1 Reason Why Each Team Can Win the World Cup
The 2014 FIFA World Cup has been a superb celebration of football so far, but with 32 nations now whittled down to just eight, each one of them will be dreaming of producing just three more victories—which would see them lift the famous golden trophy.
Each of the eight group winners have gone on to win their own round of 16 fixture—some considerably more comfortably than others—and, whether by 90 minutes, extra time or penalty shootouts, have all arrived at the quarter-final stage.
There remain favourites and outsiders, but at this stage it's impossible not to cast their collective minds forward and wonder what could yet be ahead. Each side will feel they have something to offer which could see them lift the World Cup this year—here we take a look at the best reason each nation will feel gives them the edge.
Argentina: The One-Man Show Continues to Win Them Games
It's hard not to be optimistic when you have the world's best player at your disposal.
Lionel Messi hasn't been at the very top of his game, but he has still been good enough to see off all four nations that Argentina have come up against—and given the displays of some of his team-mates, it's just as well for the South American side that that's been the case.
Messi scored the winner against Bosnia-Herzegovina, did it again in the last minute against Iran, scored twice past Nigeria before being granted a rest—and has since then set up the winning goal with his one moment of space afforded to him by Switzerland.
Nobody has managed to stop him for long enough yet, and he keeps producing the goods.
Belgium: Marc Wilmots' Uncanny Ability to Pick Game-Changers from the Bench
Belgium are in the last eight, yet somehow they have never truly looked convincing in any game.
They were behind against Algeria, struggled to find the breakthrough against Russia and only beat Korea Republic late on. In the round of 16, they dominated the match but couldn't see off United States until extra time, before almost blowing a two-goal lead.
In each case, manager Marc Wilmots has had to rectify his own starting XI to bring on impact substitutes and let the game slide in his favour. Several of their goalscorers have not started the game, including three of their four group-stage goals.
Brazil: The Backing of the Nation
Brazil 2014 has been memorable for plenty of reasons, and one of those is the support from the stadiums—and beyond.
The host nation are naturally under pressure to perform, and though they haven't excelled yet, they have made their way through to the last eight, but one thing they certainly have is backing from fans during the game.
Celebrations after goals, reacting to players waving them on at set pieces or after near misses...it has all combined to make Brazil feel very much at home so far, rather than having an extra few thousand fans take out their frustrations on the players.
Colombia: The Best Side in the Tournament at Transition Football
The big footballing success throughout the World Cup has been teams who manage to change extremely quickly from defending to attacking, committing numbers forward and making the most of the moment of transition.
By far the most spectacular side at that has so far been Colombia, who have mixed aggressive defending with lightning pace on the counter-attack.
James Rodriguez has of course been the star, but Juan Cuadrado, Teo Gutierrez and a selection of players for the fourth attacking slot have all contributed immensely so far.
Costa Rica: They Have Already Achieved Their Goals and More
Few, if any, viewers expected Costa Rica to even get out of their group, let alone win it.
By doing so they equalled their all-time best achievement at the World Cup finals, making the round of 16, but the eventual win over Greece has now propelled them beyond history and into a new era all of their own making.
There is no nation left at the finals with less pressure on them (and perhaps more pride in them) than Costa Rica, which will make for a fearless opponent for any they cross. They have nothing left to lose—so they may as well go on and try to win.
France: Their Attacking Trio of Benzema, Valbuena and Griezmann
France have looked one of the most impressive all-round sides at the finals so far, mixing a deep squad to keep key players fresh and scoring plenty of goals throughout.
Athletic and tactically astute midfielders protect a defence which has performed largely well despite the odd injury along the way forcing a reshuffle or two, and the front three have looked dynamic, creative and clinical.
Mathieu Valbuena is a key component of the attack, while Karim Benzema's performances of late have been superb for France. Add into the mix that they can go with the more direct threat of Olivier Giroud or the pace, movement and unpredictability of Antoine Griezmann, and France have the ammunition to trouble every team left in the tournament.
Germany: Big Mentalities in Key Players
Germany have a host of players from Bayern Munich at their disposal, a team which won everything going just over a year ago and walked the Bundesliga title this past season too.
From Manuel Neuer at the back through Per Mertesacker, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm, they have a spine to the team which simply has no regard for losing—they must win, at whatever cost. They are a determined, talented and versatile squad which possess the natural technique to beat teams in footballing terms and can compete with most physically.
Germany rarely fare poorly in major tournaments, even if their last win at the World Cup came way back in 1990, and they will hope they finally have the right balance in place to go the distance.
Netherlands: Team Shape Which Is Tough to Beat and Quick to Change
Several nations started the World Cup utilising a variation of 3-5-2, with Netherlands and Costa Rica the final remaining ones. It has proven a tough system to break down, with Mexico a particularly good example.
Manager Louis van Gaal has adapted his system as necessary each game though, mixing wing-backs with attacking wide midfielders, going with a destroyer at the base of his midfield or (when forced through Nigel de Jong's injury) a more playmaker type, and with two centre-forwards free to roam or a true three up top.
Van Gaal is a great planner and is getting the best out of his squad which mixes youth and experience, and will fancy his chances of leading his team toward the final—on the side of the draw featuring Costa Rica and then either Argentina or Belgium.