World Cup 2014: Matchday Twenty One (Quarter Finals)

Argentina 1 – 0 Belgium

The game began at a fast pace, with Argentina being the faster. It only took a few minutes for the opening to come, created largely by Messi again, winning the ball in midfield, drawing defenders too him, and seeing it to Di Maria and from there, via deflection, to Higuain, who caught it perfectly for the first goal. Belgium struggled to match Argentina’s passing in the final third, De Bruyne’s distant effort after 12 minutes their first half chance.

Belgium came more into the game after that, pressing the Argentina forward line more, De Brunyne, Origi and Mirallas coming more into the game from midfield positions, De Brunyne’s second shot forcing a save from Romero. But Argentina, through Messi’s playmaking in an advanced midfield position, still looked like they had teeth, Kompany required to put in a last ditch block to stop Di Maria from grabbing his teams second.

The game still ebbed and flowed between the sides, Argentina stuttering a small bit after the forced substitution of Di Maria. Belgium have proven remarkably patient in this tournament, never scoring before 70 minutes, and they remained patient, Vertonghen’s cross for Mirallas wide header their remaining chance of the half, matching Messi’s close-ish free kick.

Argentina started much the better in the second half, tearing down the Belgian flanks, Higuain twice going close in the first ten minutes, his second being a wonderful individual effort that went wide off the crossbar. Belgium could not exert any authority on the game, and it was not until the hour mark that they threatened Romero’s goal, with Fellaini’s misdirected header.

From there, with time running out, Belgium had a better spell without getting any shots on goal. Argetina fouled when they had to, delayed when they could, held possession when they had the opportunity, and a frustrated Belgian side, unused to chasing games, could not get anything going, caught offside repeatedly when getting in any way close to Romero’s goal. De Bruyne’s deflected effort and Witsel’s wild volley were as close as they came, in-between Messi’s surprisingly saved breakaway chance, as a more experienced Argentina side saw the game out.

Argentina, despite once again not wowing anybody, were the better team and deserved it. Belgium were inept for so long, especially in the second half, but a lot of their team is quite young and will come again.

Netherlands 0 – 0 Costa Rica AET (Netherlands win 4-3 in penalty shoot out)

The pattern of the game was settled quite early, as the attack minded Dutch pressed and pressed, the Costa Ricans fell back, and chances were few and far between. The Central American side had the sense to know that they could not match the Netherlands in an open free-flowing game of football as they had played against other teams, so trusted in their defence and in Navas between the sticks.

And while that was a risky tactic, it largely worked. It took the Dutch over 20 minutes to fashion their first real chance, and that should have been a goal, Kuyt and Depay combining to set Van Persie free, his shot saved at close range before Sneijder’s follow-up went straight at Navas. Costa Rica relied on the odd set-piece to try and get the ball in the final third, and on their offside trap to frustrate the Dutch, which it did again and again.

Depay was next with a chance, Navas saving well again, the PSV man’s shot coming back off the keeper’s outstretched leg. Sneijder’s swirling free kick was next, again tipped away at the last moment. The Dutch had long periods of “powerplay football”, sweeping the ball from flank to flank trying to find an opening, but the Costa Ricans did limit them.

The second went on much as the first, the Dutch enjoying 77% possession at one point, though the Costa Ricans, through Campbell and Diaz, did cause some consternation for the Netherlands on counter-attacks. Gonzalez’s over the top header on 64 minutes was as close as they had come, with a fine showing from Vlaar one of the reasons he failed to hit the target.

The game got tenser, the fouls increased, the offside count ramped up, and the Dutch retained most of the ball into the last few minutes. Sneijder’s second fee of the night on 80 minutes did have Navas beaten, but not the woodwork, before Van Persie had another close range effort beaten away. The Costa Ricans were tiring and the holes were opening up, Van Persie again failing to put away an amazing opportunity from Sneijder’s chip to the back post. The last chance of normal time was his again, a rasping shot blocked on the line by Tejeda.

Extra time had the same pattern. Vlaar’s header was well saved, and the Dutch kept the pressure on a cramp suffering Costa Rican side. But Urena could have won it at the death for them, as he skipped around two defenders before shooting, only for Cillessen to pull of his only act of consequence in the match.

Then he was off, just after Sneijder’s dipping shot bounced off the crossbar, Tony Krul favoured for the shoot-out. An audacious move, and boy did it work. Krul got inside the Costa Rican heads brilliantly, and while the outfield players did their part, he did his, with two great saves to send his side into the last four, the Dutch clearly better prepared for the possibility than their opponents.

The Dutch couldn’t break down Costa Rica in 120 minutes, but were far the better side, the only team who looked like they wanted to win the game in that time frame. Costa Rica were dogged and clung on impressively, but are not of the standard to get beyond this point.

So, how did I do on predictions? My picks in bold, winners in italics:

France 0 – 1 Germany

Brazil 2 – 1 Columbia

Argentina 1 – 0 Belgium

Netherlands 0 – 0 Costa Rica AET (Netherlands win 4-3 on penalties)

So, two for four, bringing up to a total of 30/60. Still on 50%. So, the semi’s, predicted winners in bold:

Brazil – Germany

Argentina – Netherlands

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