Argentina, Belgium hope to hit top gear

By The Sports NetworkJuly 4, 2014 at 3:47 PM
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Argentina and Belgium have combined to win all eight of their World Cup matches so far, but despite that level of success, there is still plenty of room for improvement from both sides as they square off at the Estadio Nacional de Brasilia on Saturday in a World Cup quarterfinal.

Belgium has reached the last eight at a World Cup for the first time since 1986, while Argentina is in familiar territory having advanced to this stage in four of its last five appearances in the competition.

Both sides entered this World Cup as favorites to win their respective groups, and it is really no surprise that they are meeting up at this stage in the tournament.

But what has been a bit of an upset is the fact that the two teams won each of their four games by one goal, with neither side really hitting top gear.

"We weren't all that impressive, because we were too tense. We couldn't get into our rhythm against the compact units that we came up against," Belgium winger Kevin Mirallas said when asked to explain his side's lack of offensive firepower.

Argentina would say the same after being held in check for the most part by Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran in its first two group-stage games before netting three goals against Nigeria.

Lionel Messi has been the one player who has carried Argentina for much of the tournament, scoring four goals and assisting on the lone tally in extra time against Switzerland in the round of 16 to help his team advance.

"It was not an easy match, but we knew it wouldn't be," Messi said after his side managed to scrape through to the quarterfinals.

"We have seen throughout the World Cup that all the matches have been on an equal footing and lots of important teams have gone out. What is important is that we are through to the next stage - that is what we wanted."

Both teams have accomplished their goal of reaching the last eight, but now it is down to which side can take that next step and continue its World Cup journey.

On paper, this match has a chance to be very open and entertaining given the abundance of gifted attacking players that both teams possess.

And as they have shown at times during the tournament, both teams are willing to play an open game as long as the opposition obliges.

Belgium created a ton of scoring chances against the United States in its 2-1 extra-time win in the round of 16, and if not for the efforts of U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard, very easily would have won the match in 90 minutes.

The Red Devils played easily their most entertaining game of the tournament on Tuesday against the Americans, and Belgium captain Vincent Kompany believes it is not just down to his side to make the game entertaining.

"You need two teams to produce an exciting match. The Americans tried to push forward. That's all we were asking for. It takes two to tango, and today they wanted the same thing as us," Kompany explained.

Argentina is not the type of side to sit back and defend, so Saturday's match should produce its fair share of excitement in front of goal. And according to Kompany, that style of match would be just fine for Belgium.

"If they decide to play their usual attacking game, we'll have a pretty good chance against them," said Kompany of Argentina.

The South Americans have been very reliant on Messi, but if the team is going to advance past the quarterfinals for the first time since 1990, the Barcelona star is going to need some help.

Angel Di Maria scored the winning goal against the Swiss in the round of 16, and he has been a bright spot, but Argentina must get more from attackers like Gonzalo Higuain and Ezequiel Lavezzi, who started in place of the injured Sergio Aguero on Tuesday.

Belgium head coach Marc Wilmots will have an interesting decision to make regarding his striker position as he started Divock Origi in place of Romelu Lukaku against the United States in the round of 16.

Lukaku struggled in the group stage, but on Tuesday he came off the bench and provided a huge spark, setting up the first goal of the game and scoring the second himself.


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