The top scorers of the eight teams that qualified for the quarterfinals. Top row from left: Luis Fabiano of Brazil, Wesley Sneijder of Netherlands, Thomas Mueller of Germany and Gonzalo Higuain of Argentina. Bottom row from left: Asamoah Gyan of Ghana, Luis Suarez of Uruguay, Antolin Alcaraz of Paraguay and David Villa of Spain.
The top scorers of the eight teams that qualified for the quarterfinals. Top row from left: Luis Fabiano of Brazil, Wesley Sneijder of Netherlands, Thomas Mueller of Germany and Gonzalo Higuain of Argentina. Bottom row from left: Asamoah Gyan of Ghana, Luis Suarez of Uruguay, Antolin Alcaraz of Paraguay and David Villa of Spain. AFP
Fresh from our modest success predicting the Round of 16 games, it's time for the NPR oracles to gaze into our crystal tote bag for our quarterfinal predictions. Hopefully, we can match the psychic powers of Paul the Octopus. Young Paul, who resides in an aquarium in the German town of Oberhausen, has become something of a celebrity, having correctly predicted the winner of all four games Germany has played so far. We should be so prescient!
Brazil vs. Netherlands (Friday 10 a.m. ET)
Storyline: Potential classic in Port Elizabeth between two teams that can put the beautiful into "the beautiful game." There’s plenty of World Cup history here. They’ve met three times in the World Cup, with Brazil winning twice, including a 1998 semifinal match. Purists will say that the 2010 editions of both teams don't match their finest vintages. Still, Holland and Brazil have played some of the most entertaining soccer seen in South Africa. Also Brazilian coach, Carlos Dunga, at 46, is on track to join Franz Beckenbauer in winning the World Cup as both captain and coach.
Players to Watch: Will Brazil’s great midfielder Kaka find his touch? He’s been a shadow of himself so far, not helped by getting red-carded against Ivory Coast. For Holland, Wesley Sneijder is the lynchpin. The Inter Milan playmaker has had a strong tournament, and the Dutch need another inspirational performance from him.
NPR Prediction: Brazil’s fleet-footed attackers are too much for Holland’s aging defense in what could be a high-scoring game (by soccer standards!).
Ghana vs Uruguay (Friday 2.30 pm ET)
Storyline: Can an African team reach the semifinals in South Africa? Ghana can expect massive crowd support when they take the field in Johannesburg as Africa’s last hope, but will it be enough? To reach the semis, the Black Stars must defeat one of the surprises of World Cup 2010. Even Uruguay’s diehard fans didn’t expect them to do this well — the South Americans have benefited from a weak draw (they were in the same group as France, say no more) — but they showed great composure in beating South Korea in the Round of 16.
Players to Watch: Keep an eye on the strikers from both teams. As Asamoah Gyan goes, so goes Ghana. The Black Stars striker has been pretty much his team’s only scoring threat. If he’s hobbled by a reported ankle injury, it could cripple Ghana’s hopes. Uruguay has two scoring threats in Atletico Madrid striker Diego Forlan and Ajax star Luis Suarez, both have been in top form.
NPR Prediction: A well-organized Uruguay team is too much for a Ghana squad short of goal-scoring threats and missing key players through suspension.
Argentina vs. Germany (Saturday 10 am ET)
Storyline: The question for both teams’ supporters is, are they for real? Argentina has so far defied skeptics who thought the team would implode under mercurial coach and national legend Diego Maradona. As for Germany, coach Joachim Loew’s young team played magnificently against England. Can they match that performance in Cape Town against an Argentina team filled with world class talent?
Players to Watch: Lionel Messi is the best player on the planet. Period. But he hasn’t scored in this World Cup. Until now Argentina haven’t needed him to. Is this Messi’s moment? Germany’s Mesut Ozil is a joy to watch. Germany needs him to torture Argentina’s questionable defense, just as he made England’s defenders look ponderous and pedestrian.
NPR Prediction: Maradona keeps his dream alive of becoming only the second person to win the World Cup as both a player and a manager (see also Carlos Dunga above).
Paraguay vs. Spain (Saturday 2.30 pm ET)
Storyline: By Saturday afternoon in Johannesburg the question could be, will four South American teams make the semifinals? For that to happen, Paraguay must upset a team many pundits have picked to win the tournament. Spain started poorly — losing their first game — but they’ve looked mighty impressive since, especially dispatching Iberian rival Portugal in the last round. Look for a Paraguay team that has had problems scoring in South Africa to rely on sturdy defense to thwart and frustrate a free-flowing Spanish team. Paraguay’s best chance may be a penalty shootout. If this one gets that far, Paraguay demonstrated against Japan that the one place they can score from is the penalty spot.
Players to Watch: Spain’s David Villa is having a wonderful tournament. Barcelona’s new acquisition looks dangerous every time he gets the ball. Also Spain’s Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta form the best midfield partnership around. Paraguay’s strikers are apparently an endangered Amazonian species; Enrique Vera is probably the best hope to poach a goal.
NPR Prediction: Spain is simply too good for Paraguay.