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When and Where
12 PM ET, Nacional, Brasília, Brazil
Last Match: 1-0 win vs Switzerland
At around the 60th minute of this match, the Swiss were content with taking it to penalties, which it seemed we were clearly heading to. They hardly moved the ball past midfield and consistently played ten men under the ball with two or three boxing in Messi. It was a strategy that was working, until late in extra-time when the Swiss turned the ball over. That ball ended up on Messi's foot, who pushed past a defender to find open space. In that open space he laid a perfect pass to Ángel Di María, who placed a perfect shot past Swiss goalkeeper Diego Benaglio for the 1-0 win.
Key Player: Lionel Messi
This FiveThirtyEight headline says it all: "Lionel Messi Is Impossible." A quick look inside the data and it proves by an overwhelming margin that Messi is the game's best player. And with how he has played this World Cup, he has only strengthened that claim. He has looked like a man on a mission and the Argentines played their best all-around game last match against Switzerland. Messi is the best goalscorer and distributor on this team. The ball runs through his foot. Just a marvel to watch. Savor it, while you can, because it's not everyday that we are graced with a player of his caliber.
Why They Will Win
Argentina played their best game against Switzerland and seem to be finding their groove a bit. Messi was phenomenal and Di María was all over the pitch. It hasn't always been pretty for this team, which was also the case against Switzerland, since there was so little room to maneuver, but the Argentines showed their perseverance. Belgium is a much tougher squad, but their defense can be just as impressive and they won't need to play as many men below the ball, like Switzerland did. The Swiss were a good precursor for Argentina, but now they must show their mettle again. Players like Gonzalo Higuaín and Ezequiel Lavezzi need to aid in the scoring chances, as both have been below their expected ability. They are good players and I can't see them being this ineffective much longer.
Last Match: 2-1 win vs USA
We all know what happened here. I'd rather not talk about it.
Key Player: Vincent Kompany
Kompany's health was in question going into their last game, but all doubts were soon forgotten. Kompany, the captain of the young Belgian squad, had a remarkable game. He has the size and athleticism to squash even the best of attempts and he was on form against the US. However, the Americans did not have a player like Lionel Messi, who will surely test the Belgian back line. Kompany is going to have to be just as impressive against Argentina if they want to advance.
Why They Will Win
For the most part, Argentina hasn't looked great. They have been too heavily reliant on Messi and have had minimal support from the other players. The Belgians can shadow Messi easier than most, as they are as athletic and skillful as any team out there. If they can neutralize Messi's impact, then they have a solid chance of moving on. Also, star striker Romelu Lukaku finally decided to show up for this World Cup, as he was the difference maker for the Belgians as a sub against the US. Another performance like that, combined with the play of Eden Hazard and Marouane Fellaini, and the Belgians attack will be very tough to keep under wraps.
Who You Should Root For
Two words: Lionel Messi. They call soccer "the beautiful game" and Messi is our generation's greatest example of that sentiment. He moves up the pitch with grace and precision and delivers insanely accurate passes and shots. "Messi magic," they call it, and you don't want to be deprived of seeing it more in this World Cup.
Argentina wins 1-0
Argentina are heavy favorites according to Soccer Power Index, which I don't necessarily agree with. Those numbers take into account history, which the Belgians don't really have. What they do have is a plethora of talent, clearly indicated by Lukaku being able to come off the bench. They are youthful and ready to make Belgium a soccer power. On the other hand, Argentina has Messi and the home-field advantage, which will ultimately be too much for the young Belgians to handle. This game could be a gridlock, as one mistake against dangerous counter teams could lead to a World Cup exit, so I don't see many goals happening. What I do see is Messi being the difference and leading Argentina to the semi-finals for the first time since they were runners up in 1990.
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