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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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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