Argentina versus Netherlands:
Tactically, Argentina has not met my expectations so far in this tournament. Yet, they have still managed to pull out victories by finishing the limited chances they create. While Messi has walked the longest distance out of any player in the entire tournament, he has been nothing short of amazing.
Before the Round of 16, I would’ve easily chosen Argentina to move on, but the Dutch were impressive in their win against the United States. The introduction of Memphis Depay as a starter has served as an excellent complement to the domination of young star Cody Gakpo, while Denzel Dumfries has been creating chances for them in his overlapping runs from the fullback spot. Led by the experienced Louis Van Gaal, the Netherlands look to have a more organized system, especially defensively, but Argentina holds some of the most electric talents in the tournament in Alvarez, MacAlister, and obviously Lionel Messi.
The Netherlands are tactically in line to win this game, but the “Last Dance” narrative is in full force, and it always feels like Argentina will find a way to win. Still, I’ll pick the Dutch to go through.
Brazil versus Croatia:
Brazil is the epitome of pure chemistry and talent — they are having fun playing soccer together every single game. On the other hand, Croatia is the embodiment of cerebral football.
No roster is as stacked as Brazil’s, but I really believe that a well-oiled machine like Croatia has a decent chance to frustrate them. In their match against South Korea, Brazil showed that they can capitalize off of their chances stemming from their confidence: Once they score one goal, it’s pretty much over, as more will surely come. But, if Croatia can maintain possession through their strong midfield, that confidence may never materialize for Brazil. Croatia wants to control and slow the pace of this game as much as possible, avoiding any possibility of Brazilian creativity that could catch them off guard.
If this match makes it to extra time, I think Croatia will win, but I don’t think I can trust them to get there. Brazil’s skill will be too overwhelming and they will make it through.
Portugal versus Morocco:
Led by star midfielder Soufiyane Amrabat, Morocco has proven to have a rigid defensive front in the tournament so far. Simultaneously, the benching of Cristiano Ronaldo has allowed the Portuguese to play a quicker attacking front three, which fired on all cylinders while thoroughly dismantling a solid Swiss team. They honestly looked unstoppable.
Still, the same thing was said about the Spaniards when they beat Costa Rica by seven goals, and the Moroccan defense made Spain’s attack look extremely poor. However, the Spaniards are ruled by strong midfield play, which was unable to convert in the final third against Morocco. On the other hand, the Portuguese play with an unmatched attacking pace, which can definitely deconstruct the organized Moroccan back five.
This game will be a back-and-forth affair, with very minimal midfield play, and I think this will negate the impact of Amrabat. Still, if Morocco can find a half-chance on the counter-attack, it’s entirely possible for Achraf Hakimi and Hakim Ziyech to create some magic on the right side of the pitch. Nevertheless, Portugal's young attacking side, balanced by their experienced back four, will lead them to a victory, and is my favorite to win the whole tournament.
England versus France:
This match is the highlight of the quarterfinals: a game between two top-five-ranked squads that are overflowing with talent. Still, I think there is a clear favorite in this game. Unfortunately, with Gareth Southgate at the helm, England will play slow and methodical, while their talent should allow them to play fluidly like Portugal. Didier Deschamps will have Griezmann and Mbappe attract all the attention on the left side of the pitch, allowing Ousmane Dembele lots of room to run at defenders in one-versus-one situations, with an ideal matchup in front of him in the form of the slower Luke Shaw. This is where I expect the goals to come from.
Overall, if I compare each position one by one, the two sides are very evenly matched. But Kylian Mbappe is the best player in the world, and England will be terrified of him. France are better suited for this matchup tactically and with their experience — after all, they are the defending champions. As much as I’d love Phil Foden and Jude Bellingham to rise to the occasion, Southgate’s system is holding them back, and I want him to get fired. Expect a deadlocked first half until France comes out swinging in the second, with three goals in rapid succession around the 60th minute.