Belfast Telegraph

What lies ahead in the World Cup quarter-finals

Preparations are on for the last eight of the 2018 World Cup – which will include England.

Following conclusion of the remaining fixtures at the last 16 stage, there is a break from match action at the World Cup on Wednesday.

Here, Press Association Sport takes a look at what is ahead with eight teams left preparing for the quarter-finals.

Expectations of a host nation

Russia entered their own World Cup as the lowest-ranked side of all the 32 nations. However,‎ Stanislav Cherchesov’s well-organised side shrugged off the 70th place in the FIFA standings to secure a place in the quarter-finals with a dramatic – and unexpected – penalty shoot-out win over Spain. Now, though, the expectation has swiftly risen all across the host nation – which Cherchesov will want to keep a lid on within the squad as best he can in the long, and loud, build up to Saturday’s showdown with Croatia in Sochi.

Neymar (still) needs to deliver

While Brazil coach Tite has continued to stress Neymar cannot win the World Cup on his own, the spotlight firmly remains on the Paris St Germain forward – and not only for his goalscoring exploits. Fans around the globe will want to see more of his predatory instincts in the pick of the quarter-final clashes against Belgium on Friday – rather than the theatrics when rolling on the touchline after the most minimal of contact during the Mexico game.

Marchons, marchons…

The jury was out somewhat on France during the group stages, which finished with a tame goalless draw against Denmark. However, the ‘magnifique’ performance which saw off Argentina in Kazan has seen Didier Deschamps’ men emerge as genuine contenders, spearheaded by the brilliant teenager Kylian Mbappe. Another stern test awaits against Uruguay in Nizhny Novgorod – but expect Les Bleus to be all smiles at Wednesday’s press conference and open training in Istra.

Quarter-finals have a lot to live up to

It has so far been very much a World Cup of the unexpected, matches full of high drama with new heroes staking their claim as both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo headed home. Most of the remaining teams were probably not in most people’s World Cup quarter-final permutations before a ball was kicked, but each has earned the right to take a step closer the greatest prize of all. At this stage, of course, it is all about results – but let’s hope with a few more thrills along the way, just maybe not needing another penalty shoot-out drama when England tackle Sweden in Samara.

Time to give VAR its fair dues

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VAR has taken centre stage at the 2018 World Cup (Gregorio Borgia/AP Photo)

Love it or loathe it, the Virtual Assistant Referee system has certainly given fans, players, managers and pundits alike plenty to talk about. Yet whatever the debate, Tuesday’s controversies around the end of the Sweden against Switzerland game and also the Colombia red card that was not shown, even after review, you would like to think there have been more rights than wrongs. So it was all worth the wait in the end… or was it? Let’s have another look.

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