World Cup 2014: Winners and Losers from Day 20
Day 20 of the 2014 FIFA World Cup saw the round of 16 come to an end and the quarter-final spots decided.
In Sao Paulo, pre-tournament favourites Argentina required extra time to see off Switzerland, who battled admirably until the very end.
In Salvador, the United States mustered an extra-time fight that saw them come up just short in their knockout match against Group H winners Belgium.
Following are the biggest winners and losers from another intriguing day of World Cup play.
Winner: Ricardo Rodriguez, Who Played Brilliantly Despite Losing
If Ricardo Rodriguez was a mostly unknown quantity before the 2014 World Cup, he has since become a household name.
The 21-year-old left-back enjoyed an outstanding tournament with Switzerland and was perhaps his country’s best player in Tuesday’s 1-0 round-of-16 defeat to Argentina.
Contributing six tackles on the defensive side of the ball (all statistics courtesy WhoScored.com), he also provided a reliable attacking outlet and generally had the running of Pablo Zabaleta.
No wonder the Wolfsburg man has already been linked to both Inter Milan and Chelsea, according to talkSPORT.
Loser: Ezequiel Lavezzi, Who Might Have Played Himself out of a Starting Spot
The injury to Sergio Aguero opened up a spot in Argentina’s attack, and first to get the chance to replace the Manchester City forward was Ezequiel Lavezzi.
He’s unlikely to get a second.
Against Switzerland, the 29-year-old conceded possession with alarming regularity and seemed completely lost alongside Lionel Messi and Gonzalo Higuain.
Albiceleste manager Alejandro Sabella will almost certainly review his options ahead of Saturday’s quarter-final, and he’ll be looking beyond the Paris Saint-Germain attacker without a doubt.
Winner: Moments of Magic, Which Continue to Pop Up in Brazil
Although the swashbuckling, take-no-prisoners approach of the group stage has been replaced by something more cautious in the knockout rounds, moments of magic have still been required to determine results.
Colombia’s James Rodriguez, for example, delivered two of them against Uruguay last weekend, and Arjen Robben’s second-half performance had a lot to do with the Netherlands’ comeback victory over Mexico.
On Tuesday, it was Messi and Angel Di Maria who combined to make something special happen.
Despite a mostly uninspiring performance, Di Maria was able to put Argentina into the quarter-finals when his expertly placed shot from Messi’s pass on a counterattack proved the winner in extra time in Sao Paulo.
Loser: Cameroon, Who Are at the Centre of a Match-Fixing Controversy
We thought we had seen the last of Cameroon, and given the Indomitable Lions' abysmal showing at the World Cup, we were hardly disappointed.
But the African side refuses to disappear from the headlines—the latest stories alleging a match-fixing scheme involving several of their players.
According to Reuters and The Guardian, convicted match-fixer Wilson Raj Perumal correctly predicted the result of Cameroon’s Group A encounter with Croatia—an allegation Perumal has since denied, but one that German outlet Der Spiegel has stood behind.
Whatever the case, three group-stage matches were more than enough for Cameroon at this World Cup, and any match-fixing—if proven—would only further sully a campaign that was already an embarrassment.
Winner: Romelu Lukaku, Who Made an Instant Impact
Romelu Lukaku was withdrawn after 58 minutes against Algeria; he lasted only 57 minutes against Russia. He did nothing in either match and didn’t even see the pitch against South Korea.
It was hardly a surprise, then, when Belgium manager Marc Wilmots benched the striker for a second straight match against the United States, opting instead to use 19-year-old Divock Origi up front on Tuesday.
But after a scoreless 90 minutes, Wilmots made what proved to be the decisive decision of the match, introducing Lukaku in place of Origi to begin the first period of extra time.
Less than three minutes later, Lukaku had played a part in Kevin De Bruyne’s opener, and in the 105th minute, he scored what proved to be the match-winner.
Loser: Josip Drmic and Chris Wondolowski, Neither of Whom Could Finish
But for better finishing, Tuesday’s results might have been much different.
In the day’s first match, Josip Drmic missed at least two golden opportunities to give Switzerland the lead on Argentina—the most noticeable being a first-half miss in which he failed to chip out-of-position goalkeeper Sergio Romero.
United States striker Chris Wondolowski, meanwhile, skied his effort from in close during extra time against Belgium and then watched as the European outfit scampered downfield to open the scoring. The New York Times tweeted that this could come back to haunt the 31-year-old.
Winner: Tim Howard, Who Did Everything He Could
Belgium peppered the opposing target with shots on Tuesday, and that it took until extra time for them to find a breakthrough is due to the heroics of goalkeeper Tim Howard.
Goalkeepers have been the stars of the round of 16, what with Hugo Lloris, Manuel Neuer and Diego Benaglio putting in standout performances for France, Germany and Switzerland, respectively.
USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann applauded the Everton No. 1 after the game, as David Kent of the Daily Mail reported:
What Tim played tonight was just phenomenal, outstanding. He kept us in that game for a long time. We are proud to have him with us.
It was an absolutely amazing match tonight and you can give him the biggest compliment in the world.
It was Howard’s turn in Tuesday's second match, and the United States international stood on his head—making more saves than any other goalkeeper in a single match at this World Cup—until Kevin De Bruyne finally beat him with a well-placed shot to the far corner.
Loser: Matt Besler, Who Was Responsible for Both Belgium Goals
Overall, Matt Besler had a very good World Cup. He was the only United States centre-back to play in each of his side’s four matches, and even in the group-stage defeat to Germany, he was a reliable keeper of the gate.
But on Tuesday, a pair of mistakes cost his team a berth in the quarter-finals.
First, he was beaten by Romelu Lukaku in the buildup to Kevin De Bruyne’s opener—his failed push on the striker only putting himself off balance.
Then, with only seconds remaining in the first period of extra time, he was again rounded by Lukaku, who scampered in to score the winner for Belgium.