By Paul Kennedy
Four quarterfinalists are former World Cup champions: Brazil (five times),
Germany (three times), Argentina (twice) and France (once). The Netherlands has been runner-up three times, most recently in 2010. Belgium has been to the final four only once, while Colombia and
Costa Rica have never been this far in the competition.
Here's how we rank the eight quarterfinals, based on their play in the group stage and round of 16.
1. COLOMBIA (4 wins). The Cafeteros have been the toast of the World Cup, dazzling everyone with their exciting play. James
Rodriguez leads all players with five goals, golazos most of them. Juan Cuadrado is tied with young Dutchman Daley
Blind for most assists with three.
Colombia's four wins include victories by three goals over Greece and Japan and a 2-0 victory over Uruguay in the round of 16.
form, Colombia should be favored against Brazil. But history favors the hosts, who have lost only twice to the Cafeteros in 25 meetings.
2. NETHERLANDS (4
wins). Of the four unbeaten and untied teams, the Dutch played the toughest schedule: Spain, Australia, Chile, and Mexico. They now get the weakest of the quarterfinal foes, facing Costa Rica
The 2014 World Cup has been a festival of left-footed maestros as Argentina's Lionel Messi is getting a run for his money from
Rodriguez and Arjen Robben, who has followed up on his excellent 2010 World Cup campaign with impactful performances in all four Dutch games.
the Dutch survived after trailing in the round of 16. The 2-1 win over Mexico came after one of the boldest substitutions of the tournament. Louis van Gaal took
out Robin van Persie and sent on Klaas Jan Huntelaar. All he did was set up the tying goal and score the
winner from the penalty spot in the last four minutes.
3. ARGENTINA (4 wins). Defender Pablo Zabaleta says Argentina is lucky to have Messi on the team. The Albiceleste has played four games, and
Messi has been the man of the match in each of them.
All four wins have by one-goal margins: 2-1, 1-0, 3-2 and 1-0. But how long can the Albiceleste depend on Messi to bail it out? It
beat Iran, 1-0, on his goal in the 91st minute and he set up Angel Di Maria for the only goal against Switzerland in the 118th minute.
for Argentina is that Belgium, its quarterfinal opponent in the Saturday ABC game, is a stronger version of the Swiss.
4. FRANCE (3 wins, 1 tie). The
Bleus had the most impressive back-to-back performances in the group stage, routing Honduras, 3-0, and then Switzerland, 5-2, in a match it led 5-0 until the game's last 10 minutes. Besides Colombia,
France was the only other team to win by a two-goal margin in the round of 16.
France and Germany have faced each three times at the World Cup. The most memorable match was their 1982
semifinal encounter in Spain that went to overtime. For the only time in history, a team came back from two goals down in overtime as West Germany won in a shootout after the game ended 3-3. The game,
though, is as much remembered for German keeper Toni Schumacher wiping out German defender Patrick Battiston and showing
absolutely no remorse.
On World Cup form, France would be favored against Germany, but the Germans have been the better team in recent years. Germany won their last meeting in a February
5. BELGIUM (4 wins). Like Argentina, Belgium has played four games and won all four by one-goal margins, the last a 2-1 overtime win
over the USA. But unlike Argentina, the Red Devils stepped their game up a notch in the round of 16. Both Belgium and the USA won praise from Dutch great Johan
Cruyff, who called the match one of the best of the World Cup.
Of concern for the Red Devils is the number of players carrying yellow cards into the round of 16. Only Costa Rica
has more players with yellows than Belgium's five. (The slates will be wiped clean after the quarterfinals.)
The only time the Red Devils made it as far as the World Cup semifinals was in
1986 when Argentina beat them, 2-0, on a pair of Diego Maradona goals. That was revenge for Belgium's 1-0 win four years earlier in the opening match of Espana
6. GERMANY (3 wins, 1 tie). Like Belgium against the USA, Germany struggled to put away an inferior foe in the round of 16, needing overtime to
dispose of Algeria, 2-1, to keep its record intact of having reached the final eight every time since it won the World Cup in 1954.
Of the four remaining European teams, none faces
greater pressure to win than Germany. Coach Joachim Loew might not survive a defeat at this stage. Germany reached the semis in 2006 and 2010. ''We
have not yet delivered our best possible performance,'' he said. ''But I don't think anyone has reached their absolute top performance yet."
concern is a case of flu-like illness to seven players, the same malady' that caused starting defender Mats Hummels to miss the Algeria game on Monday.
7. BRAZIL (2 wins, 1 shootout win, 1 tie). After Chile, Brazil gets another South American foe, Colombia, in the quarterfinals. The hosts will have to step
up their game as they struggled against La Roja, needing a shootout to escape with a win.
The stress on the team was evident in the reaction of the players afterwards. Toronto FC goalie
Julio Cesar was overcome by emotion, crying in his post-game interview. Besides the physical health of star Neymar, who
sustained knee and thigh injuries against Chile, all of Brazil is concerned about the mental state of the players.
''Nobody is struggling emotionally,'' Neymar says. ''All players are
doing well and are prepared to play against Colombia and hopefully we will advance to the next round.''
8. COSTA RICA (2
wins, 1 shootout win, 1 tie). The Ticos will be longshots to advance against the Netherlands, but they know all about being underdogs. No one gave them a
chance in the group stage against three former World Cup champions, but all they did was take the group with wins over Uruguay and Italy and a tie with England.
The round-of-16 match
against Greece was the only game in which Costa Rica was favored, and it overcame the loss of Oscar Duarte to a red card to hold off the Greeks in a shootout.
The Ticos coolly put away all five attempts to become just the fourth Concacaf team to reach the quarterfinals or a later round after the USA (1930 and 2002), Cuba (1938) and Mexico (1970 and
With the USA out of the tournament, Costa Rica is now carrying the MLS flag. Columbus Crew defender Giancarlo Gonzalez and former Chivas USA
and LA Galaxy Michael Umana should start for the Ticos against the Netherlands.