Andy Cole: Eight still standing but Argentina and Brazil in league of their own

Forward Thinking: Dunga's men are starting to purr while playing almost entirely within themselves. There is something European about them

So now we know the World Cup quarter-final line-up, and two teams have really stood apart for me so far: Argentina and Brazil, in that order.

Coming into the tournament there were so many questions and doubts about Diego Maradona's team and about him, temperamentally. They didn't qualify without struggling and we're all familiar with Maradona's off-field problems down the years.

I still had them down as my dark horses because their side is so full of goals.

And now they've been in Africa a few weeks and started to prove it, I'm more confident than ever they'll go further.

Lionel Messi hasn't scored yet but his contribution to his team has been a joy to watch. Unlike other big names – from France, Italy and yes, England – the guy has actually showed up. Even when the Greeks tried to kick him to bits, they couldn't stop him assisting in a win.

Yet Argentina are about so much more than the Barcelona maestro. Juan Veron is 35 but still playing like he's 28, controlling midfield with panache. Carlos Tevez is working as hard as anyone and icing the cake with goals like his wonder-strike for the third goal against Mexico. Gonzalo Higuain is popping them in with all the relish that he did all season for Real Madrid.

And then there's Javier Mascherano, who looks a completely different player to the one who featured for Liverpool last season. Playing with his country, he keeps the ball for a start. And at Liverpool, he often appears to be doing not a lot more than committing fouls, or floating around the periphery. Maybe he functions better for country than club because he has better players around him for Argentina, and players pulling together. Whatever, he's a man transformed.

Brazil are starting to purr while playing almost entirely within themselves. I watched the match against Chile, who were playing some lovely football, and there is something curiously European about parts of Brazil's game. The defending is solid, the midfield robust and efficient. But then on top you have the flair with Kaka, Robinho and Luis Fabiano.

It's the flair we all love, of course but then Dunga as a manager has got this pragmatic streak about him that makes him insist on getting the job done as a priority over getting it done in a good-looking manner but perhaps riskily.

Their goals against Chile were a mixture of European pragmatism and Samba flair. The opener came from the first school: a corner, a centre-half's header from Juan, bang, 1-0. I just don't think that is the kind of goal that you would ever have expected to see from a Brazil team 20 years ago, let alone in the Pele era of world domination.

But then the second goal was all passing, movement, a Kaka touch, invention, with Luis Fabiano providing the finish. And the third was a mazy run from midfield ending with Robinho slotting home. Brazil now face the Dutch in the quarters and while I admire Holland and their attacking approach, I'm not convinced about them defensively. I'm delighted for Ghana, representing Africa in the quarter-finals. Their goalkeeper has been absolutely outstanding, and he'll need to be again when they face Uruguay, who have been impressive, not least Diego Forlan.

The team I've been most impressed with after Argentina and Brazil, however, has been Germany, not just a team with pace and an attacking mentality, but as a national set-up that has ventured to experiment. Sure, the Germans had all kinds of injury problems that meant certain call-ups for youngsters ahead of seasoned veterans.

But the attitude of this inexperienced squad, with an average age of under 25, has been exemplary. Realistically, Joachim Löw went to South Africa looking ahead to the European Championships of 2012 and the World Cup of 2014, and instead finds himself one win from the semi-finals.

I cannot imagine for a second that England would ever have come to this World Cup with a bunch of the players who, just a year ago, were in the Under-21 European Championship final. That would have meant and England squad at 2010 with Micah Richards, Kieran Gibbs, Adam Johnson, Theo Walcott, Jack Rodwell and maybe others.

They all played in the 4-0 final loss to Germany a year ago, as did James Milner.

The Germans did bring a bunch of the players from that tournament, with Mesut Ozil most notably. They don't look out of place, though Argentina will be a tough game.

As for Spain and Portugal, both had stuttered to reach their meeting last night, Spain needing to show their true selves more, Portugal still transitional despite the massive win over North Korea. Last night's winners are now, by definition, Iberia's finest. Next stop the world? I'm not sure.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk
Nepal earthquake: One man's desperate escape from Everest base camp after the disaster

Escape from Everest base camp

Nick Talbot was sitting in his tent when the tsunami of snow and rock hit. He was lucky to live, unlike his climbing partner just feet away...
Adopting high fibre diet could dramatically cut risk of bowel cancer, says study

What happened when 20 Americans swapped diets with 20 Africans?

Innovative study in the US produces remarkable results
Blake Lively and 'The Age of Adaline': Gossip Girl comes
of age

Gossip girl comes of age

Blake Lively is best known for playing an affluent teenager. Her role as a woman who is trapped forever at 29 is a greater challenge
Goat cuisine: Kid meat is coming to Ocado

Goat cuisine

It's loved by chefs, ethical, low in fat and delicious. So, will kid meat give lamb a run for its money?
14 best coat hooks

Hang on: 14 best coat hooks

Set the tone for the rest of your house with a stylish and functional coat rack in the hallway
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?