Brazil 2014: Round of 16, Day Four Preview
Austin Fido takes a look at the final set of second round matches…
Three of the four quarterfinal pairings are set. We’re getting Brazil vs. Colombia and France vs. Germany on July 4th; Costa Rica will play the Netherlands on July 5th.
Each and every one of the quarterfinalists so far is a group winner, and the knockout stages are still hunting for an upset (Costa Rica beating Greece is not an upset; if anything, it was a surprise the team which closed down Italy so effectively let the Greeks back into the game).
Still, we haven’t seen any absolute thrashings either. For the most part, the games have been close, and the result in question until the end. We may not be surprised by the final set of second round games, but it is fair to expect to be entertained.
Second Round, Day 4, July 1: Messi vs. Destiny
If everything goes according to form, one of these four teams will end up in the semifinal against the Netherlands. And the one will be Argentina.
Thanks for coming, Switzerland, you’ve been wonderful guests, as always – but you’re getting in the way of a narrative now.
As for the other match: well, someone has to provide the opposition in the quarterfinal. If any of the three teams not named Argentina playing on July 1 manages to knock Messi and co. out of the World Cup, that will be treated as the shock of the tournament. Because if the top half of the draw is all about Brazil bringing a World Cup home, the bottom half is all about Leo Messi fulfilling his destiny.
11 am (Chicago time): Argentina vs. Switzerland
This is Lionel Messi’s World Cup. Yes, he’s got at least one more in him (he’ll be 31 in 2018), but that will be in Russia – and all the current talk of weather will go away, the European teams will be perked up, and it will be all but the best of the rest of the world struggling to handle the host continent’s sides.
Right now, Messi is in his prime, playing a World Cup as close to home soil as he’s likely to get in his career, and not being managed by Diego Maradona. He’s never had it so good at the national team level.
He doesn’t need to win this tournament to be considered among the best players of all time – any more than Johan Cruyff did, or Cristiano Ronaldo does. But he probably wants to give it a shot, and the shot will never be better than this one.
It will be considered an opportunity missed if Argentina does not at least make the final, and since it won CONMEBOL qualifying, La Albiceleste will be favorite to win that match against any opponent except Brazil (which remains the expected opponent…).
Can they be stopped in the second round by a Swiss team comprising a large chunk of Napoli’s midfield, the center backs Arsenal didn’t want, and a star player – Xherdan Shaqiri – who isn’t as good as Messi?
Unlikely. But Argentina toiled over winning all its group stage games, so this one could well be close – as long as the Switzerland that turns up isn’t the one that was 3-0 down to France after 40 minutes.
3 pm (Chicago time) Belgium vs. USA
Not a lot. Belgium is a group winner that managed to win three games without ever looking manifestly superior to its opponents, or as though it were slowly finding form.
USMNT came second in a very tough group, but ultimately beat the opponent with which it was considered most evenly matched, and didn’t beat either of the bigger reputations it played.
Both teams have a right to feel pretty good about this match, since neither is in overwhelming form.
Belgium gets the edge because it has arguably its most talented generation of players starting to make names for themselves all over Europe. And it beat USMNT in the USA last year. And one of the things Jurgen Klinsmann hasn’t been able to do in time for this tournament is figure out a settled back four – and the defense is likely to be tested. Often.
But the Red Devils are also depleted by injury and suspension, and one of their better players seems inclined to lose his cool, which makes them feel a little bit like Portugal. And USMNT would be happy to have another crack at Portugal.
Austin Fido is OTF’s USMNT and CONCACAF editor. Follow him @canetop.