Sunday - Sep 24, 2017

FIFA World Cup 2014- Eight Round Stages: Argentina and Belgium made to fight to the end to go through

FIFA World Cup 2014- Eight Round Stages: Argentina and Belgium made to fight to the end to go through

The last evening of the eighth round knockout matches once again saw two hard fought contests with both of them going into extra time, making for five out of eight for the stage.

In the first match of the day played int the Arena de Sao Paulo, Argentina once again showed their dependence on Lionel Messi to provide inspiration in attack, this time laying on the winner for Angel Di Maria to squeeze through against a plucky but unimaginative Switzerland.

DI Maria, despite becoming a belated hero through scoring the winner scored a number of chances from promising positions throughout the course of the match, whilst principal striker Gonzalo Higuaín once again looked cumbersome when chances were presented to him.

Having now completed their fourth match in the tournament Argentina have yet to strike convincing form. During the group stage it was only Messi’s brilliance that inspired them to three narrow victories against Bosnia-Hercegovina, Iran and Nigeria, and once again it was his creative ability that created the breakthrough just two minutes before the end of extra time, creating the chance for DI Maria’s win, avoiding his team having to go through the trauma of a penalty kick shootout.

Switzerland who did well to get through the group stages after being heavily defeated by Germany and scoring narrow victories against Ecuador and Honduras, had obviously been well drilled by their veteran coach Ottmar Hitzfeld to close in midfield and prevent Argentina’s attacking players, and in particularly Messi from creating chances. The tactic worked very well, although the Swiss showed they had virtually no attacking instead content to allow the South Americans to dominate possession whilst preventing them from creating too many clear-cut chances.

In the final stages of normal time Switzerland moved increasingly into bunker mode only occasionally passing the halfway line as Messi operated behind the strikers where he succeeded in orchestrating Argentina’s best attacking moves of the match which DI Maria, Higuaín and substitute Rodrigo Palacio consistently failed to take advantage of.

And so it continued into extra time until Messi created the match-winning goal for DI Maria, the latest scored by the Argentinian side in their long and illustrious World Cup history, to send them into a quarter-final match against Belgium in Brasilia on Saturday evening.

The final whistle also signalled the end of Switzerland’s German born manager Hitzfeld 31-year career, spent mostly in club football when he succeeded in winning 19 major club trophies for Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Grasshoppers as well as twice been voted World Coach of the Year.

In the last match of the day, played at the Arena Fonte in Salvador, Belgium’s so-called “golden generation” of players continued to impress as they battled their way into the first World Cup quarter-final since 1986 although once again they were forced into extra time by a hard-working USA whose goalkeeper, the veteran Tim Howard put on the performance of a lifetime, in the process of breaking the record for the number of saves ever made in a World Cup match.

As was the case in the evenings previous match, USA was prepared to soak up pressure, although they became increasingly dependent on Howard’s goalkeeping skills as the Belgian’s attacking force made up of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Divock Origi and Jan Vertonghen came at them from every conceivable angle.

However, no matter how many shots that rained in on Tim Howard, there seemed to be no way past him, and as the final whistle blew signalling extra time, his teammates crowded round him, offering their thanks for keeping their World Cup hopes alive.

With just three minutes gone of extra time, the fifth in eight matches played in the knockout stages so far, Kevin de Bruyne finally succeeded in breaking down USA’s resistance Nova. With just five minutes remaining Romelu Lukaku, who had come on as substitute and added a lot more energy to the Belgian attack, added a second in the 105th minute to finish the match as a contest, despite USA substitute Julian Green, pulling one back after brilliantly volleying past Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois with his first touch of the ball.

It was too little too late for the USA with the Belgians ultimately being well worthy of their place in the quarter-finals. If they can continue on this form, then they must be fancied to overcome the Argentinians who are yet to truly shine in the competition.

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