OUR MAN IN BRAZIL
World Cup 2014: Pre-quarter-finals rundown; analysis of each of the 8 remaining teams
Mouth-watering duels in store, with chance of first-time winners possible
Published on Jul 3, 2014 2:47 PM
AFTER 56 matches, 154 strikes and countless moments of great goals, super saves and controversies, the world gets a short breather from Brazil 2014.
But catch your breath now because the quarter-finals kick off tomorrow with four mouth-watering ties: France v Germany, Brazil v Colombia, Argentina v Belgium and the Netherlands v Costa Rica.
The pool of teams may have dwindled from 32 to eight but fans from all over the world are still present, especially along Rio's Copacabana beach and the various Fifa Fan Fests across the main host cities - Sao Paulo, Salvador and Brasilia.
But Brazilian eyes are on only one match - the host nation against Colombia (4am, Saturday, Singapore time) - in Fortaleza.
There is genuine concern that the hosts may be booted out by the impressive Colombians, prematurely ending what has been a month-long party for most of Brazil's 200 million population.
The clash between two of the tournament's stars - four-goal Neymar of Brazil against Colombia's five-goal hotshot James Rodriguez - will take centre stage but there is much more to Colombia than just Rodriguez.
Statistics from the first 56 games show that Colombia are the most efficient team among the last eight, scoring a goal every 4.2 shots or every 10.6 attacks.
In contrast, Belgium are the most wasteful, scoring once every 13.5 attempts or 36.5 attacks.
Even surprise package Costa Rica have shown that they make good use of the chances, coming up third in the efficiency table.
And, like Colombia, the Costa Ricans have conceded just twice, suggesting both Brazil and the Dutch may find the route to goal tougher in the quarter-finals.
But when it comes down to the last eight, where matches can be decided on split-second decisions, it helps to have old heads.
That is where Colombia, Costa Rica and Belgium fall short.
Colombia and Costa Rica are on a historic run that none of their predecessors have accomplished.
Belgium are in the final eight for the first time since 1986, when they were fourth.
But all of them lack big-stage players who know how to handle the pressure of a one-match elimination, stay cool under the spotlight and rally team-mates.
This is where having the likes of the Netherlands' Arjen Robben, Germany's Philipp Lahm, Argentina's Lionel Messi, Brazil's Julio Cesar or France's Patrice Evra will prove crucial.
With five out of eight second-round games going into extra time (two of those requiring a penalty shoot-out), the odds are in favour of at least one of the four matches going the distance.
A few firsts could also be achieved. The record of 171 goals scored at France '98 is on track to be broken. So too the possibility of having a first European winner on South American soil.
Four of the eight teams are European and at least one, France or Germany, will make it to the semi-finals.
There is also a chance for a first-time winner, something half the quarter-finalists will be dreaming about.
The romantics' hope, including mine, is for a Brazil-Argentina final. It would be a great affair, steeped in history and rivalry.
But based on current form, one should expect the unexpected because Brazil 2014 has been one big, happy surprise so far.