On the Volley: World Cup Quarterfinals Preview

By Charlie DeMatteo

Eight teams remain in the 2022 FIFA World Cup with the quarterfinals kicking off on Friday. This week I’ll look at each of the four matches and give my predictions.

Brazil vs. Croatia

Finalists in 2018, Croatia are once again proving they are a challenging opponent in knockout-style tournaments. The ageless wonder Luka Modric combined with some youthful exuberance in the squad saw them knock out Japan on penalties last time out. But do they have enough to take down the mighty Brazilians?

Brazil are always a threat at the World Cup, and this year is no different. They have depth across the field as well as on the bench, and their strength in numbers is a huge advantage for them. Their talent was on display in the Round of 16 against South Korea as they went into the half up 4-0 en route to a 4-1 win.

Brazil have to be careful here. Croatia are an incredibly experienced side who are more than capable of pulling off the upset. My only concern for Croatia is their offensive output. For all Brazil’s attacking firepower, they have an even better defense, and I don’t see Croatia penetrating the Brazilian backline. 

Prediction: 3-1 Brazil

Argentina vs. Netherlands

The Dutch are fresh off of their 3-1 win over the United States and are looking for revenge against the team that knocked them out in the semifinals of the 2014 World Cup. Louis van Gaal was a big part of the win against the U.S., and he will have to cook up a great game plan to stop Lionel Messi and a dangerous Argentinian attack. The Dutch defense is their strength and will have to be at their best on Friday.

Argentina are slowly but surely gathering momentum at this World Cup after a slow start. Their defense has been solid throughout, but their midfield and attack led by Rodrigo de Paul and Messi have really started to get going. Messi has been the key to this team’s success, so we will see if other players can step up.

Ultimately this game comes down to how the Netherlands contains Messi’s impact on the game. I see the Dutch employing a similar strategy against Argentina as they did against the U.S. However, that is a dangerous game, as Argentina is far more capable of breaking down a defense than the United States. With that being said, I think this will be a tough game for both sides and won’t be decided in 90 minutes.

Prediction: 2-2 (Argentina wins on penalties)

Portugal vs. Morocco

Morocco are the surprise package at the World Cup. An air-tight defense led by West Ham United’s Nayef Aguerd and a dangerous attack speared by Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech has brought them further than any African nation at the tournament. With a tight-knit squad and a few players who have real quality, they have a fighting chance against the Portuguese.

Portugal on paper have one of the most talented squads in the tournament. However, many questioned whether manager Fernando Santos had the ability to get the most out of those players after a disappointing Euro 2020. Well, Portugal’s 6-1 thumping over Switzerland in the Round of 16 seemingly has answered those questions.

Beyond the last game, the Portuguese have looked sharp this tournament with wins over Uruguay and Ghana as well. Santos made the big but smart call to bench Cristiano Ronaldo last game; let’s see if he makes the same choice again.

Whether Ronaldo starts will in fact be a big factor in deciding who takes this game. Without Ronaldo, Portugal looked free-flowing and dynamic, as opposed to a bit stagnant when Ronaldo played in the group stage. Morocco has demonstrated how good they are defending in a low block, and it will be intriguing to see whether Santos opts for a more fluid attack to break the Moroccans down.

Prediction: 2-1 Portugal (after extra time)

England vs. France

England has played superbly well in three out of their four games at this World Cup; the 0-0 draw vs. the United States being the only blemish among three wins. Whether manager Gareth Southgate reverts to a back five will be interesting. Southgate has been heavily criticized in recent years for playing too cautious against the big nations. Whether he sticks to form or plays it safe will be the deciding factor in this heavyweight clash against the French.

Many believed France would perhaps struggle at this World Cup due to the list of injuries and off-field drama, but the dazzling performances of Kylian Mbappé have covered all that right up. If the English go at the French and attack them with numbers, I can see trouble for Didier Deschamps’ team. While not much has gone wrong yet, it only takes one goal for players’ heads to go and for four games worth of good work to be undone. With that being said, the form Mbappé is in could just be enough to see the French through.

The tactical approach taken by both managers will be fascinating for this matchup. Both teams are in great form and match up pretty evenly on paper, so what gives? In my opinion, the French still have some areas where injuries to the likes of Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté are hurting them. This game will be won and lost in the midfield, and with France missing two stars, England’s Jude Bellingham and Declan Rice could expose the French’s slight weakness in midfield.

Prediction: 2-2 (England wins on penalties)