Argentina and Belgium will face each other in Brasilia on Saturday for a place in the World Cup semi-finals after tight wins over Switzerland and the USA in the last two fixtures of the round of 16 on Tuesday. Both games were forced into extra time after two goalless 90 minutes. However, while the Argentinians dominated possession in a dull game that will be largely remembered for an array of distinctively average performances, the Belgians had to overcome a wholehearted American performance in a game with a tempo reminiscent of a Premier League fixture.
Despite winning every match they have played so far at the World Cup, Argentina are yet to set the tournament alight as had been anticipated. Coach Alejandro Sabella has so far made it clear that he wants to build his team around Lionel Messi. While the Barcelona starlet has shown flashes of his brilliance throughout the competition, he and his team-mates were consistently frustrated by the well organised Swiss defence which limited the influence of Messi, as well as other big names such as Gonzalo Higuaín and Ezequiel Lavezzi. Switzerland also proved to be quite useful on the counter-attack and Josip Drmic wasted a great chance to punish poor Argentinian defending and goalkeeping. Yet despite Switzerland’s resilience, the until-then almost anonymous Angel Di Maria popped up to score with Argentina’s 28th attempt on goal just two minutes before the end of extra time. There was still time for Blerim Džemaili to scare the South Americans with a header that hit the post, before the final whistle sounded which put Argentina one step closer towards a third World Cup title. However, pundits such as the BBC’s Alan Hansen state that that won’t happen unless their form dramatically improves.
Belgium and the USA played out an end-to-end thriller in which American goalkeeper Tim Howard made 15 saves – more than any other player in World Cup history. Despite displaying unbelievable grit and determination throughout the contest, the USA were finally undone by the class of the Belgians early in extra time as Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku netted to put the Red Devils firmly on course for the quarter-finals. Julian Green’s reply just after the break in the additional 30 minutes set up a nervy finish and a couple of good saves were required from goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to ensure that the tie didn’t go to penalties. While Belgium dominated much of the game, Courtois’ opposite number put in a truly outstanding performance to give the Americans every possible chance of qualifying for the last eight for the first time since 2002. Despite losing, coach Jurgen Klinsmann can be proud of the heart and desire that his side showed throughout the tournament. Just to make it out of the supposed ‘group of death’ is an achievement in itself and it is evident that football is rapidly evolving in the US.
With their victories, Belgium and Argentina make up the last quarter final. The fixtures begin on Friday (4th July) and all four games promise to be belters. As the World Cup begins to hot up, let’s hope the great football continues so that this year’s competition can truly become the best ever.
World Cup quarter-final fixtures:
France vs. Germany – Friday 4th July, Rio de Janeiro, 5pm
Brazil vs. Colombia – Friday 4th July, Fortaleza, 9pm
Argentina vs. Belgium – Saturday 5th July, Brasilia, 5pm
Holland vs. Costa Rica – Saturday 5th July, Salvador, 9pm
Featured image: New York Post