Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Top 5 storylines — 2018 World Cup quarterfinals

1 Comment

We’re less than 24 hours from the start of the quarterfinals at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Captivating storylines have been plentiful through the first 20 days of the tournament. Here’s five to keep an eye on when the eight remaining teams return to action on Friday and Saturday.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

Is it really coming home?

When England let Belgium beat them lost to Belgium on the final day of the group stage, it sent the Three Lions to the “easier” side of the knockout bracket — while the Red Devils headed to the side featuring France and Brazil — and, oh boy, has it worked like a charm for England. Spain, the only true giant of the eight, went out in the round of 16 to Russia, thus leaving England a potential path to the final featuring Sweden and Croatia. The objective is clear for England: don’t mess this up, because you’ll almost certainly never get another chance like this. Also of note regarding England: Harry Kane could just about lock up the Golden Boot with another goal (or two), to pad his current 6-4 lead on Romelu Lukaku.

[ MORE: Spurs place $58-million bid for USMNT’s Christian Pulisic ]

Brazil vs. Belgium — meeting of the most impressive sides so far?

No one thrashed through their respective group quite like Belgium did — won all three games and finished with a +7 goal differential — and no one knocked off their round-of-16 foe quite as soundly as Brazil did — the Selecao beat Mexico by a score of 2-0, the only game of the eight to finish with a multiple-goal margin of victory. In that sense, it would be fair to say Brazil and Belgium have been the most impressive teams through their first four games. So, naturally, they’re set to face one another in the second quarterfinal on Friday. It’s a small feather in the cap of those who believe the World Cup should be re-seeded at the conclusion of the group stage.

[ MORE: Key battles in each World Cup quarterfinal match ]

Uruguay face France, without Cavani

Edinson Cavani scored both goals for Uruguay in their 2-1 victory over Portugal in the round of 16, but will now pay a steep price for doing so: Cavani, who alongside Luis Suarez forms arguably the best forward partnership at this World Cup, is expected to miss Friday’s quarterfinal clash with France on Friday. Cavani suffered a calf injury during the second half of the game against Portugal. Cavani (45) has scored more goals during his Uruguay career than anyone not named Suarez (53).

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

(When) will the “upsets” stop?

While Belgium beating Brazil would only constitute a mild upset (compared to everything we’ve seen thus far), it would still signal the elimination of the next-to-last remaining pre-tournament favorite. The same goes for Uruguay versus France, though most would see that as more of a shocker than an upset. It’s possible that we could end up with a World Cup final featuring not a single team from outside the top 10 of the current FIFA rankings (Uruguay versus anyone from the other half), but more likely that we’ll see a final without a top-six side (France, who are currently ranked seventh).

[ MORE: World Cup quarterfinal predictions ]

What if the upsets don’t stop?

Speaking of upsets, Uruguay versus Belgium, and Russia versus Sweden — that’s a very possible final-four field, should anyone expect to waltz through their matchup on Friday or Saturday. While everyone is penciling in an England versus Croatia semifinal, and hoping to put England through to the final, if we have learned anything from this tournament, it’s that it would be very stupid to look past Russia and Sweden. Would it be the star-studded semifinal showdown everyone projected, or get excited for, before the tournament started three weeks ago? Certainly not, but it feels like an ending perfectly befitting this particularly crazy World Cup.

La Liga: Sevilla squeaks by Levante, La Real back to winning ways

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Real Sociedad put its two-game losing streak to bed and remained in the mix at the top of the La Liga table, turning around an early 1-0 deficit and winning 3-1 at home over Real Betis.

Lorenzo Moron scored 12 minutes in for the visitors, but a Javi Garcia own-goal leveled the score while Willian Jose and Portu sealed the three points. Martin Odegaard was fantastic again for La Real, constantly proving a threat in the buildup. Man of the Match, however, was Mikel Merino who was active in the midfield and popped up occasionally in the attacking third. The win pushes La Real up to fourth in the table, two points behind second-placed Real Madrid and three back of leaders Barcelona.

Sevilla was held for 86 minutes at home by Levante, but Luuk De Jong gave the hosts all three points as he rose high above Erick Cabaco to head home Jesus Navas’s cross from deep. Sevilla held over 60% possession throughout the match and racked up nine corners to Levante’s one, but didn’t create much in front of net until the final 15 minutes. Chicharito and De Jong both missed within two minutes of each other, and the latter eventually converted to push Sevilla to sixth in the La Liga table.

Alaves picked up a big three points over Celta Vigo with a 2-0 home win on second half goals from Lisandro Magallan and Lucas Perez. The visitors managed just two shots on target and had just one clear cut chance that Santi Mina failed to put on frame seconds out of halftime. Former Newcastle striker Joselu had a bad miss past the half-hour mark but proved a threat for much of the match, ripping off six shots on his own. Alaves also picked up five yellow cards in the match, but ultimately jumped out of the relegation zone and past Celta Vigo into 14th.

Villareal moved to seventh in the table with a 1-0 road victory at Espanyol. Cameroon international Karl Toko Ekambi scored his third goal of the season in the 17th minute and the visiting defense spoiled the Espanyol attack all game long. The hosts put forth 18 shots but managed to get just three of them on target. Santi Cazorla has been stellar all season for Villareal, and he went the full 90 minutes again, not adding much up front but proving a menace in midfield.

Athletic Club drew 1-1 with Real Valladolid as Inaki Williams put Athletic up just after the half-hour mark, but an Inigo Martinez own-goal pegged them back with 20 minutes to go. Athletic popped off 17 shots to Real Valladolid’s seven but Jordi Masip made six saves in net for Real Valladolid to spoil the home side’s day, leaving Athletic in eighth with 13 points.

Fabian downs Red Bulls in extra time, sends Philadelphia to conference semis

Getty Images
Leave a comment

A wild and wacky game saw Philadelphia come from two goals down to force extra time, and Marco Fabian bagged the eventual winner in the 105th minute to put the Union into the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 4-3 win. The victory is the first in playoff action for the Union in club history.

New York held a 3-1 advantage at halftime as Josh Sims, Tim Parker, and Tom Barlow all found the back of the net for the visitors in the opening 45 minutes, while Alejandro Bedoya found the back of the net himself.

After the break, things got even more wild. New York coughed up the lead, with Jack Elliott and Fabrice Picault each striking once despite a solid display from Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles. With the game level, the final 15 minutes were all Philadelphia as the Eastern Conference three seed peppered New York’s penalty area, but Robles made a fabulous save on a Jamiro Monteiro effort from point blank range at the back post.

In extra time, Fabian found the back of the net with what appeared to be a chipped cross that took a slight deflection and snuck into the top corner from a tight angle.

The Union will get a matchup with Atlanta United in the semifinals, after Frank De Boer engineered a 1-0 win over New England.

 

Serie A: Lukaku brace helps Inter win shootout, AC Milan caught late

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Inter Milan kept pace with Juventus atop the Serie A table with an exciting 4-3 win on the road at Sassuolo. Romelu Lukaku scored a brace, as did Lautaro Martinez to go up 4-1 with 20 minutes to go, although the visitors nearly coughed up the big lead.

Martinez opened the scoring just two minutes in with a far-post snipe, but Domenico Berardi leveled things back up before the 20-minute mark. Lukaku put Inter back in front on 38 minutes, taking a feed down the center from Stefan de Vrij and posting up Federico Peluso before producing a strong turn and finish. He hit again from the penalty spot just after halftime after Martinez was hauled down in the box, and the Argentinian got his second also from the spot on 71 minutes to go three goals in front. The win moved Inter back to just a point behind leaders Juve.

Krzysztof Piatek struck in the 81st minute to seemingly rescue AC Milan, but Lecce hit back in the 92nd minute to earn a 2-2 draw at the San Siro. Goals from Hakan Calhanoglu and Khouma Babacar had cancelled each other out by the hour mark, but Piatek was on hand to bag his third of the season after Calhanoglu did the hard work down the right. Marco Calderoni was on hand to pip the hosts, however, with a last-gasp strike from distance that found the back of the net and gave AC Milan yet another disappointing result, having won just once in its last five games.

Roma was held to a scoreless draw on the road at Sampdoria, with Justin Kluivert seeing red on a pair of cautions and leaving the visitors to finish the match with 10 men. Roma held 65% possession throughout the match, but managed just a single shot on target amid their nine efforts. Edin Dzeko began the match on the bench, and while he came on at halftime, he did little to change Roma’s fortunes. The draw leaves Roma with just one win over its last four matches, sitting sixth in table, nine points back of the top.

Parma hammered Genoa 5-1 behind a hat-trick from Danish international Andreas Cornelius. The 26-year-old came on in the 12th minute for an injured Roberto Inglese and scored all three goals in an eight-minute stretch that bracketed halftime. The second was a vicious half-volley that impressively rippled the netting. He got his third in the 50th minute by beating Ionut Radu at his near post with a low blast.

Cagliari continued its impressive start to the season with a comprehensive 2-0 win over SPAL. The first goal came inside the opening 10 minutes on a rip-roaring thunderbolt by Radja Nainggolan from miles out, a candidate for Goal of the Season. You can watch the goal here.

Udinese pulled away from the bottom third with a 1-0 win over Torino at home. 30-year-old Stefano Okaka scored the game’s lone goal just before halftime, nodding in with his head while essentially standing right on top of the left post after Rolando Mandragora sent a looping header of his own that way.

Joao Felix injured, but not as bad as feared

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Atletico Madrid will be without its teenage sensation for a few weeks, but will still breathe a sigh of relief.

Joao Felix limped off in the 78th minute of the 1-1 draw with Valencia on Saturday, leaving Atleti with 10 men with all substitutes having been used. Simeone after the match said the medical staff believed the injury was “serious” but later that day scans showed just a Grade II ankle sprain, meaning Felix will miss approximately two to three weeks according to a report by Spanish publication AS.

Felix has been critical to the otherwise anemic Atletico Madrid attack, scoring two goals and assisting another. The team has bagged just three total goals over the last six matches, being held off the scoresheet in four of those games.

The injury means Felix will miss a Champions League match against Bayer Leverkusen plus league matches against Athletic Bilbao, Alaves and Sevilla. AS reports that he could be back at the start of November when Atletico plays the reverse Champions League group stage fixture with Bayer.

The 19-year-old arrived at the Wanda Metripolitana this past summer for an enormous $140 million fee.