Your daily World Cup tip sheet for who's playing when, and what to watch for. We'll deliver a new briefing the evening before every game day, setting up the matches and pinpointing the underlying storylines.
Argentina v. Belgium
These two sides met in the semi-final of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico City, where Argentine superstar Diego Maradona scored both goals in a 2-0 win before 114,500 fans. Lionel Messi will be expected to do the same this time, with La Albiceleste looking to return to the final four for the first time since 1990.
They will need a better performance than the one offered against Switzerland in the last round, a laboured, disjointed effort that was saved by a sublime Messi setup on Angel di Maria’s winner in the 118th minute. It’s difficult to bet against Messi, who has been nothing short of spectacular in this tournament, but he’s going to need some help against a Belgium side that is gaining momentum every time it takes to the pitch in Brazil.
The Red Devils opened the knockout round by winning an absolute thriller in extra time against the United States that featured an all-time great performance by American goalkeeper Tim Howard. The Belgian attack had 27 shots on target during the match, swarming the U.S. defence and forcing Howard to make a number of difficult saves. Argentina will be paying particularly close attention to how Belgium manager Marc Wilmots decides to use striker Romelu Lukaku. He came on as a substitute early in extra time against the U.S. and turned the game, slicing his way through an exhausted defence to set up Kevin De Bruyne’s first goal before he found the back of the net himself. It was a move that showed just how deep and dangerous this Belgium team is.
Netherlands v. Costa Rica
Can Costa Rica’s dream run in Brazil continue?
It’s hard not to cheer for the unlikely quarter-finalists, who squeezed past Greece on penalties after an exhausting 120 minutes of play left the sides tied at one. Their defensive record at the tournament speaks for itself: one goal conceded from a penalty against Uruguay and shutouts of Italy and England in the group stage. Mix in striker Joel Campbell’s emergence as a tireless force up front and you have a recipe for success.
Expect the Dutch to rely on what has worked so far: the two-headed attack of winger Arjen Robben and striker Robin van Persie. The duo combined to score six goals in the group stage, but struggled to get anything going in a 2-1 win over Mexico until Robben controversially won a penalty in second-half stoppage time.
Manager Louis van Gaal does have injury concerns ahead of the match, most notably the absence of key midfielder Nigel de Jong, who tore a groin muscle early in the match against Mexico. Fellow midfielder Leroy Fer is also questionable with a hamstring pull, leaving Wesley Sneijder as the most experienced man in the middle of the pitch. He had a strong performance against Mexico and appears to be finding his game just in time for the Dutch.
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