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The World Cup Quarterfinals

Jul 6, 2018
Originally published on July 6, 2018 5:38 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

And we are down to just six teams left in the World Cup. Today was the start of the quarterfinals. Belgium is through. That's thanks to a 2-1 win over Brazil. France is also on its way to the semis after defeating Uruguay 2-nil.

Let us welcome back via Skype Roger Bennett from the Men in Blazers podcast. Hello again.

ROGER BENNETT: Mary Louise, it's a joy to be with you.

KELLY: Roger, you sound in a joyful mood. Are you celebrating the results of today's matches?

BENNETT: I have just watched a wonderful game of football. It's the quarterfinals of Vladimir Putin's soccer-themed bar mitzvah. It's where the going gets serious.

KELLY: OK.

BENNETT: And I've just seen Belgian's golden generation hold off a swashbuckling Brazil side, the last non-European side left in the tournament.

KELLY: Yeah.

BENNETT: It was remarkable to watch. Brazil, they only like to win this thing, so they will feel absolutely distraught. But, my Lord, they came alive when they were 2-nil down in that second half. Neymar, their star, playing in his fifth World Cup game, somehow on his seventh haircut of the tournament, just charged at the Belgians over and over again. And the Belgian goalkeeper fended him off single-handedly - strong, Flemish wrists - Thibaut Courtois. And Belgium will now play France in the semi-final. It will be the greatest conflict between those two sides since the Franco-Flemish War in 1305.

KELLY: The lesson here being maybe don't get your hair cut during the World Cup. But you mentioned France, which is playing amazingly thanks in part to this 19-year-old phenom. What's going on with the French team?

BENNETT: Kylian Mbappe - he is a - the discovery of the tournament. He's been a phenomenal player for the club. But in this tournament, he has climbed up to the lofty ether of the true greats - the Ronaldos, the Messis, the Mo Salahs - and really dazzled, carried the French country on his back at the age of 19, Mary Louise - 19.

KELLY: Nineteen - I know. It's amazing.

BENNETT: When I was 19, I just interested in beer and mixtape and football. He's become the world's darling. Although, in this game, the only world-class thing he did was throw himself on the floor inexplicably with Susan Lucci-worthy daytime opera acting to try and draw a foul - not his best day.

KELLY: Well, never mind. France is through no matter what happened. Let me turn you to the other teams who are also still waiting to play their quarterfinal matches.

BENNETT: Say it, Mary Louise. Say it. Who else is playing, Mary Louise? The great England.

KELLY: That would be the great England playing the great Sweden. Let me guess who your money is on in that one.

BENNETT: Well, it's tough. Sweden - no great stars, but truly a collective - warriors. And the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet called it Harry Potter against Pippi Longstocking. England should win. But England often underestimate their opponents in these tournaments. They once almost lost to Cameroon, and then their manager said, we didn't underestimate them. We just didn't think they'd be that good.

KELLY: Yeah.

BENNETT: And if they bring that approach to the game tomorrow, it may be all over.

KELLY: In the moments we have left, the other match still to be played - Russia against Croatia, Russia of course being the host country. Who are we rooting for there? What do you think?

BENNETT: Russia playing in Sochi - just geopolitics says never bet against a Russian team in Russia. No collusion. No collusion. But I would always bet on Vladimir Putin's team.

KELLY: Certainly when playing in Russia. All right, Roger Bennett, thanks so much.

BENNETT: Mary Louise, courage.

KELLY: Courage - thank you. Roger Bennett - he's co-host of the Men in Blazers podcast. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.