Belgium has us waffling on Brazil pick

Belgium has us waffling on Brazil pick

July 03, 2018 3:01 AM
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With Germany unable to get out of the group stage, Brazil remains the favorite to win the World Cup.

According to Westgate, the South Americans are a 3-to-1 choice as of Monday afternoon.

It would be an unprecedented sixth title for the Brazilians, who come off an impressive 2-0 Monday win over Mexico, which had done it a favor in helping eliminate the defending champions thanks to a shocking 1-0 upset to open play in a wild Group F.

Although Brazil was my choice to win it all at the beginning of the tournament, allow me to caution that it may be time to reverse course. At the very least, if you’re in on the “Verde Amarela” to win it all on my advice, you should cover yourself by backing Belgium to win Friday’s incredibly appealing quarterfinal.

After falling behind 2-0 against Japan, Belgium manager Roberto Martinez inserted polarizing Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini, who immediately helped turn the game around with his attacking, scoring the game-tying goal. His other modification was to go with forward Nacer Chadli, who came in alongside Fellaini in the 65th minute and wreaked havoc with his elusiveness and ultimately put the game’s final shot in the back of the net.

Nearly at the death, four minutes into stoppage time, Belgium managed a masterful counterattack after goalie Thibault Courtois caught a Japanese corner and rolled the ball ahead to begin a brilliant run forward that ultimately gave goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima no chance. Belgium has a “team of destiny” feel to it.

The Belgians won 3-2 despite being held scoreless into the 70th minute. After victories over Panama, Tunisia and England in Group H play, Belgium joined Uruguay as the only teams to win four straight results in regulation in this World Cup and is a 6-to-1 choice to win the World Cup. Croatia has won four contests, but technically drew in its Round of 16 match against Denmark, finishing tied after 120 minutes before prevailing on penalty kicks.

The firepower Belgium can put on the field is such that talents like Fellaini and Chadli are coming off the bench. Captain and elite defender Vincent Kompany sat out the first few games. This group is loaded and now knows what it’s like to stare down elimination.

Brazil remains a beast but has some issues coming into the quarterfinals. Casemiro, its key defensive midfielder, will miss the clash against Belgium due to yellow card accumulation. Marcelo, who was sidelined due to injury against Mexico, may be out once again after manager Tite said he would’ve only been able to go 60 minutes had he played on Monday. Neymar, criticized for over-selling foul calls and pretending he’s more injured than he actually is, has been hit hard throughout this tournament and isn’t 100 percent.

Gabriel Jesus has battled and created chances, but my choice to win this World Cup’s Golden Boot as top player has yet to score a single goal. Philippe Coutinho, who is even with Neymar atop Brazil’s scoring leaders with two, was pulled against Mexico because his coach felt he had been overloaded with work. Brazil is certainly vulnerable.

The only elite side Belgium has beaten thus far, England, rested top goal-scorer Harry Kane since both teams had already qualified for the knockout stage. So this matchup will indeed be a major test since it can be argued the British team didn’t really extend themselves to try and finish top of the group. Since the Belgian defense looked so suspect against Japan, there’s a chance we see Brazil truly impose its will here and look unbeatable, but all that remains to be seen.

As things stand, I wouldn’t recommend doubling down on Brazil even though I stand by them as my pre-tournament selection. There’s no question they can win three more games, but another reason to be hesitant has to do with the fact that winning Group E left the South Americans on the left side of the bracket. Due to how things played out, the right side of the bracket definitely doubles as the right side of the bracket to be on if you were looking for an easier road to the World Cup title.

The Brazil/Belgium winner squares off against whatever country gets out of the France/Uruguay clash. Both teams have looked fantastic thus far, eliminating Argentina and Portugal, the sides led by elite talents Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. France’s odds are at 7/2, second behind only Brazil, while Uruguay is at 14/1 only because of the path that awaits on the left side of the bracket.

Croatia (5/1) looks like the team most likely to reach the final from the other group since it will face host Russia (20/1) for a spot in the semifinals. After surviving star goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel and Denmark in PKs, the Croats will be heavily favored against the host Russians, which defeated Spain on penalties to wrap up a monumental upset of a team that looked a step slow and became its own worst enemy by being complacent.

England will duel with James Rodriguez-less Colombia in one quarterfinals while Sweden and Switzerland do battle in the other, so one of those four sides figures to run into a Croatian side that has never been to a World Cup final in the semis.

At 30/1, Switzerland, which tied Brazil in a very good match and can play with anyone in their bracket, and Sweden (50/1), are both going to be popular choices if you want to get behind a true longshot.

Brazil may indeed still win it all and prove my initial inclination right, but in a World Cup that has delivered one surprise after another, this is the point in the tournament where you’re going to want to hedge. Be it Belgium, Uruguay or a group from the right side that few would’ve envisioned winning it all when action in Russia began, there are plenty of choices to get behind to increase your odds of a prosperous July.