Day 20 of the 2014 FIFA World Cup presents the first of two quarterfinal matches on Thursday.
The first one is a battle of European heavyweights featuring Germany and France. These teams have met three times at the World Cup, including in 1982 in the semifinals when the Germans won 5-4 in a penalty shootout. That match is still considered one of the tournament’s best of all-time.
The other game pits Brazil against Colombia. The only time two South American countries met in a World Cup quarterfinal was in 1970 when the Brazilians won 4-2 versus Peru. Will it be a repeat performance against Los Cafeteros?
Here are four keys for the day’s matches…
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France must target Toni Kroos
In Germany’s near-scare versus Algeria in the Round of 16, everyone was pointing to German fullbacks Shkodran Mustafi and Benedikt Howedes. Since they’re natural centre-backs, they noticeably struggled against some quick, tricky Algerian wingers.
However, another major factor in Algeria’s strong showing was the open space in midfield. Part of that had to do with Toni Kroos. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm weren’t great either, but they were at least contributing to the defensive efforts. Kroos wasn’t.
France’s wide players will surely have an impact against two fullbacks who are used to playing in the centre of defence. On the other hand, Les Bleus’ midfield is far more balanced and will have plenty of space on counter-attacks due to Germany pushing high up the pitch.
Kroos will be the weak link as he may be slow in tracking back, or may not put in much of an effort when defending.
Should Low start Schurrle?
Thanks to Germany and Algeria going into extra time, manager Joachim Low knew that he had to take off at least two players. Mario Gotze and Mesut Ozil have notoriously low stamina and can barely last an hour when they start a match, let alone a full two hours.
Low ended up taking off Gotze for Andre Schurrle at halftime and that changed the game. Schurrle was direct, creative, and was able to string passes together in the final third, something Gutze couldn’t do.
It was apparent that Schurrle’s inclusion sparked Germany. They were lacking a lot of firepower up front until that substitution. Now Low has a conundrum. Does he go with the same front three in Ozil, Gotze, and Thomas Muller? Or should the tactician swap one of the former two with the Chelsea attacker?
Signs point to the latter considering how Muller improved once Schurrle came on. Plus that saves one sure substitution when either Gotze or Ozil gets tired. Plus Low can still bring on one of them as an impact player in the second half if need be.
Help for Neymar
Brazil has had their issues at the World Cup thus far. They struggled to create a lot of chances against Chile for the majority of the game. Just six of their 23 attempts were on target.
Fred and Hulk were responsible for eight of those 23 shots, but they were easy tests for Chile goalkeeper Claudio Bravo. As a result of their poor play, Neymar has been the focus for all defences he’s faced, which, at times, has made it tough for him to break through.
That means manager Luiz Felipe Scolari may have to make one more change to his preferred starting lineup. It was Fernandinho replacing Paulinho in the last match, now it might have to be Willian for Hulk. The Chelsea attacker was a menace on the right wing for the Blues this past season. He was also able to track back and help defend.
That could be the one alteration that could make a major difference for Scolari, and, most importantly, relieve the pressure on Neymar.
Pekerman must give his attack freedom
Colombia has been one of the most entertaining teams at the World Cup. That’s because manager Jose Pekerman gives his attackers creative freedom. Juan Cuadrado, Teofilo Gutierrez, and, of course, James Rodriguez have all thrived in Brazil.
Now they face a Brazilian defence that’s been susceptible out wide and a midfield that has given their opponents a lot of space. If Rodriguez or Cuadrado are allowed that, they’ll tear apart the Selecao’s backline.
If Colombia just sticks to what got them this far, they should be able to confidently defeat Brazil. Rodriguez will obviously be crucial to that, and he should have another fantastic performance given how the hosts have underwhelmed.