Argentina vs. Belgium
July 4, 2014
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Argentina vs. Belgium
Date/Time: Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Estadio Nacional de Brasilia
Location: Brasilia, Brazil
Argentina +120, Belgium +250, Tie after Regulation +225
Over/Under: 2.5 Goals (Over +130, Under -149)
Two teams coming off grueling extra-time victories in the Round of 16 will collide in Saturday's quarterfinals when Argentina meets Belgium.
Argentina has won all four of its matches in this tournament, with all four victories coming by a one-goal margin. After edging Bosnia-Herzegovina 2-1 and escaping past Iran 1-0, the Maracana outlasted Nigeria 3-2 to clinch Group F. In Tuesday's Round of 16 contest, Argentina failed to score until the 118th minute in a 1-0 win over Switzerland.
Belgium's World Cup fate has been the same as its opponent, winning all four of its matches, and all four of those victories coming by one goal. They edged Algeria 2-1 and posted back-to-back, 1-0 shutout wins over Russia and South Korea before holding off USA 2-1 in the knockout round. All six tournament goals for the Red Devils have come at least 70 minutes into each match with the half-dozen tallies coming at minutes 70, 78, 80, 88, 93 and 105. But these wins came with a price, as several of their key players were hurting on the road to their first quarterfinal berth since 1986.
Defender Thomas Vermaelen didn't play on Tuesday because of an injured hamstring, while right back Anthony Vanden Borre (cracked fibula) and defender Laurent Ciman (strained abductor) were unable to suit up either. Argentina opened the single-elimination tournament minus forward Sergio Aguero, who is doubtful to play in the quarterfinals because of a thigh injury.
Forward Lionel Messi has arguably been the best player in the World Cup, and has carried Argentina with four of his team's seven goals, and he also set up teammate Angel di Maria's one-timer with a perfect pass at the 118th minute to escape past Switzerland in the Round of 16. The other two tallies for the Maracana came on a fortunate own goal by Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Marcos Rojo's game-winner versus Nigeria. Although Argentina has not dominated in this tournament as many experts expected they would versus a perceived weak schedule, they did possess the ball for 55% against Bosnia-Herzegovina, a whopping 70% versus Iran, 57% versus Nigeria and 61% of the time against the Swiss.
The Maracana also fired 29 shots in their last match with 22 going on goal (76%), giving them 47 total shots with 35 on net (75%) in the past two matches combined. For the tournament, Argentina has 77 shots, with 49 on goal (64%). After generating only two corner-kick chances in their World Cup opener, they have produced 35 corner kicks over the past three contests, including 13 versus Switzerland. The Maracana have played a very clean tournament as well, with just one offsides call, and 24 total fouls and one yellow card (Rojo) in group play.
However, in the Round of 16, they were whistled for a whopping 19 fouls versus the Swiss, including three yellow cards (Rojo, di Maria and defender Ezequiel Garay). Rojo is not allowed to play on Saturday because of his two bookings. Argentina needs to stay disciplined because Belgium is likely to employ a defense-heavy game plan on Saturday.
Belgium has a pedestrian six goals in four World Cup matches, with four of those coming from substitute players (midfielders Marouane Fellaini, Dries Mertens and forwards Divock Origi and Romelu Lukaku), which shows the team's incredible depth. Starting defender Jan Vertonghen recorded the lone tally versus South Korea at the 78th minute to give his team its third straight win in the tournament, and it was midfielder Kevin De Bruyne scoring first against the Americans at the 93rd minute in the Round of 16 before assisting on Lukaku's tally 12 minutes later. Lukaku, whose underwhelming performance in group play led to his benching on Tuesday, was also instrumental in creating De Bruyne's tally, as his size (221 pounds), strength and quickness overmatched the U.S. defenders.
Belgium completely dominated the Americans in that victory, outshooting them 38-14 (27-9 in shots on goal) and producing a corner-kick advantage of 19 to 4. For the tournament, the Red Devils have 81 total shots, including 55 on goal (68%). Belgium held a possession advantage in each of their first two games, with 65% possession versus Algeria and 53% against Russia, but possessed the ball for only 49% and 47% of the time in their most recent two matches. But they have also been extremely dangerous with their challenges with 72 fouls and five yellow cards issued to midfielders Moussa Dembele and Axel Witsel, and defensemen Vincent Kompany, Toby Alderweireld and Vertonghen.
But Belgium's defense remains top-notch, with the only two goals allowed this tournament coming off a penalty kick as the result of Vertonghen's silly decision to grab his opponent by the arm in the box, and a 107th-minute tally by the Americans in a match they led by two goals at the time. Red Devils goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has shown that he is clearly one of the better netminders in the world, making five saves in the win over USA. Belgium's top-notch defense could give Argentina a lot of trouble, just like Switzerland did.
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