The quarter-finals of Germany 2006 are now set with some monumental match ups looming. G6 Journal’s Heath Young recaps how the final 8 got there and what is to come.
Here is where we separate the men from the boys, the wheat from the chaff, and any other cliché you might be fond of. It’s quarter-final time where the true contenders emerge as they get close enough to almost touch the glittering cup.
Germany – After topping their group, the hosts got through their second rounder against Sweden on two early strikes both by the precocious Podolski. Coupling typically stingy German defense with the new attacking style Jurgen Klinsman has designed is a deadly combination and they will be a tough out for anyone.
Argentina – Argentina stumbled just a bit, allowing Mexico to take them to overtime in their first knockout match, but this team is deep, with quality all over the field. If Argentina find themselves needing an equalizer or go ahead goal in the 70th minute, they have multiple supersubs to choose from to give them that offensive spark. Even Brazil should fear this team.
Italy – Italy survived a very tough group and the round of 16, but have eked out a couple of wins by the slightest of margins, most notably in the second round where a questionable penalty kick in the 95th minute was all that saved the Azzuri from having to go to extra time with Australia’s Socceroos.
Ukraine – Perhaps the party crasher in this group, the Ukraine’s journey has been a roller coaster ride. After being thrashed by Spain 4-0, they dished out a drumming in equal measure to the Saudis. Surviving on penalties in the round of 16 against Switzerland, the Ukrainians are just happy to be here.
England – England’s performance may have gotten them this far, but has been less than advertised for the talented squad. With tight victories, one secured by an own goal another by a lone set piece, they have not shown the fluidity or precision expected of them. However, they have scrapped and found ways to come out on top in these close matches, which is often what is required in the knockout rounds.
Portugal – The Portuguese have played their typical possession game, controlling the midfield and breaking out on surging runs. With a series of closely contested matches in this World Cup, they have yet to dazzle, but have done enough to get through, narrowly surviving vs. the Netherlands in a match marred by cards and flaring tempers.
Brazil – Beginning to show their flair after a somewhat subdued group stage, the goals are coming in bunches of late. Though the blue and yellow have not yet faced a top tier opponent in this World Cup, they are heating up at just the right time and starting to put together the complex combination play that stymies the competition.
France – The French have stuttered and stumbled their way into the quarter-finals hoping to erase memories of the debacle that was their 2002 campaign, but a phenomenal performance by Frank Ribery and the badly needed contributions of Vieri and Zidane vaulted them beyond a Brilliant Spanish side and into the final 8.
The match ups:
Germany vs. Argentina – An epic pairing, I see the winner of this match as the likely challenger for the finals. With both sides in excellent form, the Germans have the advantage of being the host nation, but they will have to do their damage early, as the scales tip toward Argentina the longer this game stays close. The South Americans simply have too many attacking threats to bring off the bench.
Italy vs. Ukraine – Though Shevchenko has looked dangerous and Italy have been a bit suspect, experience plays a big role at this stage. The Azzuri have been here before, won here before and find ways to advance, advantage Italy.
England vs. Portugal – This match is a toss up, given that neither team has been overly convincing in their play leading up to this quarter-final. The English are still searching for an offensive formula, but may have the upper hand considering Ronaldo is questionable for Portugal, and Deco and Costinha will miss the match due to cards.
Brazil vs. France – A rematch of the 1998 final, this is sure to be a charged atmosphere with players on both sides that were there for France 98. The French have yet to play their best football, but the win over Spain was a big confidence builder. Brazil have coasted thus far and look poised to continue, but memory is a motivator and I expect the French to at least make it interesting.