USA’s Howard must come up big vs Belgium

July 1, 2014, 8:48 AM

The Round of 16 at the 2014 FIFA World Cup comes to an end on Tuesday with two more teams set to qualify for the quarterfinals.

Argentina faces Switzerland for the first time in the knockout stage at a World Cup. They have met once before when La Albiceleste defeated the Swiss 2-0 in the group stage in 1966.

Belgium and the United States square off in the other match on Day 19. The last time these two played each other was in the first World Cup in 1930 when the U.S. crushed the Belgians 3-0 in the group stage on route to a semifinal appearance. Can the same happen again?

Here are four keys to the matches…


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Argentina must up the tempo

Argentina has won all of their games at the World Cup thus far, but haven’t been convincing. The positive is that they’ve yet to move past the second gear. Now might be the time to start doing that.

Switzerland had an abysmal performance against France in the group stage and wasn’t much better against Ecuador a few days prior. However, they recovered brilliantly versus Honduras and can definitely pose a threat to Argentina’s midfield and defence with their diminutive, tricky players.

Argentina has the capability of playing a fast, exciting style. Through three games, the passing has been off in the final third, very few runs are being made, and the squad has relied on Lionel Messi to bail them out. Of the team’s six goals, Messi has four of them, the others were an own goal and a Marcos Rojo strike.

The Argentines may be forced to increase the pace to their system, because Switzerland will most likely rely on their speed to score their goals.

Press Lionel Messi in numbers

One statistic that raised eyebrows during the past domestic season was that Lionel Messi failed to score against Atletico Madrid. That was because of their counter-pressing. When the Barcelona star was pressured immediately, he had to drift deeper to collect the ball and moved further away from goal.

That’s what Iran did when they faced Argentina. It worked until stoppage time when Messi was given a little bit of space to gather the ball and shoot. Switzerland would be smart to do the same.

No other Argentine player has shined in the tournament, hence why Messi has been so dominant. He’s had to be. If he can be shut down when he immediately gets the ball, then he’ll be ineffective and that will give the Swiss a chance to win.

Belgium’s wide players

Belgium has relied on substitutes to get them out of jail in the World Cup, but there’s been one constant to their performances: their wingers have been excellent.

Eden Hazard setup Divock Origi’s winner versus Russia, while Dries Mertens has been electric whenever he’s been involved in a match. Considering how questionable the U.S. fullbacks have been at times in the tournament, Belgium might be able to capitalize and unlock the American defence.

Fabian Johnson was caught out of position when Silvestre Varela scored his late stoppage time equalizer for Portugal US, and there have been other moments when both Johnson and DaMarcus Beasley have neglected their defensive duties. They’re definitely valuable in the attacking third of the pitch, but they allow too much space in the defensive third by bursting forward.

Hazard and Mertens are very quick, technical players. If they see that space, they’ll take advantage of it.

Tim Howard

Jermaine Jones has been hailed as the best American player of the tournament, but a strong argument can be made for USA goalkeeper Tim Howard. The Everton shot-stopper has made 12 saves through three games, most of which have been crucial.

There were several moments in the Portugal and Ghana games where the opposition could’ve easily scored four goals, especially in the former fixture. Howard kept his team within striking distance in both affairs.

The U.S. allowed a tournament-high 18 shots per game in the group stage. They also had the third lowest average possession at around 40 percent. Howard will most likely be depended upon by his team once again.

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