The World Cup is moving right along, and it's hard to believe that we are already in the quarterfinals. With some time off before matches resume on Friday, here is a quick primer on each of the four games.
This is one of two marquee matches of the quarterfinals, pitting the hard-luck Netherlands against the juggernauts of Brazil. While the Dutch are still chasing their first World Cup trophy, Brazil has five in the bag and looking to make it six in South Africa. Because it's Holland and Brazil, most fans will be expecting a rapid pace to the game; these people will be disappointed. Both Brazil and Holland operate out of conservative 4-2-3-1 formations, with Brazil looking to score off counterattacks and the Dutch all-too-happy to slowly build scoring opportunities through quick passing and moving the ball laterally across the pitch.
Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder are key men for the Dutch offense, and they will be looked upon to create scoring opportunities. Their lives will be made difficult by Brazil's tenacious defensive midfielders who will probably be shadowing the Dutch duo around the pitch. Brazil will look to spring their fullbacks forward and exploit the space behind the Dutch wingers (Robben on the right and Dirk Kuyt on the left). Kaka and Robinho will also look to get involved, which could make for a long day's work for Dutch defensive midfielders Nigel De Jong and Mark Van Bommel. The key for the Dutch is to avoid the defensive lapses that have doomed their campaigns in the past.
Prediction: Brazil 3 - Netherlands 1
This game is the most likely of the four quarterfinal matches to end in a 0-0 draw. Ghana and Uruguay are two of the stingiest sides left at the World Cup, conceding just four goals in the eight games the two teams have played in. Uruguay has scored more goals (six to four), but Ghana has faced tougher competition. Both sides pack the midfield and struggle to get the ball to the strikers in advantageous situations.
Ghana's biggest challenge will be to get striker Asamoah Gyan, who scored the game winner against the U.S., involved in the game. There is a danger that he will get isolated up front as Ghana play in a 4-5-1 formation that tends to leave the striker alone up front. Uruguay, as they have done the entire tournament, will rely on the attacking duo of Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez for scoring opportunities. The prolific partnership has netted five of Uruguay's six goals, which is all the more impressive considering both players have spent time playing further back than the average striker. This game is destined for penalties, unless, that is, Uruguay or Ghana can capitalize on a fleeting moment of inspiration (see Gyan's goal against the U.S. or Suarez's goal against South Korea).
Prediction: Ghana 0 - Uruguay 0, Uruguay through on penalties
What will carry the day -- European organization and determination or South American brilliance? This game is a pure contrast in style, pitting a well-oiled German machine against a mad-dash Argentina team chalk full of inspirational offensive talents. Germany has excelled in its 4-2-3-1 system. Mesut Ozil is the breakout player of the tournament so far, and he has pulled the strings beautifully from his high-attacking position. Miroslav Klose, Lukas Podolski and Thomas Muller have scored early and often, silencing the skeptics who questioned Germany's offensive capability.
The major concern for Argentina is whether they will be able to stay in the game. Diego Maradona's Argentina team, which leads the tournament with ten goals, has been a devastating but disorganized scoring machine. Tactically they leave a lot to be desired, but it's hard to argue with success. Germany will look to knock the ball around on offense and then, on defense, try its hardest to shut down Carlos Tevez and Lionel Messi. It will be interesting to see how Argentina fares against stronger competition (sorry, Mexico fans). The bet here is that the dogged Germans carry the day.
Prediction: Germany 2 - Argentina 1
The one true mismatch of the quarterfinals -- Paraguay will do well to keep the score respectable. Spain has reached the quarterfinals yet to hit its full stride, and they'll be looking to breakout against the La Albirroja. Paraguay have scored a paltry three goals at the World Cup and it will be interesting to see how they approach a game in which they have nothing to lose. Their appearance in the quarters is already the best in team history, so will they play as they have the entire tournament (defend, defend, defend) or will they open it up and go for it? Probably the former, unfortunately.
It will be up to Spain to unlock the Paraguay defense, which has been admirably stingy so far. An early goal would set Spain on course for a route, while Paraguay will be looking to keep Spain off the score sheet for as long as possible. And what about Fernando Torres, whose performance has been uneven at best so far. After looking okay in Spain's 2-1 win over Chile, Torres looked truly lost in their 1-0 win over Portugal. It wouldn't be a surprise if Spain coach Vincente del Bosque left Torres on the bench in favor of striker Fernando Llorente (who looked great against Portugal) or winger Jesus Naves, thus allowing the prolific David Villa to slot in at striker. Either way, Spain cruises.
Prediction: Spain 3 - Paraguay 0