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The 4 Biggest Storylines Ahead of the World Cup Quarterfinals - Maxim

The 4 Biggest Storylines Ahead of the World Cup Quarterfinals

Brazil vs. Belgium will be barnburner, and England continues to climb.
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And then there were eight. 

After two days off, the World Cup returns Friday for the quarterfinals and by the end of the day Saturday, the semis will be set. Among the teams left in the tournament are Brazil, the most decorated nation in the history of international soccer, England, vying for its first World Cup title since 1966, and Russia, the host country and a true cinderella. Here are some story lines we'll be watching as the quarterfinals unfold. 

1. The attacking firepower in Brazil vs. Belgium  

The most exciting game of the quarters, without question, is Brazil vs. Belgium, which features two teams that can score goals in bunches.

Belgium, unbeaten in its last 23 matches, has won all four of its World Cup games. But its last win over Japan did not come easy. After falling behind 2-0, The Red Devils scored three unanswered goals to make it out of the round of 16. 

Brazil had an easier time against Mexico, winning 2-0 on two goals from Neymar. He might need to score more than that to keep up with Belgium though.

2. Kylian Mbappe's breakout

The young French striker has been the breakout star of this World Cup, and he'll have to keep the magic going to carry France past Uruguay on Friday. The South Americans are defensive minded and could be without an injured Edinson Cavani, one of their top attacking talents, pushing them to focus even more on stopping France's attack.

If anyone looks like he can break through the Uruguayan defense though, it's the 19-year-old Mbappe.

3. Will Croatia crush Cinderella?

Russia is not very good. But an unexpected win over Spain in front of a home crowd has catapulted Sbornaya into the final eight teams left. Expect that run to end on Saturday. Croatia is a talented team led by Luka Modric, one of the best (and most underrated) players in the World Cup.

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He may not look like a superstar athlete, but he plays like one. 

4. England's ascendence 

Prior to its win in the round of 16 over Colombia, England had never prevailed in a World Cup match that had gone to penalties. That's over now. 

England sits on the easier side of the bracket, having to get by Sweden and then Croatia or Russia to reach it first World Cup final since winning the whole thing in 1966. But Sweden is not to be underestimated. The team of blonde nobodies that has been grinding out wins in Russia will look to clamp down on the prolific English goal scorer Harry Kane. 

Not that it will be easy.