And then there are eight
Uruguay v France (Friday 1400 GMT, Nizhny Novgorod) Uruguay One of only two teams to win all four games so far, Uruguay boast one of the meanest defenses in Russia marshalled by talismanic captain Diego Godin, and a lethal strikeforce in Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez. Cavani’s fitness is the big concern ahead of Friday’s meeting. The Paris Saint-Germain striker limped off with a calf injury after scoring twice to end Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal’s World Cup dreams in the last 16. France After cruising through the group stage in underwhelming fashion, France kicked through the gears thanks to Kylian Mbappe’s blistering pace to blow Argentina away in a 4-3 World Cup classic in the last 16. A very different task awaits in breaking through Uruguay’s brick wall of a defense that will not allow Mbappe the same space to exploit. But as legs start to tire in the latter stages, France’s strength in depth could start to make the difference. Brazil v Belgium (Friday 1800 GMT, Kazan) Brazil Along with Uruguay, Brazil shares the best defensive record, having conceded just once in four games so far and are slowly starting to hit their stride at the other end of the field too as Neymar struck his second goal of the tournament in the last 16. After a disappointing 1-1 draw against Switzerland, 2-0 wins over Costa Rica, Serbia and Mexico have taken Brazil into a seventh straight quarter-final and they remain the favourites to erase the scars of a humiliating 7-1 semi-final thrashing at the hands of Germany four years ago. Belgium Belgium will be the true test of how good the Brazilian back line is in Kazan on Friday, but coach Roberto Martinez has some big decisions to make after a stunning comeback from 2-0 down in the final 21 minutes avoided a shock exit to Japan in the last 16. AFP Japan picked the holes in Martinez’s attack-minded 3-4-2-1 system and the Red Devils had to rely on their superior physical power in the latter stages with Jan Vertonghen and Marouane Fellaini heading home before Nacer Chadli completing the comeback at the end of a stunning counter-attack. Martinez must now find the right balance to harness the best from Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, and Romelu Lukaku without leaving Belgium exposed.