Happy 4th, everyone. It feels like it’s been ages since there has been soccer to watch, but thankfully, the World Cup resumes today with a bang. Germany-France and Brazil-Colombia should be two of the best matches of the tournament, and Americans like me can spend our national holiday cheering on foreigners. Keeping with the international theme, the other major sporting event to watch today is Wimbledon – specifically the men’s semifinals, where Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer will look to set up a dream final against one another on Sunday. I doubt too many Americans normally spend their 4th cheering on Serbians and Germans, but that’s what my day will look like. And I couldn’t be more excited.
Lest you failed to notice, I was a perfect 8-8 in my round of 16 World Cup picks. Granted, it wasn’t like I picked any upsets, but still, that’s a pretty good percentage. Let’s see if my quarterfinal predictions go as well.
Germany 1 (4) France 1 (3)
This is a matchup befitting of a final, and the game won’t fail to deliver. Despite all the drama surrounding the German team in recent days both about their play on the field and their health off it, I believe die Mannschaft will show up ready to play. With Mats Hummels returning in defense, the German backline will prove much harder to beat today. I think this is the match that Philipp Lahm shows the world he should be playing midfield – the captain is due for a strong performance, and I expect him to shut Paul Pogba down. Wanting to prove their critics wrong, I expect Germany to play with more venom in the early going. However, the teams will go into the locker room scoreless.
France will score shortly after halftime on a cheaply given away set piece. Karim Benzema will nod home a well-struck ball from Mathieu Valbuena, and the French will be on their way. Germany won’t respond well to the adversity immediately, and Manuel Neuer will be called upon in net to keep his country in the game. However, around the 75th minute, Thomas Müller will catch France sleeping, beating Patrice Evra down the right. His cross will find substitute Miroslav Klose for the equalizer. The extra-time will see a few chances early on, but ultimately, both teams will be afraid of sending too many men forward knowing how dangerous their opponent is on the counter. Penalties will be a huge test of French goalie Hugo Lloris, who lacks the high-pressure experiences of Neuer. The big German will prove better, making two keys saves. Germany won’t even need to take their fifth kick. It won’t be a pretty win, but Deutschland will move on to another semifinal.
Colombia 2 Brazil 1
The Colombians’ magical run will continue against the hosts, who will heavily miss Luiz Gustavo in front of their defense. Without the hard-tackling, disciplined Gustavo to provide a safety net, Brazil will get caught forward a couple times, and Colombia will have little trouble finding spaces on the counter. If the hosts want to win, they’ll need Fernandinho and Paulinho to play the games of their lives in midfield, shutting down Colombian superstar James Rodriguez. Colombia might benefit from all the nicks Neymar has picked up this tournament, as another two or three hard fouls could leave the Brazilian star ineffective. Neymar will need much more from his supporting cast than he got against Chile today, especially if the Colombians smartly knock him around in the first half.
I like Colombia to score first midway through the opening half, with Juan Cuadrado earning a penalty off of a poorly timed David Luiz tackle. James Rodriguez will cooly slot it past Julio Cesar, and Brazil will begin to press. Frustration will build as they find little success creating legitimate chances. If they resort to playing long-balls out of the back like they did against Chile, it could be a long day for Brazil. A few minutes before halftime, Fred will push a free header wide of the mark in their best chance of the half. They’ll play a more cautious style of soccer at the start of the second half, afraid of giving up an all-important second goal. However, they’ll be forced to abandon those tactics after long in search of the equalizer. With more men forward, Jackson Martinez will set up James on another counter attack and the Golden Ball frontrunner will score his second. Brazil will get one back through Thiago Silva late on, but it won’t be enough. Brazilians everywhere will be left devastated.
Enjoy the day and stay safe.