2014 FIFA World Cup: Day 19 Recap

Guardian Angel Rescues Argentina

Even when he isn’t scoring himself, Lionel Messi seems to make goals happen through sheer will—thankfully for Argentina, Messi’s will was strong enough to propel them past a very stern Swiss side on Tuesday.

Switzerland held the South American powerhouse largely at bay, bottling up Lionel Messi as much as any defence can. Switzerland’s defence were satisfied to clutch and grab and give up free kicks rather than giving Argentina any space to run with the ball.  The first 45 minutes offered offensive opportunities for the Swiss as well, with star Xherdan Shaqiri playing the role of Swiss Messi, bobbing and weaving and delivering balls into the Argentine penalty area, but at halftime they still had nothing to show for it.

In the second half the real Messi came out to play while his Swiss counterpart seemed to forget his energy and inventiveness in the locker room. Messi dribbled over, under and through the Swiss defenders, delivering a wealth of crosses and one sneaky shot that Swiss keeper Diego Benaglio was good to get a hand on. But again there were no goals to be found for either side and, for the fourth time in the Round of 16, extra time was needed.

Argentina dominated play through all 30 minutes of extra time, allowing the ball to touch grass on their end of the field just a couple of times, but still they couldn’t find a crack in Benaglio’s armour. It looked set for a penalty kick finale, but with two minutes remaining in extra time Messi decided enough was enough—he picked up the ball in midfield, dodged a diving Swiss defender and slid a pass to a wide open Angel Di Maria, who crossed up a moving Benaglio with a near-unstoppable shot to end the game.

Heroic Howard Can’t Rescue USA

Belgium has made a habit of winning in this World Cup without really dominating, They’ve won every game thus far, but never really owned their opponents, so it was surprising how thoroughly they controlled their game against the US on Tuesday. Still, despite a staggering offensive advantage through the first 90 minutes, Belgium couldn’t find their offensive touch until extra time.

US goalie Tim Howard has also developed a habit or two that came into play against Belgium—particularly his penchant for timely saves and his ability to lift his squad when they’re having trouble competing. Howard stood on his head, keeping his side level for 90 minutes despite a hail of shots—he set a record for most saves with 16—sent toward his goal. Belgian Kevin De Bruyne in particular directed an impressive series of drives at the American net without finding a way past Howard. 

So it was fitting that the first player to crack Howard’s armour would be De Bruyne. It took 93 minutes and a key substitution—Romelu Lukaku came in for Divock Origi at the beginning of extra time and promptly served up a winning pass to De Bruyne—for the midfielder to put his team up a goal. And Lukaku wasn’t finished there, striking his own goal just before the midpoint of extra time. The Americans threatened in the second extra period when 19-year-old Julian Green scored his first international goal minutes after entering as a substitute. But the US couldn’t get past Belgian keeper Thibaut Courtois again before the final whistle sounded—American captain Clint Dempsey had a glorious chance off a free kick, but Courtois wouldn’t be broken again.

Argentina will face Belgium in the quarterfinals on Saturday.

Tags: World Cup 2014

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