The last two quarter-final spots for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil will be filled on Tuesday as Argentina and the USA take on Switzerland and Belgium, respectively.
The South Americans get things underway in the early kick-off against the Swiss in Sao Paulo, the winner of which will then eagerly await the outcome of the later game in Salvador, which will decide the last eight opponents.
Belgium and Argentina go into the ties as respective favourites, but neither match is by any means a foregone conclusion as both USA and Switzerland have shown real quality in the tournament so far.
Read on for a full schedule and predictions for the Day 20 action.
|5 p.m./Noon||Argentina vs. Switzerland||3-2||Sao Paulo|
|9 p.m./4 p.m.||Belgium vs. USA||0-1||Salvador|
USA boss Jurgen Klinsmann has expressed concerns pre-match about the decision to appoint Algerian referee Djamel Haimoudi to take charge of his side's encounter with Belgium.
As reported by Ian Ladyman in the Daily Mail, the German manager believes there may be an issue with language amongst other concerns:
We hope it’s not a concern. He did two games already and did them well. I hope he continues to referee in the perfect way he has so far. But is it a good feeling? No, because Algeria came from same group as Belgium and he speaks French like their players. He will be able to speak to their players and not to us. It is also the same country we beat in the last second at the last World Cup, but it is what it is. I know it’s tricky for FIFA to select the right referee for the right games. We respect the decision and hope that everything goes well. We will give him the benefit of the doubt.
Klinsmann's concerns are understandable up to a point, but he would be well-advised to focus on his own team set-up and should be buoyed by the availability of striker Jozy Altidore.
The Sunderland player injured his hamstring in the USA's opener against Ghana but is set to return for the Salvador encounter.
Klinsmann has yet to confirm whether he will start Altidore, per CNN's Rachel Nichols, but it is highly likely that he will look to play him from the bench:
Klinsmann not saying how many minutes Altidore will be able to play, just happy he's available. (Will keep Belgium - and us - guessing)— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) June 30, 2014
This could prove to be a very effective ploy as the 24-year-old will provide a physical presence which could disrupt a Belgian defence likely to be weakened by injury per Opta's Ben Jata:
#BEL: CB Vermaelen out, Kompany a concern. (Marc Wilmots on Monday: "I don't know about Vincent and whether he will be fit. We will see...")— Ben Jata (@Ben_Jata) July 1, 2014
Altidore's hold-up play and role as a target man could be key late on as the USA look to counter-attack, and he could provide the spark for a late American winner provided they keep Belgium from scoring.
It's a screamingly obvious point to make, but Lionel Messi's performance holds the key for Argentina if they are to advance against Switzerland.
He has been terrific so far in Brazil—scoring four goals in three group games—but he has effectively carried his side thus far, as ESPN's Dermot Corrigan alludes to:
Germany almost as reliant on Muller as Argentina on Messi or Brazil on Neymar.— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) June 30, 2014
Swiss boss Ottmar Hitzfeld says he has no plans for Messi specifically, but he believes his side can neutralise Argentina's significant attacking threat, per Blick via Ed Dove on Goal.com:
Man-to-man marking against Messi? No. [We'll use] a very well-functioning network. In this way each player needs his concentration and attention levels to be extremely high. We must correctly take care of all our essential [roles], be ready to anticipate and be error free. And in this way, we can stop Messi.
However, if Angel Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain can up their performances against the Swiss and provide Messi with key support, Argentina should be able to sweep past their opponents.
Additionally, striker Sergio Aguero has been ruled out of the last-16 encounter, per ESPN FC, and he will likely be replaced by Ezequiel Lavezzi of PSG who could improve Argentina, per The Guardian's Daniel Harris:
Brilliant though he is, Argentina look far better balanced with Lavezzi instead of Aguero.— Daniel Harris (@DanielHarris) June 25, 2014
The attacking talent on show for the South Americans is formidable. While Messi is an obvious strength, Di Maria was one of the best players in club football last season and inspired Real Madrid to their Champions League win.
While Argentina's defence is not the best, they should prevail against Switzerland thanks to their forward unit with Messi adding at least one more goal to his tournament tally.