Ranking the eight World Cup quarterfinalists

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.

On 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 on Saturday.

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.

Only 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.

The problem 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 2012 friendly.

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 1982.

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."

Of 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 1986).

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.
7 comments about "Ranking the eight World Cup quarterfinalists".
  1. Terry Ellis, July 4, 2014 at 9:31 a.m.

    Brazil I think is headed out. My head says Nederlands but my heart goes to Costa Rica. I see France beating Germany and Argentina is going out. So there are my humble predictions. We'll see.

  2. Nancy Carr-swaim, July 4, 2014 at 10:36 a.m.

    Terry, you may have a good point there. Brazil and Argentina are struggling too much at this world cup. Love them dearly but I hope they can hang on long enough and improve a bit. Most pressure is on host Brazil for obvious reasons. Columbia and Costa Rica could come from behind and steal the spotlight from the traditional powers. Hope Germany is not as sick with the flu as said by the coach. Netherlands can cause problems but are inconsistent. Don't like what they did to Mexico but that is history.

  3. Gil Ramirez, July 4, 2014 at 10:41 a.m.

    If form is the main argument for these rankings, then I would put France in 2nd place. The Netherlands have shown guile, shrewdness and determination, but also over reliance on Robben to run people on the right side and open up space. France has shown greater strength along all lines, coming out from the back with control and decided creative capability in mid field. Similarly, Belgium has looked more capable and deeper covered than Argentina, who is over-reliant on Messi to create and score. That said, my humble rankings are as follow: 1) Colombia, 2) France, 3) Netherlands, 4) Belgium, 5) Germany, 6) Argentina, 7) Brazil, 8) Costa Rica.

  4. I w Nowozeniuk, July 4, 2014 at 3:39 p.m.

    What about the team rating: 4

  5. Nelson Cochrane, July 5, 2014 at 10:26 p.m.

    Results: Pick 2-Netherlands and Pick 3-Argentina went through of the top 4. Pick 6-Germany and pick 7-Brazil also went through. Good thing you didn't make bets on the picks! 2 out 4 for 50% average.

  6. David V, July 6, 2014 at 3:26 p.m.

    Robben - DIVER... I wonder if Robben has spent any time with David Boudia

  7. Alex G. Sicre, July 7, 2014 at 5:10 p.m.

    Right David. That was the most beatiful Swan Dive ever.

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