World Cup quarterfinals: Belgium can upset Brazil, England's Sweden test, France to beat Uruguay?

Russia 2018 has been one of the most compelling, entertaining and unpredictable World Cups in living memory, with pre-tournament favourites Germany, Argentina, Spain and Portugal already out of the competition.

The quarterfinals begin on Friday with some heavyweight match-ups and unfancied nations facing each other as they attempt to secure a berth in the final four.

So how will the quarterfinals go and who will be left standing with their dreams still alive?

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Uruguay vs. France

This could have been Lionel Messi versus Cristiano Ronaldo, with Nizhny Novgorod hosting a football equivalent of the Rumble in the Jungle.

But neither Messi nor Ronaldo were able to inspire Argentina or Portugal, respectively, to victories in their second-round ties as France eliminated the Albiceleste in a dramatic 4-3 win and Uruguay dispatching the European champions in Sochi.

France will go into this tie as favourites due to the sensational form of teenager Kylian Mbappe, whose pace and two goals destroyed Argentina in Kazan.

Uruguay, for all of their organisation, durability and togetherness, will be severely weakened without Edinson Cavani if the two-goal hero of the win against Portugal fails to overcome a calf injury sustained in that game.

But while France were able to pick off an ageing Argentina rearguard to score four times in the round of 16 tie, they will find Uruguay a much tougher nut to crack.

With Diego Godin marshalling their defence, Uruguay arguably possess the best back-line in the tournament, but can they cope with Mbappe's electric pace?

This game will probably boil down to Uruguay's ability to control Mbappe, but if Cavani can prove his fitness, then his strike partnership with Luis Suarez will give France a real headache defensively.

It is a game between two former world champions, but France have the edge.

Winners: France

Brazil vs. Belgium

Kazan will stage a game worthy of the World Cup final when Brazil meet Belgium on Friday.

The Brazilians are the tournament favourites, but Belgium are a formidable opponent for the five-time world champions and Roberto Martinez's team can win this tie and progress to the semifinals for the first time since 1986.

Despite beating Mexico 2-0 in the round of 16 with goals from Neymar and Roberto Firmino, Brazil were not the free-flowing machine that their collective talent suggests they should be.

They are, nonetheless, strong at the back and possess a midfield full of experience and guile, with the goal-scoring threat of Neymar, Philippe Coutinho, Gabriel Jesus and Firmino ahead of them.

But Brazil, who were held to a draw by Switzerland in their opening game, have not been tested by a top-class opponent yet and Belgium are exactly that.

The Belgians looked to be heading for a shock exit against Japan in the last round, trailing 2-0 with half an hour to play, but they showed incredible belief and fighting spirit to claw themselves level before clinching the game with a dramatic stoppage-time winner.

That spirit will worry Brazil, but not as much the attacking talent in the Belgian squad.

The likes of Marouane Fellaini, awkward and powerful in the air, will also give Brazil problems and this could be the day when Belgium's so-called golden generation live up to the hype.

Winners: Belgium

Sweden vs. England

Sweden and England will meet at the World Cup for the third time this century when they go head-to-head in Samara in Saturday's quarterfinal and the two nations are usually tough to separate when they lock horns.

Group stage draws in 2002 and 2006 were instantly forgettable affairs, with Sweden showing on both occasions their ability to get under England's skin.

It was not until a 1-0 win at Wembley in 2011 that England ended their 12-game winless streak against the Swedes stretching back to 1968.

That win was followed by another victory at Euro 2012, but in their last meeting, in Nov. 2012, Sweden got back to winning ways in a 4-2 win in Stockholm with all four goals scored by Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Why the history lesson? Well, it goes to show that despite England traditionally enjoying greater depth and quality, they always find Sweden a tough nut to crack and this weekend will be no different.

After finally ending their lengthy wait for a penalty shootout win against Colombia on Tuesday, Gareth Southgate's England will be riding high on confidence and they will expect to beat the Swedes.

A path to the final is opening up for England and the likes of Harry Kane, Jesse Lingard and Raheem Sterling should be too good for Sweden.

But the Swedes ended the World Cup qualification hopes of the Netherlands and Italy before topping Germany's group here in Russia.

They will be awkward and determined opponents, and the game is unlikely to be free-flowing classic, but England should have the momentum to win and book a place in the last four.

Winners: England

Russia vs. Croatia

Can they do it? Can Russia really go all the way in their own World Cup?

Stanislav Cherchesov's team went into this tournament as its lowest-ranked team -- billed as no-hopers who would struggle to even emerge from a group containing Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

But the Russians not only qualified from Group A as runners-up behind Uruguay, they then went and knocked out Spain on penalties following a tense, but absorbing, clash at the Luzhniki.

Whatever happens from this point on, Russia have made a success of their World Cup on the pitch, as well as off it.

But having defeated Spain, they will now believe they can do the same to Croatia in Sochi.

The Croatians cruised through their group with three victories, including a 3-0 hammering of Argentina, but they looked tired and short of ideas during the round of 16 tie against Denmark.

After a 1-1 draw, Croatia made it through on penalties and they certainly face Russia as strong favourites to progress.

They possess top-level talent in Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic, but Russia have momentum and an increasingly-expectant nation urging them on.

It will be tight in Sochi, but Croatia should have enough to send the hosts out.

Winners: Croatia.