World Cup 2014: Matchday Nineteen (Last 16)

Argentina 1 – 0 Switzerland

It was a cagey start from both teams.  The Swiss quickly showed their plan to suffocate the Argentinean star names with a mountain of defenders, while they broke down the left with Inler and Shaquri. The Argentineans, as you might expect, were being far more inventive in going forward, but were struggling to create even half chances. It was not until Higuain’s over the bar header on 24 minutes that either side looked like they might score a goal.

Nearing the half hour mark the game came to life in a more exciting way, Xhaka failing to score after great work from Shaqiri down the left before Lavezzi’s volley failed to have the power to trouble Benaglio to the extent required. Di Maria started to look a bit more useful for Argentina, his whipped in corner inches away from being converted around the half hour mark.

Drmic was given the chance of the half as half time approached however, set free in the area only to mishit his shot into the waiting hands of Romero. It was an amazing chance, but Argentina did not punish the Swiss in the first half, passing well enough until it came to the final ball. Neither side deserved a lead, and neither side had one at half time.

Argentina started much the brighter in the second, and had soon made clear cut chances from Roja, Di Maria and then Higuain which Benaglio proved himself equal to. The Swiss would counter on occasion, but their efforts were distant and never liable to threaten. After the hour, the Argentineans became totally dominant, and Messi’s first effort, a blistering volley, was inches from opening the scoring.

Still, Argentina were unable to make anything of all of the possession and all of the time in the final third into a goal, the star men again struggling to gel as they often had in the group stages. Messi again went close with 13 minutes ago, drawing a smart save from Benaglio, but that really was as close as either team was going to get to a winner before the end of normal time, the remaining game time a sequence of distant efforts, aimless passes and free kicks.

Extra time was a poor affair, as both sides looked exhausted in the heat and nobody seemed able to create that bit of brilliance to win the game. Argentina were playing with many men behind the ball, so the Swiss had the chance to have a go, but could not get any kind opening. More wayward efforts, more solo attempts by Messi that were drowned out by a cavalcade of Swiss defenders.

And then everything just exploded into life. Palacio stole the ball at midfield, Messi picked it up, steamed ahead into space, found Di Maria to his right, and the Real Madrid man was the first attacker of the day to make no mistake, slotting it home into the corner. And still there was time for further drama, with Dzemaili’s astonishing double miss in the dying seconds, a nightmarish moment.

It was a dire game of football, and Argentina are still yet to demonstrate that they are genuine contenders for the highest prize. The Swiss played well especially at the back, and it might have been more exhaustion than anything that cost them near the end.

Belgium 2  – 1 USA AET

Belgium illustrated American weakness immediately as Origi tore through the back line only for Howard to stick a leg out and stop his immediate effort. The game settled down a bit after that, with Belgium controlling most of the early stages while the Americans focused on fast counter attacks down the wings. It was not until the 20th that they fashioned a chance, Dempsey striking at Courtois, answered by De Bruyne’s surprisingly wayward effort from a decent position just a minute later.

Belgium were suddenly swarming, and finding plenty of gaps down the left of the US defence. A Vertonghen cross was cut out just before it reached Fellaini, Hazard had a distant effort saved, and then Origi almost cut inside the exposed American right to go one on one with Howard. At the other end, Kompany and Alderweireld were dealing with most of what was being thrown at them, Jones pulling a shot wide past the half hour mark to ensure the States weren’t totally out of things.

Anytime the American defence were playing forward, pressure from the Belgian midfield was forcing mistakes and winning possession. They were doing a bit better with the Belgian crosses, Besler clearing many of them before they could get, while substitute Yedlin was provijg too pacy for the European defence to handle at the other end, sending in a few handy crosses during his time onfield.

Belgium started the second as they had the first, Mertens forcing a save by Howard from his looping header. Belgium were dominating as before with De Bruyne, Origi, Vertonghen (twice) and Mertens having chances in rapid succession, but none of them could even force Howard into a save. That inability to hit the target was keeping the match on a knife edge, as the Americans survived, barely. Belgium’s dominance continued. Vertonghen had a shot from distance saved. Then Witsel did the same. Then Origi hit a loose ball in the box, and it was saved. Howard was the difference between a stalemate and a rout. The States did manage a few shots, but none of them troubled Courtois much.

Next it was Mirallas with the chance, his breakaway effort tipped wide just by the feet of Howard. Then Hazard, mostly absent from the game up to that point, had a volley turned away by the Everton man. Then Van Buyten had an effort blocked. Then another Origi effort was tipped over. Then Hazard hit the side netting. Then Kompany’s mishit effort was pushed away just in time. Then Fellaini’s header went over. And then, right at the death, Wondolowski smashed an amazing chance wide. It was just as well: it would have been the biggest robbery in international football for the US to have stole it after that second half.

And then, just as with Germany and Algeria, all it took was a few minutes of extra time for the dominant team to go ahead. Great work by the just introduced Lukaku down the right and then it was the thus far iffy De Bruyne there to work around the defenders and finally, finally find the net. Lukaku was the difference, his athleticism tearing the exhausted American defence to shreds. And it was simple individual effort from him that seemed to put it beyond the States.

But the Americans were not done yet, as substitute Julian Green got on the end of a high ball from Bradley (I think), finishing smartly. Suddenly everything was incredibly tense, and the trick set-piece should have seen Dempsey equalise, but for Courtois’s excellent save. But Belgium were able to see it out from there.

Belgium deserved it on the basis of play and will put it up to Argentina. The USA were weak for most of the game, save the last ten minutes. The better team won.

So, how did I do prediction wise? Winners in

Brazil – Chile

Columbia – Uruguay

France – Nigeria

Germany – Algeria

Netherlands – Mexico

Costa Rica – Greece

Argentina – Switzerland

Belgium – USA

Eight for eight. That’s what I’m talking about! That brings me to a total prediction total of 28/56. I’ve recovered to 50%, which is awesome. So, let’s try and nudge it over the half way point. Quarter final predictions, in bold:

France – Germany

Brazil – Columbia

Argentina – Belgium

Netherlands – Costa Rica

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