It’s not too late to get excited about the World Cup…

Posted at 9:20 PM, Jul 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-05 23:20:39-04

We’re down to the final 8 in the 2018 World Cup: Uruguay, France, Brazil, Belgium, Russia, Croatia, Sweden, and Belgium.

As a soccer player and fan of 24 years and counting, I get excited about every World Cup–even the ones that the U.S. men’s team can’t manage to qualify for (still too soon?).

I also understand that some people find soccer terribly boring.

Here’s the thing about this World Cup, though: it’s been chalked full of upsets and shocking finishes–and what sports fan doesn’t appreciate that?!

If the Quarterfinals are anything like the first two rounds, fans could be in for a few more "no waaaay" moments this week.  And if you don’t want to watch 90+ minutes of soccer… don’t worry.  Just tune in to KOAA instead, during sports, to get 90 seconds worth of the best highlights instead.

There are several teams that were expected to make it this far– in fact, early predictions ahead of the start of the World Cup listed Brazil, Belgium, and France as favorites to win it all.

Sports Illustrated has come out with a power rankings list of the final eight.

Here’s how that breaks down:

1. Brazil

Brazil was knocked out of the 2014 semifinals by Germany, who went on to be World Cup champions.  That wouldn’t sound so bad, except for the fact Brazil lost in a 7-1 beat down in that match.  

The team had a surprising start in Russia, after having to settle with a 1-1 draw against Switzerland in their opening game of Group play.

But since then, they have not had a single goal scored against them.

On top of that, Neymar Jr. still has the potential to be explosive on offense.  When Neymar dominates, the whole team dominates–he’s that good.  So far, he’s contributed two of Brazil’s seven goals in this tournament.

And if you are a fan of the theater, you won’t want to miss this match.  Neymar has seemingly mastered the art of flopping in recent weeks.  It’s annoying, but I’m not ashamed to admit it’s comically entertaining.

Quarterfinal Schedule: vs. Belgium
Saturday, 12 p.m., mountain time


2. France

France finished 1st in Group C (2-1 overall).

They have no shortage of talent this year: Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, and Hugo Lloris–to name a few.  A new star emerged in their Round of 16 match against Argentina, as 19-year-old Kylian Mbappé scored back to back goals to give France a 4-3 victory.

Knocking out a player like Lionel Messi is no easy feat, and the game was deemed an upset.  

Quarterfinal Schedule: vs. Uruguay
8 a.m., mountain time


3. Croatia

Croatia also finished first in its respective Group, in Round 1 of play, and remain undefeated in the tournament.  Their Round of 16 game did not disappoint– decided by penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw in regular and extra time against Denmark.

They have arguably the easiest opponent in the quarterfinals, scheduled to play Russia on Saturday.

Quarterfinal Schedule: vs. Russia
Saturday, 12 p.m. mountain time


4. Uruguay

Uruguay’s strength lies in their defense.  They’ve only given up one goal the entire tournament, and that was off of corner kick.  They beat Protugal, 2-1, in Round of 16 play, and will head into their match against France as a slight underdog.

Quarterfinal Schedule: vs. France, 
Friday, 8 a.m. mountain time

5. Belgium

Romelu Lukaku (try saying his name three times, fast) has delivered for his team so far.

He’s tied for second in the tournament with four goals… and here’s the kicker: he’s only taken 11 shots.

Belgium may be 5th on this list– but they’re also coming off of a comeback so big, it hasn’t happened in more than 50 years.  They stunned Japan, coming back from a second half 2-0 deficit to win 3-2–their winning goal coming in the final 20 seconds of stoppage time.

Brazil is expected to win this match, but they should not underestimate how big of a weapon Lukaku could be.

Quarterfinal Schedule: vs. Brazil
Saturday, 12 p.m. mountain time

6. England

Sure, they’re #6 on this list… but they also have the top scorer of the entire tournament so far. 

Harry Kane has scored six goals, making him the top contender for the coveted "Golden Boot."

Plus, they’re still reveling in their first shootout win in a World Cup win, against Colombia in the Round of 16 match..  Of course, the game (in the eyes of soccer analysts) never should have gotten that far, with England giving up the equalizer to Colombia in the 93rd minute of play.  They’re listed as the biggest favorite to win their quarterfinal match, against Sweden.

Quarterfinal Schedule: vs. Sweden
Saturday, 8 a.m. mountain time
7. Sweden

These guys are the biggest long shot to win the World Cup–or move on to the semifinals, for that matter.  

But everyone loves an underdog story, right?

Swedish captain Andreas Granqvist did a recent interview, admitting their opponents have had more minutes of possession in their matches, but says Sweden is creating more scoring chances.  That proved to be England’s greatest weakness during their Round of 16 match–simply put, they didn’t create enough scoring opportunities.  That’s been a theme for them throughout the tournament. 

You couple that with the fact that the Swedish defense leads the World Cup in blocked shots–and it makes this match appear a lot more interesting than the line bets are letting on.

Quarterfinal Schedule: vs. England
Saturday, 8 a.m. mountain time
8. Russia

Statistically speaking, Russia has a better chance of moving to the semifinals than Sweden does.  But they are the lowest ranked team of the remaining eight in this tournament. 

They have scored 9 goals in 4 games, though, and knocked Spain out of the Round of 16 in another big upset of this tournament.  Some may call that a hot streak–although many are convinced that streak is about to come to an end.

Quarterfinal Schedule: vs. Croatia
Saturday, 12 p.m. mountain time


Make sure to catch our highlights of the World Cup throughout the next week, on KOAA-TV.