Editor's note: As the 2018 World Cup in Russia heads into the quarterfinals, eight teams remain: Belgium, Brazil, Croatia, England, France, Sweden, Russia and Uruguay. Some definite surprises as well as familiar names dot the list but as we've seen throughout the tournament, anything can happen.
Timbers.com writer Richard Farley talked with head coach Giovanni Savarese about his thoughts on the tournament so far, what elements can be gleaned from a coaching point of view and who he thinks is the favorite to win.
RF: What have you thought of the World Cup so far?
GS: Very interesting. I mean, great matches. Some surprises. It’s been very good because every game, every team has brought something a little bit different and we’ve seen some very good challenges. Even, right now, England and Colombia. A team scores at the last minute of the game and the going PKs. I think it’s been a great World Cup. It’s good to see some teams performing like Japan did [earlier this week] against Belgium, proposing a no-fear game going forward even though they were up 2-0, they were continuing to believe in trying to score.
So it’s been fantastic. It’s great. I think some of the national teams that we expected to go far, have been going far, like Brazil. For me, Croatia. I always thought that they had a good team that they could go forward but there are other surprises. It’s been very interesting and I think the problem is that when it’s over, after so many games, so many that you watch and then it’s gone. And you’ve got to wait another four years. But, we still have a few games and I’m sure they’re going to be very good.
RF: We see things like the formation that Gareth Southgate has used with England or the mentality that Óscar Tabárez keeps instilling with Uruguay. Are there things from a coaching point of view that you’ve been able to see during this tournament and draw inspiration from?
GS: Definitely. You always analyze teams. Every game, you reinforce some things, you learn some things, you compare and then you see how some formations deal with other situations. You keep on looking at these scenarios. But I think, a lot of the times, before even getting to that, you see the importance of a team that plays together. I think Uruguay is strong, first, because they are strong in the locker room. Because they have a coach in which they believe who’s been there many years and they make themselves be very strong. Then the tactics come, then the systems come. I think it starts from a very strong group.
You see a talented group like Belgium and they have some talented players that can solve a game at the last minute so it’s very interesting to watch all these games and how they go, what the coaches go for, each situation, how they change from one game to the other. It’s great to watch these matches.
RF: I want to ask you who you think is going to win it, but first, we see one side of the bracket. Sweden is on that side, Russia is on that side, you mentioned Croatia who might be the favorite on that side of the bracket now, but is there a team out of the ones that are left that has surprised you by how far they have gotten in the tournament?
GS: Surprised? I think the surprise is Sweden. I think surprised because I didn’t think they were going to all the way there. It makes Italy feel a little bit better. (Laughs.)
RF: I see your point of view on that.
GS: As they continue to go all the way, it makes Italy feel a little like [their qualifying loss] wasn’t such a big fail. But, from the beginning, I had Brazil, Croatia with Brazil winning the World Cup so maybe that could still happen but this English team has been fun to watch. I always thought because they were young, maybe something wouldn’t go right. But they keep on proving that they keep on going forward. It’s very interesting.
RF: We saw the way that France dealt with Argentina. You mentioned England. Is Brazil still your favorite to win this tournament now that you’ve seen each team play four times?
GS: I think so. Even though you cannot take out France. They keep on getting better and better. They’re very good as a team. Somebody might say they’re a little too young still but against Argentina, they were very, very good. Then Uruguay, with their style of play…this World Cup is for anybody. Who would have thought that Russia would take out Spain? But they had a good system, they defended very well and in the end with PKs, anything can happen.