Neymar and Brazil took care of Mexico. Photo courtesy of Nike
The quarterfinals are set after England and Sweden rounded out the last eight. The quarterfinals in the 2018 FIFA World Cup kick off on Friday and the final spots were confirmed on Tuesday. Uruguay-France, Brazil-Belgium, Sweden-England and Russia-Croatia are the matchups that will decide the final four.
Brazil 2-0 Mexico
Samara Arena, Samara
For the seventh consecutive World Cup appearance, Mexico are heading home with a loss in the round of 16. This time it was Brazil - an opponent Mexico liked their chances against - after the quality of players like Neymar, Coutinho and company was too much to handle. The first half was a constant back-and-forth exchange of attacking opportunities. Mexico generated four opportunities with none on target while Brazil had 11 shots (three on target), forcing the Mexican keeper Guillermo Ochoa to come up with three saves.
Brazil were more involved in the second half and had the better opportunities. Neymar and company bombarded the goal, outshooting Mexico 14 to 9 and forcing Ochoa to make five saves throughout the second half. Ultimately, Neymar broke through with a goal in the 51st minute. From that moment on, Neymar controlled the game and dictated the pace. A fresh Firmino came on late in the game to score in the 88th and put the match out of reach.
Analysis: Brazil continue to ascend as they march through this FIFA World Cup, with their weakest showing coming in their opening match against Switzerland. With all their talented players, it’s no surprise to see why the Samba Boys are considered the odds on favorite - on top of being a traditional power. The real competition will begin for Brazil, however, as they have to go through Belgium and the winner of Uruguay-France to reach the final. If they do so, then there will be little argument to say they don’t deserve to lift the cup.
Mexico will feel disappointment after such a promising start to the tournament. Their fans will feel it even more as they continue to see generation after generation fail to get past the round of 16. In fact, the last time Mexico advanced in the knockout stage was in 1986 when they hosted the tournament. The question now will be whether the federation decides to continue with the Manager Juan Carlos Osorio or go a different direction - with recent Chivas Manager Matías Almeyda the leading candidate after becoming a free agent.
Notable stat: Brazil picked up their 19th clean sheet in 25 matches under Manager Tite.
Belgium 3-2 Japan
Rostov Arena, Rostov-On-Don
This one was one of the more surprising matches of the knockout stage, but in the end the expected winner goes through. Japan - having gotten to this stage by the narrowest of technicalities - showed the intensity to make the most of the occasion. The Samurai Blue withstood a good Belgium team and held them scoreless in the first half. Belgium may have had a bit of a transition period in re-incorporating their starters back after resting them in their final group match. The score was 0-0 at the half.
Japan would take the lead in the 48th minute with a great finish from Genki Haraguchi on a ball that gets past Belgian defender Jan Vertonghen. Takashi Inui extended Japan’s lead in the 52nd minute with a strike from outside the halfmoon. Vertonghen would make up for his defensive lapse with a lobbing header in the 69th minute. Marouane Fellaini would erase Japan’s lead with a header of his own, capitalizing on a great pass from Eden Hazard to tie the match in the 74th minute. The match was looking to head to extra time but Belgium would blaze forward one last time to take the lead in stoppage time, sending a dagger through Japan’s hopes. Belgium wins 3-2.
Analysis: Belgium had a close one. They were tested for the first time by a team who had the urgency - and quality - to look for a result. In this victory, however, Belgium flexed their muscles and showed us how good their talent is. They were caught by surprise but, in the end, had enough quality to overcome their mistakes. Their match against Brazil should be a fun one.
Japan gave a courageous effort and gave a fighting display. There is no shame in the way they bow out of the tournament after being beaten by a better side. The disheartening part will be that they were not able to capitalize on their lead and see out what would’ve been their most successful campaign at a World Cup.
Notable stat: Belgium are the first team to come from behind being two goals down in the knockout stage of a World Cup since West Germany did so against England at Mexico 1970.
Sweden 1-0 Switzerland
Saint Petersburg Stadium, St. Petersburg
This match was a fairly even affair between two European sides that featured similar playing styles. Switzerland were at a disadvantage because of two of their defenders were out because of suspension. Both sides generated seven opportunities in the first half but neither could get on the board. Switzerland actually looked the better side at times but neither Xhaka or Shaquiri could come up with the special play they needed to take the lead. Emil Forsberg, on the the other end, was able to thanks to a deflected shot that went to the back of the net in the 66th minute. The bad news for Sweden was the exit in the 82nd minute of defender Mikael Lustig due to injury. A runaway play in stoppage time awarded Sweden a free kick just outside of the box - originally ruled a penalty overturned by video review - to ice the game and see out the result.
Analysis: Sweden have advanced to their first quarterfinal since USA 1994. While Tuesday’s win did not come in the most conventional way, it did come thanks to solid defending. Sweden have been one of the better defending teams at Russia 2018 with two goals allowed through their four matches. Next up they’ll face England - another familiar foe from the European region - and will feel confident about their chances to frustrate the attack of the Three Lions.
Switzerland is another team that is going from bad to worse. They had a promising start in the 1-1 draw with Brazil before having to come back in a fighting effort against Serbia. Their last match, against Costa Rica, may have done more harm than help as they lost players to suspensions. Switzerland gave a valiant effort on Tuesday but will wonder what might’ve been with a full squad. Their last quarterfinals appearance was at Switzerland 1954.
Notable stat: Tuesday’s attendance from Sweden-Switzerland brought the all-time World Cup attendance to over 40,000,000 spectators.
Colombia 1-1 England (3-4 on penalties)
Spartak Stadium, Moscow
Quite possibly the toughest matchup to call turned out to be that close. Colombia - winners of H - were short handed with their #10 James Rodriguez ruled out for this encounter. England, on the other end, were coming off a loss to Belgium in the final group game. Every shot was contested and with passionate fans from both sides, every shot was accompanied with gasps from the crowd. Neither side could pull away from the other in the first half. England would take the lead in the 57th minute after Harry Kane converted on a penalty opportunity. Kane remains the leading scorer of the tournament, now with six goals to his name.
Needing to get on the board, Colombia were forced to push higher in attack. Radamel Falcao would carry the hopes of Colombian fans while another forward in Carlos Bacca was subbed in to look for better opportunities. The clearest opportunity for the South Americans came in the 81st but Cuadrado sent the shot off target. Colombia did manage to draw the game thanks in part to a last gasp shot from Mateus Uribe. The long range shot led to a corner kick that was headered in by Yerry Mina in stoppage time. The match would go into extra time and then penalties, where England were victorious 4-3 over Colombia.
Analysis: Colombia had it tough without their best playmaker on the field in James Rodriguez. The #10 has been the catalyst for Los Cafeteros and the attack dropped off a level without his presence. The Colombians gave a fighting effort but ultimately fell short of their goal. The question, as with many nations exiting the world cup, is if the federation will retain the current manager. Colombia’s focus now turns to next year South American Championship in Brazil.
England fans are ecstatic after their first win in the knockout round since Germany 2006. Gareth Southgate’s team continues to ride the wave of promise brought on by a younger England squad - only three players on the team are over 30 years of age. England will be favored in their following match, not an easy out, against Sweden but look poised to get to the semifinal. They’ll feel the good mojo even more so after breaking the “curse” of losing in penalty shootouts.
Notable stat: England won its first penalty shootout at a 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, at 7 p.m. on Thursday. There will also be a postgame show 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
Quarterfinal Matches (All Times CT):
Friday, July 6
9 a.m. - Uruguay vs. France (FS1, Telemundo)
1 p.m. - Brazil vs. Belgium (FS1, Telemundo)
Saturday, July 7
9 a.m. - Sweden vs. England (FOX, Telemundo)
1 p.m. - Russia vs. Croatia (FOX, Telemundo)
As the Astros prepare to play their first game of spring training against the Nationals this Saturday, we're starting to see reports about how the players approached the offseason, and what tweaks they made to improve in the 2024 season.
Cristian Javier is a player Astros fans are hoping bounces back this year, as his ERA jumped from 2.54 in 2022 to 4.56 in 2023. Workload was thought to be one of the main factors causing his regression, he dealt with a dead arm last season and threw more innings than ever before (162).
Another explanation could be the pitch clock. This was another new element all pitchers had to deal with last year, and that also likely played a role in his struggles.
But according to The Athletic's Chandler Rome, Javier believes he was carrying some extra weight last season. Add that to some mechanical issues he was experiencing, and his struggles in 2023 make a lot more sense. And to be fair, he wouldn't be the first person to get a little fat and happy after winning a World Series.
Cristian Javier said he lost around 15 pounds this offseason. He acknowledged that some of his struggles last year could be attributed to some extra weight he was carrying around in addition to the already-documented mechanical flaws he had.
— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) February 22, 2024
In an effort to get back on track in 2024, Javier said he lost around 15 pounds this offseason. With the pitch clock not going anywhere, pitchers need to be in better cardiac shape than ever before.
Hopefully this modification helps Javier return to form and put up jaw-dropping numbers like he did in 2022. This rotation needs Javier to be the dominate pitcher we all know he's capable of being. With Justin Verlander behind schedule and Framber Valdez trying to bounce back from his own down year, Houston will depend on Javier like never before.
The Astros are certainly counting on it after giving him a 5-year, $64 million contract last season. Javier will definitely be a player to watch this spring.