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Quarterfinals: Can Brazil be stopped?

Friday, July 2, 2010
Jul 02
11:05
AM ET

Posted by Nate Silver

A quick look at how the Soccer Power Index projects the quarterfinals:

Brazil (61.4 percent) over Netherlands (38.6 percent). It must be unnerving for Brazil's opponents to know that, while the Brazilians played a couple halves of middling-quality football early in the tournament, they have a second and even a third gear when they really need it -- the last time Brazil lost a match against a team currently ranked in the SPI top 10 was in a 2007 friendly with Portugal. Facing by far its toughest test yet against the Netherlands, we should see Brazil in top form from the opening minutes. With that said, the Dutch have played a perfect World Cup: 8-0-0 in qualifying, 4-0-0 so far in the main event. In other words: the classic case of the irresistible force and the unmovable object. But when the irresistible force is Brazil, it prevails more often than not.

Uruguay (61.4 percent) over Ghana (38.6 percent). Uruguay did not look especially strong in defeating South Korea. But as we mentioned in the last preview, Uruguay is something of an unorthodox team; it rarely controls possession and instead plays the long ball between the back four and the strikers -- the soccer equivalent of a passing offense. It wouldn't work at all if Uruguay didn't have strikers with as much finishing talent as Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez, but it does. If the game is fought more in the trenches, it could literally be a war of attrition, as Ghana is a bit foul-prone. Then, it could come down to which team gets a man sent off or concedes a penalty first.

Argentina (58.1 percent) over Germany (41.9 percent). Germany deserves a ton of credit, having survived both a very tough group draw and now facing a knockout bracket that might require it to defeat England, Argentina, Spain and Brazil consecutively to win the tournament. The Germans just may be in the wrong place at the wrong time, with the South American teams having made South Africa feel like home, and Argentina having played perhaps the best football of anyone in the tournament. Expect some fireworks: These are not the conservative Germans you might remember from the past, and they are tied with Argentina for the tournament lead with nine goals-scored.

Spain (69.3 percent) over Paraguay (30.7 percent). If you looked up "playing for penalties" in the dictionary, you'd probably find Paraguay's name as an example. Paraguay arguably did so against Japan and will certainly be looking to do the same against a much-superior Spanish team. The thing is, it has an outside chance of working. Although Paraguay's attack is just 49th in the world according to SPI, it is the third-toughest team to score on. Still, it's going to be hard to suppress David Villa and company for 120 minutes, and Paraguay's real hopes might rest in a lucky counter-attacking goal, à la Switzerland.

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