RIO DE JANEIRO: Four – that is a half – of the eight quarter-finals teams at the World Cup in South Africa in 2010 came from South America; yet both the eventual finalists, Spain and Holland, came from Europe writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

This time around, in Brazil, four of the quarter-finalists come from Europe and ‘only’ three from the host continent.

However the ‘dream final’ for probably a majority of dispassionate fans, officials and observers remains the all-South American prospect of Neymar v Messi, Brazil v Argentina, in Maracana on July 13.

For this dream to come true Brazil and Argentina both need to raise the standard of their football in the imminent quarter-finals.

Brazil face the greatest challenge. They are the hosts and all their 300m fans are still waiting for them to match the level of football which defeated Spain in the final of the Confederations Cup one year ago. Also, Brazil must play fellow South Americans Colombia.

The ‘cafeteros’ are the in-form team of the finals. The explosive emergence of forward James Rodriguez means they have not missed the high-scoring, but injured, Radamel Falcao. The Colombians are also supported by a travelling mass of adoring fans and have built up momentum from four victories in four matches.

As the slogan on the side of their team bus says: “This is not just a team, this is a nation.”

It is a team and a nation on the move in unchartered territory. Colombia have never reached the quarter-finals before. But Brazil’s fragile defence may struggle to resist. Rightback Dani Alves and centre back David Luiz both ‘go missing’ in attack and captain Thiago Silva, the defensive anchor, has not shown the commanding form familiar at Paris Saint-Germain.

The South American derby is in Fortaleza in the evening, preceded by an all-European confrontation between France and Germany. This will stir many old memories, in particular of the two semi-finals between the teams in 1982 and 1986.

West Germany won the 1986 semi-final comparatively comfortably by 2-0 – which had not been the case five years earlier.

Then, in Seville, in perhaps the most dramatic World Cup tie this writer has witnessed, the Germans won on penalties after an enthralling 3-3 draw which included Toni Schumacher’s notorious ‘taking out’ of Frenchman Patrick Battiston. Under present regulations Schumacher would have been sent off and incurred a Suarez-length ban; under the standards at the time the Germans were merely awarded a free kick while the semi-conscious Battiston was carried out of the World Cup on a stretcher.

France head for Maracana as narrow favourites. They have developed a far more confidently flowing style of football than the Germans whose form has dipped since their opening 4-0 demolition of Portugal. Several players are also suffering symptoms of the flu which has raged through their purpose-built, quarantined camp outside Salvador.

Tomorrow opens with Belgium hoping to have rested and refreshed adequately, after their Titanic victory over the United States, to stand up to the threat of Messi in Brasilia.

Belgium manager Marc Wilmots says he has identified a lack of balance in the Argentina set-up and it will be intriguing to see whether Belgium attack it or revert to the cautionary tactics which stifled their own flair in the group games.

Finally, the two-day, four-match party will be climaxed by the intrigue over whether Costa Rica’s adventure continues . . . or whether Holland will dive on into the semi-finals instead.