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 vs. Switzerland
Can anyone stop Lionel Messi? The diminutive striker has bounced back in a big way after failing to score at the 2010 tournament, finding the back of the net four times in the group stage to quiet the questions about his past performance for his country. Manager Alejandro Sabella pulled his star in the 63rd minute against Nigeria, hoping to give him a little extra rest for the task ahead. The Swiss are no slouches on offence, scoring seven goals in the group stage. Bayern Munich winger Xherdan Shaqiri showed how explosive he can be against Nigeria, netting a hat trick in a 3-2 win. The big question is how their defence will hold up against a side that includes threats other than Messi, like Angel di Maria and Javier Mascherano. Remember, this Swiss side isn’t far removed from a 5-2 thrashing at the hands of France. Manager Ottmar Hitzfeld, a trained mathematician, will be working overtime to come up with a formula to slow the potent Albiceleste attack and give his underdog side a chance to score the upset.
Belgium vs. USA
It feels like a lifetime ago that critics were howling over manager Jürgen Klinsmann’s decision to leave U.S. soccer hero Landon Donovan out of his World Cup side. The players he did take to Brazil have proven to be a scrappy bunch, surviving a difficult Group G draw, not to mention sweltering heat, a driving rain storm, and a difficult travel schedule, to make the knockout stage. Forward Clint Dempsey has been a consistent threat up front, while midfielder Jermaine Jones is playing better than anyone expected. They could still use a little more from Michael Bradley, who has struggled in an expanded offensive role from the middle of the pitch. Belgium was the sexy sleeper pick ahead of this tournament, a young squad bursting with talent from some of the biggest soccer clubs on the planet. The Red Devils strolled through Group H undefeated while surrendering a single goal, but there’s a feeling they are capable of even more. The American defence will be busy trying to keep Chelsea’s Eden Hazard in check.
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