Day Four – World Cup Round of Sixteen Preview, Predictions: Argentina vs. Switzerland, USA vs. Belgium

IMAGE, DAVE MARTINEZ FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

The soccer federation wars are done in day four of the Round of Sixteen, replaced instead by continental battles between European sides and two of the best sides of North and South America.

ARGENTINA vs. SWITZERLAND

Before Colombia’s James Rodriguez took all headlines with his goalscoring prowess, it was the world’s best player Lionel Messi getting all the plaudits for dragging Argentina into the knockout rounds, kicking and screaming.

The Barcelona standout has scored four of Argentina’s six goals this World Cup. One of those notches was an own goal, making defender Marcos Rojo the only other Argentine player to find the back of the net this tournament.

Lost in the conversation of the Albiceleste’s one-dimensional offense is the stout defensive performance of the team. It is worth noting how wholly uninterested the backline seemed against Nigeria. Whether that was the hangover of qualification or a testament to the African nation’s offensive prowess remains to be seen. Nevertheless, through two of the team’s first three games, Argentina were disciplined in the back.

Once-doubted goalkeeper Sergio Romero has been huge for the South American powerhouse, making several key saves throughout the group stage to fend off potential scoring threats. Ezequiel Garay has stepped up as Argentina’s rock at centerback while Pablo Zabaleta has kept with his Manchester City form at the Fullback position.

Switzerland have become a tournament darling, especially after Xherdan Shaqiri’s hat trick against Honduras. In context, however, that was a weak opponent compared to what they will face Tuesday afternoon. The Swiss were dismantled by France 5-2 in the group stage, exposing a less than inspiring defense. Argentina have the weapons to recreate that thrashing. While many may see the Swiss giving Argentina a run, this tournament is due for a solid route.

Prediction: Argentina 3-0 Switzerland


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BELGIUM vs. USA

Staff writer Patrick MacDonald does a wonderful job of breaking down this afternoon’s Belgium, USMNT battle (CLICK HERE FOR HIS PREVIEW).

What’s more to add?

Well, for starters, you can look at the effect of the depletion on either roster. Jozy Altidore will make the bench for the U.S., but is unlikely to start. Belgium, meanwhile, may be forced to trot out a back four composed strictly of centerbacks. Thomas Vermaelen is out of this encounter, as is Anthony Vanden Borre. Midfielder Steven Defour picked up a red card in Belgium’s last encounter and will be out as well.

The key for the U.S. will be two fold. Possession has eluded them for most of the tournament. They need to control the midfield if they hope to come out on top. It doesn’t need to be Barcelona-esque. Frankly, that is beyond the pay grade of this side. They simply need to control tempo and find their moments against a large and lumbering Belgium backline. Along with that, the wings need to play a larger role in stretching a predictably slow defense.

The combination can be lethal. If they manage to do both, it will be a long day for Belgium. If not, get ready for a grinder.

(Dave Martinez’s) Prediction: USA 1 (4) – 1 (3) Belgium
(Patrick MacDonald’s) Prediction: USA 2-0 Belgium