Messi bails Argentina out with minutes to go
In the World Cup’s penultimate round of 16 game, Lionel Messi’s Argentina came up against a Switzerland side who boast a left-footed wizard of their own.
The Swiss, led by none other than talented youngster Xherdan Shaqiri, came out of Group E in second place, as expected. They hit top form in their final game, when Shaqiri scored a hattrick to open his account for the tournament.
Their opponents, Argentina, topped Group F with three one-goal leads; it was the expected outcome, but their slim wins left a lot to be desired for a team expected to have a star-studded front line.
The Swiss are renowned for their defence, Argentina for their offense – the game had a predictable pattern to it.
Argentina dominated possession, with two-thirds of the football, but they looked the same as they have all tournament – a team of individuals who just look at Lionel Messi and hope he provides a moment of magic.
The Swiss, like every other underdog so far in the round of 16, gave the favourite a very tough test. They were solid at the back, and dangerous on the counter.
It made for an exciting, but scoreless, 90 minutes. With the game still tied, it became the fourth game of the round of 16 (the same number as World Cup 2010 had in total) to go into extra time.
The start of extra time reinvigorated the Swiss, who came hard at Argentina, looking for the goal to topple the favourites.
But the first half of extra time flew by, and the game remained scoreless. Switzerland were 15 minutes away from a penalty shootout that could send them to the quarter-finals.
With two minutes left of play, Argentina’s team of individuals was bailed out by the individual once again.
Lionel Messi picked up the ball on the left flank, dribbling past an opponent and drawing everyone else in his direction before squaring the ball for compatriot Di Maria to finish and give the Argentines a late 1-0 lead. Messi had bailed them out yet again.
Switzerland had two fantastic chances to equalize late and take the game to penalties – first, Dzemaili turned a point-blank header onto the post, and with the final kick of the game Xherdan Shaqiri fired a promising free kick into the Argentine wall.
The last-gasp win sees Argentina through to the quarter-finals where they will face the winner of Belgium and the USA.
Like so many other massive favourites, they’ve continuously squeaked by in this tournament and they’ll need to stop relying on one man (albeit one incredible man) if they want to lift the trophy at the end of this mad World Cup.
Records broken as Belgium edge USA in thrilling encounter
The World Cup’s final round of 16 game (we’re getting to the serious stuff now!) saw Belgium take on the USA in an action-packed, dramatic encounter.
Belgium, who came through Group H unscathed, had yet to hit top gear – despite being the massive favourites in undoubtedly the World Cup’s easiest group, the Belgians needed three extremely tight wins to put them through in top spot.
For the USA, the path was more promising – the Americans came into Group G as the team that most people predicted to finish last place, yet they claimed a tight victory over Ghana, a tie against Portugal, and a tight loss to Germany. All three games were encouraging performances for the stars and stripes.
The game followed the pattern of almost every other round of 16 game so far this tournament – the favourites had possession and relative control of the game, but the underdogs were threatening on the counter-attack.
Belgian looked like breaking through multiple times, only to be thwarted by Tim Howard. A scoreless ninety minutes sent the game into extra time – the fifth of eight round of 16 games to do so. In comparison, World Cup 2010 only had four games in total.
Howard put on the goalkeeping performance of the tournament, turning away Belgian shots like it’s his job (it is), but he was finally beaten when substitute Romelu Lukaku charged down the flank and centred the ball to teammate Kevin de Bruyne, who fired low to give the Belgians a 93rd-minute lead.
The game looked to be sealed when de Bruyne and Lukaku swapped roles, with the midfielder setting up the powerful striker, to grab a second goal for Belgium in the final minute of the first half of extra time.
But the USA had other plans.
Just two minutes into the second half, substitute Julian Green (who had only been on the pitch for those two minutes) took the ball out of the air and volleyed home first time to score with his first ever touch at a World Cup – it sparked an explosive half of action to life.
From then on in, the USA were relentless, constantly whipping the ball into the box and frequently looking like they were going to pull back another for a historic comeback.
Unfortunately for the Americans, it wasn’t meant to be – Belgium sealed the victory, and for the first time ever in a World Cup, all eight group winners went on to win in the round of 16.
It was an admirable performance from the USA. Tim Howard in particular was outstanding, making 15 saves in the match to set a new World Cup record.
For Belgium, it was the fourth victory in a row, but the fourth incredibly tough contest.
They move on to face an Argentina side who has had an almost identical tournament – both teams have four victories from four, but both sides have won each of those by a slim one-goal margin.
Both teams advanced from groups (and a knockout round match) where they were clear favourites, but neither has looked anything like a cohesive unit.
It will be an interesting encounter. Argentina are certainly beatable, but so too are Belgium.