Argentina v Belgium – 5.00pm Saturday, 5 July
The second half of the Quarter Final card starts at 5.00pm on Saturday with Argentina taking on Belgium. Neither side has yet to light up the tournament, but if there is a time to come into form, it would be now.
Argentina squeezed through at the expense of Switzerland in what was one of the least exciting games of the World Cup thus far.
Nothing groundbreaking came of this one and it is still the Messi show with some support actors for the South American side. Belgium played out a 0-0 over 90 minutes against USA, which was a thrilling match up, but Marc Wilmot’s outfit made hard work of it. The number of chances should have seen this game put to bed, without the need for extra time.
So far, Argentina have been a one man team. However, if your one man team is Lionel Messi, you are going to win more games than most. The best player on the field will be in the blue and white of Argentina and that is a big advantage. Angel Di Maria has shown glimpses of quality as well, particularly against Nigeria and Switzerland and can unleash an important goal when necessary.
Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen are not full backs, and Argentina will target these areas with wingers along with the attacking duo of Zabaleta and Rojo. Argentina will fancy themselves to finish their chances in front of goal as well compared to their toothless opposition.
Belgium missed a whole host of opportunities against USA and showed how much they miss Benteke. The 88th minute winner verses Russia was their first shot on target in that game too. There is a pattern.
Looking at previous fixtures, Argentina massively struggled against Iran who played very narrow and deep, which may be how Wilmot’s sets up,- plus he has the players to suit this.
The two full backs who are naturally centre backs would suit this. As we saw in that tie, Alejandro Sabella struggles with any sort of Plan B and he hasn’t made any tactical changes which leads us to believe this Argentina side are flexible.
A patient Belgium could take advantage of this. The loss of Sergio Aguero certainly has not helped the South American side, Ezequiel Lavezzi has made little impact as his replacement and has failed to provide an end product to partner his pace.
Divock Origi started against USA for Belgium, which was a brave move by Wilmots, and even though Orgi did contribute more than Romelu Lukaku had in previous matches, it wasn’t an earth shattering performance to say the least.
When Lukaku did come on, he provided much more than he has all tournament and has very likely bagged himself a starting place in the Quarter Final. Lukaku was involved in both goals, one which he scored and this could be the trigger for the Chelsea forward to put in a big performance, one that we have got used to seeing over the last two Premier League seasons.
There has been a lack of tempo and urgency in a number of games for both sides and I will be very surprised if this is one of the better Quarter Final games for the neutral and it could be a very dull game with very few goals. There are two key questions that Belgium will need to answer, to give them chance of a victory here. Can they stop the ball getting to Lionel Messi? Can they take their chances? Ticking both of these boxes is a big ask, and I cannot see them nailing both.
Netherlands v Costa Rica – 9.00pm Saturday, 5 July
Both countries have been far better than most expected. The Netherlands were expected to struggle with both the climate and the lack of big name players, having to rely on Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben, but Louis van Gaal has shaped some fantastic team performances and has won the tactical battle consistently.
Costa Rica have been the surprise package of the tournament though. Odds on to finish bottom of their group which consisted of Italy, England and Uruguay, they ended up winning it with flying colours. Greece were next up and even though they could consider themselves lucky, Costa Rica find themselves in the Quarter Finals for the first time in their history.
Costa Rica have shown that they have a bit of ability in all areas- something we had not expected. The “Ticos” have been tactically spot on, excellent on the counter, have shown they can press, have been dangerous from set pieces and have been resolute when they have had to defend.
Joel Campbell sprung on the scene in the opening game against Uruguay and hasn’t slowed down. Right-wing-back Cristian Gamboa proved in that game that Jorge Luis Pinto has more than one ace up his sleeve. Uruguay suffered from the excellent counter attacking of the Costa Rican side and couldn’t handle them from set pieces either.
Italy were hit with a different form of aggression, which was via pressing. Pressed all over the pitch, Costa Rica looked comfortable for almost 90 minutes. All sorts of angles gives Costa Rica a lot of different ammunition and leaves them unpredictable.
The Netherlands will be expected to press high and win the ball back high up the pitch. If Joel Campbell can be supplied, his pace could certainly get behind the Dutch defensive line- there should be chances for the Arsenal forward. Despite the Netherlands famously thrashing Spain, they had nervous moment at the back and are likely to have similar issues before there tournament ends, one way or another.
The Netherlands will take plenty of confidence from both their victory over Mexico as well as Costa Rica’s penalty shootout win over Greece. Verses Mexico they showed immense character to come back after going a goal behind. Costa Rica played poorly for the first time in Brazil, up against Greece and were somewhat fortunate to hold on and scrape through. Pinto’s side were dominated for long periods and that was before they had a man sent off. The Netherlands would have punished them.
The Dutch will be leaving no stone unturned to ensure they do not suffer the sort of defeat that Costa Rica inflicted on both Uruguay and Italy. Arjen Robben may well be the difference and is fighting off James Rodriguez at present for the tournament’s best player, and I dont think this will be his last game to shine.
As we have seen, Costa Rica have been flexible for each game, but so have the Dutch, and Van Gaal has made more tactical changes from game to game as well as during matches than any other coach at the World Cup. Plenty of superb decisions have been made to ensure games are won and the players must have the confidence that their manager will deliver.
This is a huge bonus. It will be mysteries until kick off how the Dutch set up but what you can ensure is if things aren’t working there is always a Plan B ready. Bravely taking off Robin van Persie and bringing on Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was a good example of this.
Just when you thought Costa Rica were all out of luck in this tournament, when facing Greece with ten men, they pulled out another victory. But, could this now be one step too far? I think so- in the last game we saw the sort of performance we expected from Pinto’s outfit. Hard working, but deep, defensively sound, and looking to grab a goal when they can. The Netherlands have far more to their game than that and Cost Rica may have finally met their match.