We are now down to the last eight in the World Cup and there is still the potential for the biggest match ever in the history of the sport. A World Cup final between Brazil and England brings together the most successful nation and the country where the sport was born. Football would be going home if the world champions were Brazil or England but six other teams will have their say. All roads lead to Moscow a week on Sunday and the most important football match for four years.
There were questions raised about the suitability of Russia to stage the World Cup. However, fears of racism and hoolagnism have been unfounded and the 2018 version is the best World Cup since 1970. There have now been 56 matches and just one goalless draw. France and Denmark knew a stalemate would take both nations through but other than that there has been something to enjoy about every match. The levels of excitement have increased at each stage.
The four quarter-finals take place on Friday and Saturday. There are six European nations involved and two sides from South America. England, Brazil, Uruguay and France are former winners while Russia, Croatia, Sweden and Belgium would be new winners. Only Brazil, Germany and Spain have won the World Cup outside there own continent so Uruguay could join that select group. There has only ever been eight world champions and former winners are big favourites over new champions.
The 56 matches have produced 143 goals at an average of 2.55 goals per match. Both teams have scored in 26 matches and there have been 28 wins to nil. There have been more than 2.5 goals in 44.64% of the fixtures. The favourite has won 30 times, there have been 12 draws and the underdog has prevailed in 90 minutes on 14 occasions. Three matches in the last 16 went to extra-time but there were no further goals so a penalty shoot-out determined the outcome each time.
Harry Kane is the top scorer with six goals, two more than Romelu Lukaku who is still involved with Belgium. The Harry Kane/Brazil double is the favourite in the double market and only Brazil are shorter than England in the outright betting market. Brazil and England have never met in the World Cup final and that match would be a massive sporting global occasion and England could win as long as Gareth Southgate wears his lucky waistcoat. Is football finally coming home?
France and Uruguay get the ball rolling in the quarter finals and this match is difficult to call. France looked world beaters against Argentina and Kylian Mbappe was brilliant. If Uruguay focus on limiting his impact Paul Poigba will have more space. Uruguay are strong up front and in defence and capable in midfield. They are playing for the flag as a team and can beat France and progress to the last four. Brazil should just have enough to edge past Belgium in the second last eight tie. Belgium can be magnificent going forward but conceded two goals to Japan.
Before the tournament began there were fears that Russia would be just the second hosts not to qualify for the knockout stages. They have made their way to a quarter-final against Croatia who have failed mentally in the past when it matters most. However, Croatia have the quality to win the tie and England should be their opponents in the next round. England scrambled past Colombia but Sweden won’t be so ruthless and will let England play a bit more. Eight becomes four at the weekend and we are at the business end of a tournament that England can win.