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When and Where
12 PM ET, Arena Corinthians, São Paulo, Brazil
How They Got Here
Heading into the World Cup, it was safe to say that Lionel Messi, not Neymar, had the most pressure to win. Yes, the games are in Brazil, so that pressure is enormous, but Messi is the game's best player and he has never made it past the quarterfinals. A World Cup win in 2014 would only solidify Messi's resumé as one of the greatest players ever. However, despite the two previous quarterfinal appearances, Messi's career World Cup play has been lukewarm at best. With the eyes of the world squarely looking at him, Messi has come out to play, as he is easily having his best World Cup to date and Argentina is 3-0-0 thus far with their eyes towards the finals.
In their opening game against Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Argentine's played only okay in their 2-1 win. Messi scored to make it 2-0 on a great move and shot. He outdid himself in their next match against Iran, who played ultra-conservative and routinely had nine or ten men below the ball to pressure the ball handler. This worked for the first 90 minutes, but in the first minute of injury time, Messi struck and all of Argentina exhaled. Argentina only needed a draw against Nigeria to win the group, but Nigeria needed a win and come out for a win they did. This match saw two goals in the first 5 minutes, a first in World Cup history. Right before halftime, Messi put in a ridiculous free kick to give Argentina a 2-1 lead:
That was Messi's second of the match and fourth of the tournament, which after three games saw him tied with Thomas Müller for most goals (James Rodriguez of Colombia scored twice against Uruguay in their round of sixteen matchup and now has a tournament leading 5). With Messi rolling, Argentina looks to advance to the quarterfinals for the third consecutive World Cup.
Switzerland will look to end Argentina's dreams. The Swiss won their first game against Ecuador in the 3rd minute of stoppage time, with roughly 23 seconds remaining, and stunned the Ecuadorians. In their next match, it was Switzerland who was stunned, as France jumped out to a 3-0 lead by halftime. Switzerland was embarrassed 5-2. However, their World Cup hopes were still alive, as they needed a win and an Ecuador draw/loss to France. Switzerland dispatched of Honduras thanks to a hat trick by Xherdan Shaqiri and France and Ecuador drew 0-0. Switzerland advanced, thanksin large part due to their miraculous opening game win.
Lionel Messi, Argentina
Messi, it has to be Messi. This team has struggled at times at holding their back line and have seemed vulnerable against the counter. They played in a fairly easy group though, so punishment in those areas weren't much. However, Lionel Messi can write all wrongs if he is on his game. He is the world's most dynamic player and he has shined thus far. The stakes have been raised, and I expect Messi to raise his game in accordance.
Xherdan Shaqiri, Switzerland
I had Shaqiri as a pivotal player for the Swiss if they wanted to advance and make some noise. He subsequently scored a hat trick. Yes, it was Honduras, but it was a markedly better performance from the 22 year-old than he had in the first two games, where he was essentially a non-factor. Argentina's midfield play is much stronger than what he saw in his last game, but it's a start for him. If he builds off that performance, Argentina could be in trouble.
Argentina wins 2-1
Switzerland is known for a national team that grinds out games, but if Shaqiri can get their offensive mojo going, it could spell trouble for the Argentines. However, I think Argentina and Messi overcome the pressure and expectations they face playing an inferior opponent and take the game. The loss of Sergio Agüero for Argentina is huge though and means that Ángel Di María and Messi need to both step up. Di María has had an impressive tournament thus far, as Argentina asks the midfielder to play such a demanding game. But his pace will likely cause Switzerland fits and combine that with the space he creates for Messi to do his thing and it all adds up to a win.
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