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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Christian Wood has been the difference between winning and losing. Composite image by Jack Brame.

Although the Houston Rockets' season looks completely over, this team still has a ton of upside. The Rockets six-game winning streak was fueled behind Christian Wood and John Wall's performances. Unfortunately, Wood has been out for nine games straight due to an ankle injury. Those nine games Wood missed resulted in losses. The Rockets have not won a game since February 4 th against the Memphis Grizzlies.

What is the next step for the Rockets? Tanking? Trading individual players? All this could be possible for the Rockets to move forward. The Rockets could possibly look into finding younger players. So, it won't come as a surprise if PJ Tucker is dealt by the deadline. This team needs a fresh start after the James Harden era. Possibly finding new teams for Danuel House and Ben McLemore should be considered. Plus, Eric Gordon deserves a chance to compete for the playoffs too. He is having a phenomenal season on a bad team.

Trade scenarios

Why not send Eric Gordon, Victor Oladipo, and Ben McLemore for Kelly Oubre and Eric Paschall? Everybody wins. The Golden State Warriors get two perimeter and versatile scorers, minus Oladipo's shooting struggles. That could also help Steph Curry with extra scoring, so he does not continue to burn himself out. Here's another trade scenario that I thought was interesting. As Zak Noble of "Ball Is Life" gave me scenarios on my podcast titled, Zo's Podcast, he suggested the New York Knicks, as well as the Warriors. It allowed me to plug in the pieces. So, with this last one, House and Tucker would fit perfectly with the Knicks. Tom Thibodeau could bring the best out of House, while allowing Tucker to play the power forward position alongside Julius Randle. The Rockets would receive Nerlens Noel who would play behind Wood.

A reason to be optimistic?

The optimism stands behind Kevin Porter Jr. Porter's G-League play has been impeccable. He completed the first triple-double in the G-league this season. Porter's play could be like his idol, James Harden. His game revolves around pick-n-roll, splitting picks, step-backs, and versatile dribbling. Harden used to be a ferocious dunker around the rim, which Porter does a lot more. Porter leads the G-league with 23.7 points per game, averages 7.4 assists a game, which is third in the league, and he's leading the league in points and assists. He is the main reason the Rio Grande Vipers stay in games. Porter playing point guard has allowed him to be an aggressive scorer and playmaker. He sees the floor well while playing point guard. That helps Porter find teammates, attack driving lanes, and find his shot. Porter's IQ when it comes to reading screens is unbelievably good. There were concerns about some troubles in his past. But Porter has shown leadership, which is pivotal. Encouraging his teammates to become better and giving each player confidence.

"[I've] been making notches every day with everything off the court. [I've] been trying to be a better person, better player, and better leader down here," said by Porter after scoring 27 points, 14 assists, and 11 rebounds in a Vipers win. "[I've] been [focused] on my guys down here, trying to get them right. Trying to get their bag."

Porter's offensive rating is 106.9 while having a net rating of -0.3, which is impressive. His true shooting and efficiency percentages are above 50%. Porter has a chance to become the NBA G-League MVP. Coach Silas loves the progress Porter is making in the G-League.

"He is moving in the right direction playing the point exclusively, making plays for his teammates. He is super skilled in his ball handling. And when he gets back, he is going to be a huge part in what we are doing. Him getting in shape and the success he is having down there is important to build on that. When he gets back, hopefully, he will be able to fit right in."

Looking ahead

The NBA Draft will be critical for the Rockets, so will they tank? Honestly, they could, but it depends on how much they play Wood when he gets back. It was reported by Kelly Iko of The Athletic that Wood was 80%. Wood could possibly help the Rockets win more game this season but how many? If the Rockets want a chance to get Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, or Jonathan Kuminga, tanking must become an option. They could lose their top four pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder if consistent winning occurs. Here is my analysis below on the top three players in the 2021 NBA Draft.



Hopefully, a great idea comes along with the Rockets' future in mind. The upside is there for the Rockets' front office, but they have to be the ones to figure it out.

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