlands I fear this is where they run out of steam.
Prediction: Brazil 2 – 1 Colombia
Man of the Match: Oscar