TODAY'S PAPER

World Cup quarterfinals preview: Brazil stands alone as favorite

Nacer Chadli's goal against Japan lifted Belgium into a quarterfinal match against Brazil. / AFP/Getty Images / ODD ANDERSEN

The 21st World Cup has whittled the field to eight, and the surprises continued. Spain became the latest power team to bow out much earlier than expected, and host Russia continues to shock everyone.

Here’s what to watch for in this weekend’s quarterfinals:

Uruguay-France

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These two eliminated Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) and Lionel Messi (Argentina), respectively, on the same day in the Round of 16, making the case that complete teams are better than individual players in this sport.

Uruguay has another tough test, this time against a France side that’s finding its rhythm through the knockouts. Kylian Mbappe established his stardom with a pair of goals in France’s win. However, the French backline allowed Argentina to go up 2-1 to start the second half, something Uruguay’s Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez can expose.

Brazil-Belgium

Brazil remains the front-runner to win it all. But, favored or not, Belgium isn’t afraid to go toe-to-toe with the five-time champion for a spot in the semifinals.

“I really don’t care. If we get a scrappy 1-0 win in the last minute, I’ll be happy,” Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne told reporters of the matchup against Brazil.

Belgium proved its tenacity in the last round, rallying from a 2-0 deficit to beat Japan, 3-2, on Nacer Chadli’s stoppage-time goal.

Sweden-England

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Based on the head-to-head record, history doesn’t favor England. The Three Lions have won just once in the last eight meetings with Sweden — 3-2 in Euro 2012. They’ve drawn Sweden twice in the last two World Cup meetings, in 2002 and 2006.

However, England defeating Colombia on penalties — something they’ve never done in the World Cup. It could be writing a new chapter.

Russia-Croatia

Croatia is one of the hotter teams that few are talking about. It dismantled Argentina, 3-0, in the group stage and survived a penalty kick shootout with Denmark last Sunday.

Russia, which also survived a penalty kick shootout to advance to the quarterfinals, has surpassed everyone’s expectations as the lowest-ranked FIFA team in the tournament. Unlike Croatia, Russia ousted Spain, one of the top national teams in the world.