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Three wins. That’s all it takes to win the World Cup. It’s easier said than done for the eight remaining teams. I’m Mike Goodman, and we’ve got your deep dives on the teams and players vying to win it all on Friday’s Golazo Starting XI newsletter.
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⚽ The Forward Line
Which players will define the quarterfinals?
Look, you don’t need us to tell you that Kylian Mpabbe and Lionel Messi are the best soccer players in the world. But as we looked at the 10 players you don’t want to miss in the quarterfinals, there are definitely a couple of surprises. Let’s introduce you to them. First up, the man who replaced Cristiano Ronaldo in the Portugal lineup. Roger Gonzales walks you through what makes Goncalo Ramos special.
- Gonzalez: “The 21-year-old Benfica man has been tasked with two things this season. First, for club Benfica, it was to replace Darwin Nunez, who left for Liverpool. Then for country, it was to replace the legendary Cristiano Ronaldo in the starting lineup. He’s done both. Already with 14 goals in 21 games this season for his club, he’s carried that over to the national team. He started the round of 16 match against Switzerland, and all he did was score a brilliant hat trick, the first being an absolute near-post rocket.”
For underdogs Morocco, their surprise run to the quarterfinals couldn’t have happened without tremendous defensive performances to stifle the likes of Croatia and Belgium in the group stage and then Spain in the round of 16. Here’s James Benge breaking down Sofyan Amrabat, the defensive midfielder leading the charge for the tournaments last true underdog ahead of their matchup against Portugal.
- Benge: “No one is going to confuse Amrabat with the most expressive midfielders in the tournament, but the 26-year-old does not dawdle in possession, instead keeping the ball moving and ensuring that those ahead of him get quick balls on the counter. Bernardo Silva and Bruno Fernandes will try to weave their delicate patterns around the Morocco defense. They will need to be precise indeed to find a way past Amrabat.”
If you’d like to read more about Brazil’s attack, Morocco’s defense, and, of course, Messi and Mbappe, make sure to check out the complete list of our quarterfinals players to watch.
You can get the entire World Cup Power Rankings list here, and you definitely should.
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Keys to winning the tournament
With the possible exception of Brazil, there are no perfect teams. Roger Gonzalez walks you through what all the remaining sides need to do to get the best out of their chances as the tournament runs through the finish line. The move for Portugal? Leave Ronaldo out.
- Gonzalez: “Goncalo Ramos made a statement with his hat trick. All of the players have bought in while Ronaldo has been letting his ego get the best of him. The world’s best player over the last 15 years for many, getting benched for both club and country in a span of a few months is really, really concerning. Is he a team player? Is he willing to be all in? If the answer is no, he needs to stay on the bench because Portugal proved they can play better without him.”
Let’s get to some more links:
💰 The Back Lines
With two games today, let’s look at some futures, all odds courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook.
- Brazil vs. Croatia, Friday at 10 a.m. ET
💰 THE PICK: Brazil (-260). This Brazil team is the closest to a perfect team in the tournament. They attack and defend with aplomb. They’ve yet to truly get challenged, despite their weird, fluky final group-stage loss to Cameroon. They’re big favorites, but not big enough. And aging Croatia is simply the wrong type of team to pose a challenge to this athletic, dynamic, super-skilled Brazil side. SportsLine’s got you covered with their picks here.
- Netherlands vs. Argentina, Friday at 2 p.m. ET
💰 THE PICK: Argentina (+116). Not going to overthink getting Lionel Messi and an Argentina side that entered the tournament as the second favorites at better than even money. Argentina’s odds have gone south over the course of the tournament and it’s easy to understand why since they haven’t offered the kind of dominant performances of Brazil or France, or even England. That said, they should have more than enough to get by a Netherlands team that has, itself, not been overly impressive. SportsLine’s got you covered with their picks here.