Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund counterparts Noussair Mazraoui and Raphael Guerreiro are set to face off, while Jude Bellingham and Dayot Upamecano will go head to head when Morocco, Portugal, England and France get their 2022 World Cup quarter-final challenges under way this weekend.
In what is one of the biggest surprises of this World Cup, Morocco - group stage victors against Canada and Belgium - advanced to the tournament's last eight with a penalty shootout win against Spain in the last 16. Walid Regragui's side - who also held Croatia to a scoreless draw in their opening game - are now set to play one of the competition favourite's Portugal, and the Atlas Lions can count on the services of Bayern's Noussair Mazraoui for what is set to be a thrilling contest.
The defender, who turned 25 shortly before the World Cup, is playing in slightly unfamiliar territory for Morocco. Having mostly featured at right full-back for record champions Bayern this season, Mazraoui has been featuring on the left for the North African team at the finals. Achraf Hakimi, a player familiar to Bundesliga fans and Dortmund supporters in particular, is the man pulling the strings on the right side of defence for the first-time World Cup quarter-finalists.
With two high quality players in the same position - it was decided that Mazraoui would be the man to make the move to the opposite flank. Things have worked out perfectly thus far for Regragui's team. Bayern's versatile defender has started all four games in Qatar, being replaced only in the first group game and in the round of 16. The team's success is based on defensive strength - Morocco have only conceded a single goal in four games so far - with Mazraoui playing an integral part.
Dortmund's Portuguese star Guerreiro is also in action at the World Cup as a left-back. The 28-year-old has played in three of his nation's four games to date. In the final group game against South Korea, Portugal coach Fernando Santos rested many of his most important players, Guerreiro among them.
Guerreiro is the only left-back to score at this World Cup. He achieved the feat the 6-1 hammering of Switzerland in the last 16, a game in which he also weighed in with an assist. The France-born player also managed to lay on a goal in the group stages against Uruguay. With his consistent and creative forward thrusts, Guerreiro plays a robust defensive game and the Dortmund man will be a focal point for Portugal on Saturday as he readies himself for a direct duel against Bayern's Mazraoui.
"I think he has the potential to be the best midfielder in the world." So said England and Manchester City schemer Phil Foden when asked about his international teammate Bellingham after the Dortmund player's immense round of 16 performance against Senegal. In that game, England coach Gareth Southgate changed his formation slightly to suit Bellingham so that the BVB player could play a little more on the front foot. The tweak paid off, with Bellingham assisting Jordan Henderson to put England 1-0 ahead.
At just 19, the former Birmingham City man is already a world-class player. In a very short space of time, he has visibly matured into a leading figure with the Three Lions. The BVB midfielder has not only been impressing with his offensive play, but he has also shown plenty of strength and tirelessness in his defensive duties.
The Birmingham native understandably drew praise from far and wide after England's 3-0 win against their African opponents in the last round. Former international Gary Lineker, for example, was full of praise: "My goodness, Jude Bellingham is incredibly good. He's the leader of the team. His parents must be so proud of him. I love him," the ex-England forward tweeted.
Teammate Harry Kane also was just as effusive: "He's a fantastic player. He's got everything it takes." In the quarter-finals against reigning world champions France, Bellingham's outstanding defensive and offensive style of play could prove to be decisive. What is certain is that the Three Lions have also developed into one of the big tournament favourites due to the performances of the Dortmund star.
Watch: Bellingham - the complete midfielder
Prior to the competition, the situation in France's central defensive area was not altogether clear. In the group games, Upamecano played once each with Raphael Varane and Ibrahima Konate. In the last group outing against Tunisia, he was on the bench when the Varane/Konate duo were in place in a heavily rotated side.
However, it appears Upamecano has won the right to start at the heart of the French back line. Before the round of 16 game against Poland, France coach Didier Deschamps was asked about his central defenders and he took the opportunity to offer Upamecano assurances. "I can see that the duo of Varane and Upamecano is the best," Deschamps explained, adding that the Bayern player had played, "two very good games" so far.
Watch: Upamecano under the spotlight
Upamecano best described his style of play when in Munich during the summer: "I'm fast, I'm aggressive, I play hard, I always give 100 percent no matter what happens," he said at the time. Such strength will be key in any direct duel against Bellingham.
France versus England is likely to be one of the top games of this World Cup. And just like in the match between Morocco and Portugal, a Bundesliga Der Klassiker-style meeting between players from Bayern and Dortmund could light up proceedings.
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