Key Battles That Will Shape Argentina's Clash with Switzerland

Daniel Edwards@@DanEdwardsGoalFeatured ColumnistJune 30, 2014

Key Battles That Will Shape Argentina's Clash with Switzerland

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    Felipe Dana/Associated Press

    Argentina and Switzerland arrive at the World Cup's last 16 following wildly different journeys.

    Successive victories over Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria meant the Albiceleste qualified with ease at the top of Group F. Meanwhile, Switzerland were forced to down Honduras 3-0 and pray Ecuador did not triumph in a nail-biting finale with France. 

    However, in the knockout stages, none of those results matter. Every team in the competition must fight over the 90 minutes, and Tuesday's game in Sao Paulo will be no exception. 

    With Lionel Messi finding the net on a regular basis, and with Xherdan Shaqiri rediscovering his form as the tournament wears on, the following are the most fascinating matchups between the two challengers.

Xhaka vs. Rojo

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    Thanassis Stavrakis/Associated Press

    Sporting Lisbon full-back Marcos Rojo has so far defied critics with an impressive World Cup showing.

    Not only did he keep close tabs on the dangerous Nigeria winger Peter Odemwingie during the last match in Group F, but he also managed to get up the other end and score the winner in a pulsating 3-2 victory for the Albiceleste. 

    The ex-Estudiantes man will know he has no time to rest on his laurels. Switzerland's Granit Xhaka started the tournament in the middle of the pitch, but the 21-year-old has improved dramatically since switching with Shaqiri to play on the right wing.

    Rojo will have to be at his best to stop the advances of the Borussia Monchengladbach prospect. 

Rodriguez vs. Lavezzi

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    Jon Super/Associated Press

    If nothing else, Switzerland left-back Ricardo Rodriguez will have no trouble communicating with adversary Ezequiel Lavezzi if the Paris Saint-Germain man gets the nod to replace the injured Sergio Aguero on Tuesday, as is expected.

    The Wolfsburg player has a Spanish father and Chilean mother, and he speaks Spanish fluently. 

    The 21-year-old will need more than just communication skills to keep his opposite number quiet, though. Having seen his playing minutes limited so far, Lavezzi will burst on the pitch in Sao Paulo, most likely wide on the right wing to complement Angel di Maria on the other flank. 

    Rodriguez will have to keep the striker quiet and prevent the Swiss back line being overrun out wide.

Shaqiri vs. Garay

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    Felipe Dana/Associated Press

    For Switzerland, the World Cup only really began last week with a 3-0 victory over Honduras. The win helped the European nation confirm their place in the last 16.

    Even more importantly, it demonstrated that influential Bayern Munich star Xherdan Shaqiri was finally hitting form in the competition. 

    The 22-year-old playmaker scored a marvellous hat-trick to down the nation's Group E rivals, redeeming himself after an uneven display during the humiliation at the hands of France.

    Shaqiri will hope to hit Argentina hard on the counter, taking advantage of a less than rock-solid defence.

    Against him will be the intimidating presence of Ezequiel Garay. 

Benaglio vs. Messi

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    Victor R. Caivano/Associated Press

    There are few certainties in world football, and even less once you reach the knockout stages of the World Cup.

    However, Switzerland goalkeeper Diego Benaglio can at least expect a busy afternoon on Tuesday, most likely thanks to the efforts of an in-form Lionel Messi. 

    La Pulga smashed four goals during the group stages, and if it was not for some excellent shot-stopping from Nigeria No. 1 Vincent Enyeama, the Rosario native could have even added to his tally.

    Benaglio faces the test of his life, and he will have a point to prove after letting five slip by against France.