FIFA World Cup Fantasy: The quarter-final challenge

By Azmin Mohd Khalib 6 July 2018 60
FIFA World Cup Fantasy: The quarter-final challenge
With the 2018 FIFA World Cup quarter-finals starting tonight, let’s get right to the FIFA World Cup Fantasy! Do keep in mind, after this round, you will only have five transfers to help replace any players that do not get to the semi-finals (unless you still have your wildcard), so choose wisely.

Brazil v Belgium

Possibly the highlight match of the tournament, hence making it incredibly hard to identify strong fantasy picks. Every manager probably has players brought over from the Round of 16, but which team should we add more players?
While Belgium are able to go into the quarter-finals at full strength, Brazil have lost defensive midfielder Casemiro to suspension, which could hurt their defence. On the other hand, they might have Marcelo back to boost their already solid backline.
I still expect Brazil to win due to their superior all-around strength. Also, although Roberto Martinez did manage to engineer a comeback win against Japan, against a team with Brazil’s quality, he will fall short. Belgium should still score though, and I’m predicting Eden Hazard to be the person to do so.
On the Brazil side, Neymar seems to be a must-have thanks to his need to be constantly in the spotlight. But should anyone else be considered? Willian finally burst to life against Mexico, while Philippe Coutinho was the star of the group stages Gabriel Jesus has been disappointing though, despite being leading up front, with only one assist to show for.

Uruguay v France

France appear to be the heavy favourites for this one, especially with doubts hanging over Edinson Cavani for Uruguay, while Kylian Mbappe has been making himself memorable to fans around the world. Having said that, Uruguay’s defence is world class, having conceded only one goal in the tournament so far, which came against Portugal. I can see them being disciplined enough to deal with Mbappe.
On the France side, Blaise Matuidi is suspended, which might force Paul Pogba to play more defensively as well, potentially damaging France’s attack indirectly. While N’golo Kante is one of the best in the business, he’ll need help against the stronger teams.
I’m making a big call for this one and say that this match will end up 0-0, even after extra time, due to the factors mentioned above. As much as I like Luis Suarez, without Cavani around to trouble the France defence, he will not have an easy time as he would like.
If you’re convinced, then my recommendation is to select a defender or two from any side. If you’re short on goalkeepers, then either could be ideal, with Fernando Muslera 0.3m cheaper than counterpart Hugo Lloris.

Sweden v England

There’s a perception that England should have it easy against Sweden but history says otherwise. England have played Sweden 24 times, winning eight, losing seven, and drawing nine. But to put that into context, the last time they met in a tournament was six years ago at Euro 2012.
Sweden will put up their stall for this one, with defensive discipline being a priority but England have the speed and skill to overcome them, not to mention a strong ability to score from set pieces. England should win by at least two goals, bringing Andreas Granqvist’s Sweden stint in Russia to an end.
One thing to note is that Sweden’s first choice right back, Mikael Lustig, is suspended, which means whoever attacking that side could reap dividends. Assuming Gareth Southgate doesn’t switch around, that would be Jesse Lingard, England’s best attacker after Harry Kane. To be fair, even Raheem Sterling could benefit, but he really needs to improve on his finishing.
If you don’t have an England attacking player at all, then just pick up Kane. It hasn’t really been talked about that much, but he is on track for the World Cup Golden Boot, with Cristiano Ronaldo out and Romelu Lukaku two goals behind him.

Russia v Croatia

Those of you who read last week’s column would know that I expected to see Spain in place of Russia, my one prediction that went wrong. While Spain have only themselves to blame, one can’t help but wonder whether they would have progressed further if their previous coach had not been fired a day before the tournament kicked off.
Moving on, I don’t see Russia looking at Croatia as the same threat level as they did Spain, and the Russia coach is likely to set up his team to be much less defensive and more attacking, with Denis Chersyhev likely to start (he was surprisingly benched in the match against Spain, but it eventually made sense given how Russia played).
This should pave the way for Croatia to find openings. Croatia boast two of the best midfielders of the tournament at the moment, Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric, who are the keys to unlock the Russian defence.
Having said that, they might be fatigued as their Denmark match went on to extra time, as their combined age of 62 years seemed to show its toll. They’ll need to make the best of their recovery time to face an aggressive Russia.
I still expect Croatia to triumph, but it won’t be easy. 2-1 to Croatia, with a likely red card somewhere.

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Azmin Mohd Khalib