These four teams have shown in the last two weeks that they are capable of going home with the FIFA World Cup trophy.
But today, only two of them will survive to fight in the semifinals.
The battles are well set up, with an ambitious Dutch team looking to oust a confident Argentine side.
And then there’s the almighty Brazil who have left soccer fans in awe of what they can do with the ball.
Football pundits have already reduced the fight for the crown to France and Brazil, forgetting that England, Croatia, which lost to France in the last final, the Netherlands and Portugal are formidable foes who can topple the apple cart in their day.
Expecting a tough battle with Argentina, Dutch captain Virgil van Dijk deflected questions yesterday about his impending showdown with Lionel Messi, but admitted the Netherlands would be cautious in approaching him.
He stuck to the same lines when answering a series of questions about how he and his teammates would deal with the threat of Messi at the Lusail Stadium.
“It’s not about me or the Netherlands against Messi, it’s about the Netherlands against Argentina.
he repeated several times at a press conference.
He said the Oranje were not worried about the current form of the Argentines, adding, however, that “they are a fantastic team with fantastic players and we are going to have to do well in all departments of the game.
Van Dijk said the Dutch are eager to break new ground and win a World Cup after losing in three finals.
“There is hunger, dreams and a feeling that we really want to make it (the World Cup),” he said.
“When you are in the quarterfinals you are only three games away from glory.
This is our chance.
But obviously we have to overcome an Argentina with one of the best players of all time”.
The match has been labeled a battle of the youngest coach in the tournament against the oldest coach.
And the possibility of it being Messi’s last game on football’s biggest stage adds to the anticipation.
The seven-time world player of the year is three wins away from achieving his ultimate dream, but he has two people, in particular, blocking his path.
First of all, the not inconsiderable structure of Van Dijk, who has been one of the best defenders in the world for the last five years.
If there is someone capable of stopping Messi in one of his characteristic dribbles, it is Liverpool’s elegant centre-back, who combines speed with a great reading of the game.
And then there’s Louis van Gaal, the shrewd 71-year-old tactician who has recently undergone successful treatment for prostate cancer, and is now plotting to win the World Cup in perhaps the last job of his 26-year coaching career.
Van Gaal, who has long been one of football’s most charismatic characters, is approaching this task with great amusement, even on the eve of one of the biggest games of his career.
Talking about the danger that Messi represents for his team.
, Van Gaal said it would be stupid to reveal his strategy, adding, however, that “he may want to block and close the passing lanes.
His Argentina counterpart Lionel Scaloni, 44, is a relative rookie after taking charge of his country in 2018 for his first senior coaching job.
Still, he already led Argentina to the Copa América title last year, the country’s first major trophy since 1993, and managed to stabilize his team after a stunning loss to Saudi Arabia in their opening group game.
Match that will be resolved at a “decisive moment”, Scaloni said that it will be a “beautiful match because we are talking about two teams willing to attack but who also know how to defend”.
It is set to be a clash of styles between two of football’s storied powerhouses, with two-time champions Argentina preferring to play a game of possession and the Dutch, three-time beaten finalists, now typically playing on the counter-attack under Van. Gaal.