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Every match up, kick-off time and prediction as the quarter finals begin

16 has become eight and yet somehow, the number of potential favourites has expanded. Portugal have come to the party in a big way and, though Spain are out, England have emerged as a realistic threat and the Netherlands are still hanging about, still going and everyone is still quite unsure if they are properly good or not.

The Socceroos might be gone, but the World Cup marches on. Here’s what to expect from the quarter finals.

Here’s how the final eight line up

Brazil v Croatia (Saturday 2am AEDT)

The tournament favourites showed all their teeth with a crushing 4-1 win over South Korea. The finalists from last time out required penalties to get by Japan. This should be cut and dried, right?

Well…yes. Brazil are highly fancied to advance and, to be honest, you actually want them to, because while the idea of a Croatian upset is quite entertaining, it’s nowhere near as entertaining as a potential semi-final meeting with Argentina.

That said, Croatia are the absolute masters of raining on parades. Let’s take a run through their recent history: in 2018, they put out Denmark on pens, hosts Russia on pens and then England late on in extra time. They love this.

The midfield of Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic are the equal of anyone. Josko Gvardiol is the best young centre back at this tournament. Ivan Perisic loves a goal at a major tournament.

Then again…Brazil. Inspired by playing for Pele. With a semi against Argentina. Neymar, Vinicius Junior, Richarlison et al. It’s hard to look past them.

Prediction: Brazil are too strong and won’t need extra time.

Netherlands v Argentina (Saturday 6am AEDT)

If you are of a certain vintage, it’s hard to look at this fixture and not be transported back to July 4th, 1998, the 90th minute in the Stade Velodrome and Dennis Bergkamp’s first touch. I was nine, sat in my auntie’s caravan with a tiny TV on a holiday campsite in Lancashire, enraptured. It’s one of the great World Cup goals, and here it is in full glory, with Dutch commentary.

Dutch defenders Nathan Ake and Jurrein Timber referenced the heritage of this fixture in pre-match media, though Timber did say that “everyone remembers this goal” when he, himself, was merely a glint in the milkman’s eye at that stage, having been born in 2001.

Argentina don’t remember it as fondly, though they’ve had the better of the rivalry over time: they won the not-at-all dodgy 1978 by defeating the Netherlands and battling through to the 2014 final on penalties, too, though to be honest, I remember that game and it was awful.

Let’s hope for better this time around. It’s hard to shift the idea that the Dutch aren’t that good, based on the highly unscientific “yeah, but who have they played?” metric, whereas Argentina have disposed of Mexico, Poland the might of the Socceroos en route to the quarters.

Oh, and they have this wee guy you might have heard of.

Prediction: Argentina in a tight one, with you-know-who scoring.

Morocco v Portugal (Sunday 2am AEDT)

This is a tough one to predict. Morocco make a habit of sitting back, absorbing pressure and then turning it on their opposition. To wit: Spain, who had 75% of the ball and yet conceded more chances before losing to the Atlas Lions on penalties.

Portugal are happy to have the ball and have looked pretty decent with it, especially in the last game where they defenestrated Switzerland 6-1. Not to blow the horn here, but I think if you dig out last week’s version of this article, you might find that I tipped Portugal to drop Cristiano Ronaldo and win.

Assuming that they keep this selection policy up, I can see the same happening against Morocco. We’re long since counting them out, given what the North Africans have shown, but you can’t ignore the attacking performance that the Portuguese put in against a Swiss side that had looked pretty competent defensively too.

Portugal are far more direct than Spain, will offer a central attacking presence and, by dint of leaving Ronaldo on the bench, will have a fired up, angry legend to bring on and head them a goal late. #Mikestradamus had foretold it.

Prediction: Portugal to win with a late goal.

France v England (Sunday 6am AEDT)

This is, by far, the hardest game to predict. France are the reigning champions and are very good. Their depth is incredible. They have the best individual player in the tournament in Kylian Mbappe, whom every team simply has to factor in and work around.

England, though, look worryingly competent. They seem to have found a balance up front and will, in all likelihood, drop to a 3-43 now with Eric Dier coming in for (probably) Jordan Henderson to offer an extra body at the back.

Throw in Phil Foden, now a near-certainty to start high on the left, plus a Harry Kane who looks ominous, plus the fabled set piece threat that is yet to properly materialise and they’re more than a shot.

Both sides look good and I’d tip them against basically every other team in the tournament that isn’t called Brazil. Whoever wins this, I expect to make the final minimum.

Prediction: Extra time and probably penalties. England’s record in penalties is bad and France’s is also bad. Natural Pommy pessimism tells me to say to that France will go through.

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