World Cup Recap: Quarterfinals

France and Belgium win to set up semifinal bout

Kylian Mbappe has France in the semis. Courtesy of Nike

The quarterfinals in the 2018 FIFA World Cup kicked off on Friday, with the first two spots in the semifinals secured. Uruguay-France and Brazil-Belgium were arguably the best matchups of the quarterfinals and they both came out of the same side of the bracket.

Uruguay 0-2 France

Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod
Attendance: 43,319

Uruguay and France eliminated the two best players in this tournament - Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi - in the previous round and would look to book a spot in the semifinal. France were counting on a full team that had bested Argentina in a 4-3 thriller. Uruguay, on the other hand, were without star striker Edinson Cavani after he left injured in the 2-1 win over Portugal. The key for Uruguay would be to ride their defense and counter with a dangerous attacking opportunity. La Celeste did exactly that in the opening minutes and were close on two occasions. France, frustrated at first because they didn’t have the ball, would waste an opportunity of their own as their star man Kylian Mbappe headed a ball over the goal while he was unguarded inside the box in the 15th minute. Les Blues took a lead off a free kick in the 40th minute when Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann’s set up Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane. French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris would come up with a crucial save just before the half to keep the scoreline 1-0 France.

France would test Uruguayan keeper Fernando Muslera more in the second half. Griezmann took a shot from distance in the 61st minute that Muslera could not hang on to, bouncing off his gloves and into the net for a 2-0 France lead. Uruguay tried but could never get anything concrete on target. FC Barcelona striker Luis Suarez was neutralized by the French defense as the Europeans move on to the semifinal.

Analysis: Uruguay were always going to have it tough without Cavani and his absence was felt in this encounter. Opting to keeping Suarez in check, France were proven right in that they had no one else to really fear. The blunder by Muslera also dug the South Americans into a deeper hole as a draw was manageable but coming back from 2-0 was a tall task. This loss marks an end of an era for the national team because Suarez and Cavani are both 31 years old, meaning this was probably Uruguay’s last chance to win a World Cup with this generation.

France continue to roll with their talented squad despite not looking as dominant. That was expected against a compact Uruguay team but France had very few instances were they were worried. Griezmann picked up a goal and an assist, showing the versatility of this French roster. On any given day, anyone on this France team can decide a game. France have to be a scary opponent for any of the remaining teams.

Notable stat: The last goal in a France-Uruguay World Cup match was scored at England 1966, 52 years ago.

Brazil 1-2 Belgium

Kazan Arena, Kazan
Attendance: 42,873

Mighty Brazil ran out of luck on Friday at the hand of another talented squad in Belgium. A Brazil opportunity to score off a corner was denied by the post in the eight minute. Just a few minutes later, they would concede the opening goal off a Belgium corner that rebounded off Fernandinho for an own-goal. The Red Devils would continue to press and would get another goal in the 31st minute from a Kevin De Bruyne wonder strike. Goalkeepers Alisson (Brazil) and Thibaut Courtois (Belgium) would both make important saves late in the first half as the score would stay 2-0 Belgium.

Neymar would be the topic of conversation in the second half because of his presence in Brazil’s attacking attempts. He would also be a focal point because of his attempts to sell a foul inside the box, in hopes of getting a penalty. Brazil would find their way into the game in the 76th minute when Philippe Coutinho set up a Renato Augusto header for goal. Brazil cut the deficit down to one. The rest of the match would be Brazil chasing the draw but Belgium saw out the result to reach their second-ever semifinal at a World Cup.

Analysis: Brazil will be disappointed to not have gone through because of their historical pedigree. This will feel like failure because of who they are and the crest they wear. It’s not a failure in the sport sense because Belgium were the better team overall. With all their talent, Brazil was an unknown commodity because they had yet to be tested by another team who boasts as much talent as they do. Neymar will also be judged by not being able to take his team further given his quality.

This is the type of result this generation of Belgium players needed to deliver. Belgium had done little to take advantage of this group of players, bowing out in the quarterfinals of the last World Cup and at Euro 2016. Their task is not done yet. They must overcome France and reach the final. Nothing less than a title is what Belgium citizens expect from this team.

Notable stat: For the first time ever, neither Argentina, Brazil nor Germany will not feature in the last four of the FIFA World Cup.

Programming note: Soccer Matters with Glenn Davis will be broadcasting from The Gorgeous Gael (5555 Morningside Dr. Houston, TX 77005) with a two-hour LIVE show, airing on ESPN 97.5 FM, following Saturday’s Russia vs. Croatia match.

Recordings of every show are available on the Soccer Matters podcast, available on iTunes, Google Play Music and PodcastArena.com/SoccerMatters

Remaining Quarterfinal Matches (All Times CT):

Saturday, July 7

9 a.m. - Sweden vs. England (FOX, Telemundo)

1 p.m. - Russia vs. Croatia (FOX, Telemundo)

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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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