World Cup Handicapping: Judging the Quarterfinalists
by Trevor Whenham - 7/3/2014
As we await the start of the quarterfinals in the World Cup it is a good time to evaluate the eight remaining teams. What do they face going forward? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Most importantly, is there any value in betting on them to win the tournament?:
Remaining path: Colombia is a feisty opponent but likely doesn't have the depth to match up to the Brazilians if the hosts play close to their ability. Beyond that the most likely path is Germany and then Argentina. Those are two formidable foes, but they are exactly the teams that most expected them to face before the tournament started, and they have been strong favorites all the way along regardless.
Biggest strength: The depth of this team is just ridiculous. They have six or seven bench players that would be starting on virtually any other team in the tournament - including the top teams. It is a golden age for the level of talent in Brazil - and that's saying something because the talent level is always high.
Biggest concern: The Brazilians have not yet looked like we have expected them to. They are the best team in the tournament by far on paper, but they have really struggled to translate that to the level of dominant success that they should be capable of. They were caught off guard by Mexico and were very nearly beaten by Chile. Their remaining opponents are all at least as good as those two teams, so this lackadaisical approach to play is going to catch up to them if they aren't careful.
Value?: They are the deserving favorites, but I just don't see any point in betting on them at this point.
Remaining path: They face a massive test against Brazil next time out. That isn't likely to go well, but if it did then Germany or France, followed by the Argentines or Dutch are the likely foes. Nothing to like there is you are Colombian.
Biggest strength: This team is very mentally tough. They lost their best player in Falcao leading up to the tournament. That would have crushed most teams, but this team has rallied together and exceeded expectations despite the setback. They have a team-first attitude that can be tough to crack, and they are playing with a complete fearlessness.
Biggest concern: They are about to take a massive jump in class. Greece, Ivory Coast and Japan are all deeply flawed teams. Uruguay is much better, but was a mess after the Suarez debacle. Now they face the big boys, and they aren't likely to have the depth to thrive.
Value?: Not at all. It would take a miracle for them to win it all, and I don't believe in miracles.
Remaining path: Germany is a huge test next, then Brazil, then a tough opponent in the finals. It doesn't get easier.
Biggest strength: This team seems to shine in the World Cup. They shouldn't have been a very good team, but they have surprised with their confidence and level of play.
Biggest concern: They haven't played anyone. Switzerland, Ecuador, Honduras, Nigeria - not a legitimate foe among them. Now they are moving up against the big boys, and I am not at all convinced they are of the same caliber.
Value?: I am clearly not a believer. I would love to bet a team at somewhat longer odds than the favorites, but 7/1 doesn't come even close to reflecting the risks of the bet.
Remaining path: France up next, then likely Brazil, then likely the Dutch or Argentines. Tough, but like Brazil this is exactly the path that they were expected to face since well before the tournament started.
Biggest strength: Their win over Portugal was perhaps the most convincing single performance of the tournament. It was a tour de force. If they could replicate that effort it would be hard to imagine them finishing anywhere but first.
Biggest concern: The efforts since then have been underwhelming. They could easily have lost to both Ghana and Algeria, and they didn't dominate the Americans nearly as they should have. It is almost as if they started to believe their own hype after the first game.
Value?: They have moved from third favorite to second over the course of the tournament. At 7/2 they represent the best value among the top favorites. I like the price, and I like their chances.
Remaining path: They face the ultimate trap game against Costa Rica - there is no way they should possibly lose, but there is no way Costa Rica should be here, either. Survive that and it is likely Argentina, then Germany or Brazil. Ugly.
Biggest strength: Offense. This team knows how to score. They have 12 goals in the tournament, and they have shown that they can not only be potent but explosive - goals have repeatedly come in very tight bunches.
Biggest concern: They may have used up all their luck. They should have lost to Mexico, but a bizarre - and referee-aided - couple of minutes saved it all for them. They can't count on late heroics again given the competition they face after Costa Rica.
Value?: I was not a believer in this team coming into the tournament, and though I give them credit for what they have done, I'm still not a believer now. I guess I can accept that they are the fourth choice to win the tournament, but the gap between them and the top three is much larger than the odds suggest.
Remaining path: They face the Dutch next, then likely Argentina, then likely Germany or Brazil. It really couldn't be any tougher for the Cinderella squad of this tournament.
Biggest strength: They are taking advantage of every opportunity. There is no good reason they should be where they are, but they have played tough and fearless, and they have just wanted it more than their opponents. Self-belief can be very tough to overcome.
Biggest concern: They just aren't good enough. They are facing the best teams they have faced so far, and they don't have the depth or the overall talent to go toe-to-toe. They have had their share of miracles so far, but they would need many more to keep the run alive. One more win could happen, but three more just won't.
Value?: Not even close. 40/1 is a fat price in terms of futures bets, but there would need to be a few more zeroes involved before I was interested in a real way.
Remaining path: They face a young and inexperienced Belgian squad next, then likely clash with the Dutch before an anticipated showdown with Brazil or Germany. As we have said before, this is almost exactly what most people expected them to face before the tournament started - or close to it, anyway.
Biggest strength: Lionel Messi. He is the best player on the planet, and he is playing like it for the most part. He has been fierce offensively and has carried this team on his shoulders to this point.
Biggest concern: Everyone but Messi. This team is no worse than the second most talented squad in the tournament, but they have not played like it as a team at any point. They have had opportunities to dominate but have just slid by instead. It has been a recurring theme so far that the truly elite teams have not reached their full potential. Things are tough enough going forward that the next flat effort could be their last.
Value?: Thanks largely to a near loss to an underwhelming Swiss team, the Argentines have slid from being the second favorite to the third. In relative terms I am thrilled with that. They were my pick to win the tournament before things started, and at this price I am happy to still be on board.
Remaining path: A huge test against Argentina is next, followed by likely the Dutch, then either Germany or Brazil.
Biggest strength: This is a team with a stunning amount of talent. They struggled to get past the Americans, but that's only because they faced a superhero effort in net. They can score in a lot of ways and have real elite depth.
Biggest concern: They are just so young and inexperienced. No one has played in the tournament before, and most guys can barely shave. They have an incredibly high ceiling as a program, but it really feels like this is just a dress rehearsal before they terrorize their opponents in 2018.
Value?: If they didn't have to play Argentina next then you could argue that there would be a little value at 12/1. I just don't think that they are going to be good enough right now to beat any of the four older and more experienced squads that they could face coming up.
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