18to88: World Cup Quarterfinal Preview and Predictions

We can only hope that the next two quarter final games are as exciting as the two that just took place yesterday.  Not many people had the Netherlands getting past Brazil.  I picked them to get to the final, but that pick was half heart, half head.  The safe pick was Brazil, but who could have foreseen them falling apart in the second half like that?  Now we won't get to see Kaka and Lucio both tearing their shirts off after the final to prove who's undershirt bears the more evangelical slogan.  Tears.

As for Ghana and Uruguay, I don't know that there's a more cruel way to lose a game.  Suarez's blatant, two-handed goal line clearance in the 121st minute was, in many ways, a worse kind of villainy as Maradona's hand-of-god goal.  What happened after the act was as much as could happen to punish him in the game.  The ref gave Suarez a red card and Ghana a penalty kick, which Gyan incomprehensibly launched off the top crossbar and into the annals of World Cup infamy.  You knew that Ghana didn't stand a chance in the shoot out.  The announcers told us no fewer than six times during the game that Uruguay's keeper made his reputation stopping penalty kicks and Ghana never looked up to that task.  He only stopped two of the four that Ghana attempted (only 50%, I know), but he dove the right way each time.  Holland better hope they don't play Uruguay to a draw next Tuesday.  On to the tomorrow.

Germany - Argentina - Saturday, 10AM

My take: The robot that just learned how to feel vs. an embarrassment of riches

OK, so Die Mannschaft has never been as robotic or emotionless as everyone makes them out to be.  They've had some great creative players through out their history, but they've also always had a logic and efficiency in their game that fits the national stereotype.  So far, they've been one of the biggest surprises of the tournament, playing a with skill and flair that has looked more Rio than Berlin.  Skilled, young players like Otzil and Muller have stepped up big time and announced their arrival on the world's biggest stage.  They've played some very impressive flowing and creative soccer.  Clinical finishers Klose and Podolski always save their best play for the international game and, as Thomas Muller said after they sent England packing, Germany are a tournament team.  More and more, Germany's game reflects the diverse immigration that has hit the country in recent decades, with players boasting Turkish, Polish and African heritages.

Argentina boast what is arguably the most skilled rosters in the tournament.  Their options off the bench would be first choices for a number of teams still left in the tournament.  They've got so much talent on hand that they are hardly even playing Diego Milito, the guy who scored both goals for Inter Milan in the Champion's League final.  The only place that Argentina shows any possible dip in talent is their central defenders, but they're still both top class.  Brazil is the only other team that had that kind of depth, but they got served by Holland yesterday.

How they got there

Germany spanked Australia, lost to Serbia, and then beat Ghana to win their group.  They then easily dispatched England in the round of 16.  Yes, I know that England had a legitimate goal disallowed, but the final score was 3-1 and Germany ran the game.  Argentina won all three games in their group pretty emphatically and then handled Mexico pretty soundly in knockout round.  Yes, I know that Argentina should have had one of their goals disallowed, but the final score was3-1 and Argentina ran the game.  Jeesh, that sounded repetitive.

Things to watch for

Can the Germans take Leo Messi out of the game?  Shutting down Messi isn't the only thing that Germany will need to do if they want to beat Argentina, but it would go a long way toward accomplishing the task.  The German's have the defensive tools to do it, but if Messi is allowed to pull the strings like he did against Japan, let alone start scoring goals, then they'll be in for a long night.

Will DiMichelis and Burdisso be able to fend off Klose and Podolski?  Like I said earlier, Klose and Podolski both seem to step up for their national team bigger than they ever have for their clubs.  Both are big, strong and dangerous with their heads and feet.  Argentina has a sterner test than they've had so far in the tournament and the one place they've looked susceptible is their central defense and Germany has the tools to take advantage.

My prediction

2-1, Argentina.  Germany puts up a valiant effort, fighting to 1-0 at the half, but ultimately falls as Messi picks up his first two goals of the tournament.  Tempers flair toward the end of the match.  Bastian Schweinsteiger gets into a shouting match with Argentine defender Gabriel Heinze, claiming that he shouldn't be allowed to have a German sounding last name if he doesn't play for the Fatherland.  After the match, Lucas Podolski cries tiny, cubic tears of despair.

Paraguay - Spain - Saturday, 2:30PM

My take: A bunch of guys I don't know anything about vs. the Virgin Mary

Who?  Paraguay?  In the quarterfinals?  What am I supposed to do with that?  The only thing I know about Paraguay is that they don't have a navy, the country is vaguely shaped like a 'P', and they compete in a bi-annual, multi-event sporting competition against Uruguay to determine who's the better guay.  I don't even have any well known national stereotypes to fall back on for this one.  I know that they did really well in CONMEBOL qualification, topping the table at one point, but something kept me from ever learning a single thing about them.  OK, so I know that they've got stand out striker Roque Santa Cruz on their team (Blackburn and Man City in the EPL).  See what happens when I try and write this stuff without an Internet connection?

Talk to some and you'll get the idea that Spain are the unblemished, incorruptible saints of the soccer world.  They play the game the way it was SUPPOSED to be played; gallantly, with poise, beauty, and honor.  No cynical tackles or bootball here.  Midfield maestro Xavi Hernandez epitomizes this ethos.  Orchestrating their attack so sublimely he makes Andrea Pirlo look raucous.  Personally, I've never bought the hype, but Spain play a nigh unstoppable possession game and are have been the team to beat since they won the European championship in '08.

How they got here

Spain was upset by Switzerland and then dispatched Honduras and Chile in the group stage.  They knocked out regional rivals Portugal in the round of 16.  Paraguay drew title holders Italy and New Zealand and beat Slovakia emphatically in the group stage.  In the second round they played Japan to a scoreless draw and then won on penalty kicks.

Things to watch for

Will Paraguay be able to touch the ball?  Spain win their games dominating possession.  Its a pretty smart plan.  If your opponent never gets the ball, its pretty hard for them to score.  The more you have it, the better your chance of scoring becomes.  Paraguay's passing was pretty sub-standard against Japan in their last match.  They could get run off the field if they aren't able to ever get some kind of rhythm with the ball.

Could Paraguay pull off another textbook upset against Spain?  Bob Bradley laid out the game plan in the Confederations Cup last year; press high and disrupt Spain's passing lanes to their back line, bunker down in your own half, dominate balls in the air, score on the counter or off of free kicks.  Switzerland employed the same tactics when they beat Spain in the first round.  Jose Mourinho led Inter past half of Spain's starting lineup when they beat Barcelona in the Champion's League using the same tactics.  Does Paraguay have the chops to do it?  Honestly, its probably the only chance they've got.  One would think that Spain only need to play their game to get a win here.

My prediction

4-0, Spain.  Paraguay bunker from the get go, but Spain finds a goal before half time. After play resumes, the flood gates open up as Xavi and Iniesta unlock the Paraguayan defense.  After scoring the fourth goal himself, Xavi is so elated that he tears off his shirt, revealing a pair of silvery wings protruding from his back.  This finally confirms what many of us have suspected for quite sometime, that he is, in actuality, a some type of pixie.  Paraguay appeals to FIFA for Spain to be ejected from the tournament for fielding a magical creature, but Sepp Blatter denies their request under on the grounds that such action would violate FIFA's "Say No to Racism" campaign.


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