The FIFA World Cup 2014 has moved into the quarter-final stage, pitting the eight best teams in the tournament against one another as the ultimate prize—world domination—looms ever closer.
Here we take a look at the first tie on offer on Saturday: Argentina vs. Belgium.
Argentina have limped into the quarter-finals clinging to the coattails of Lionel Messi. He's their greatest strength, winning them four games near-single-handedly, but also their greatest vice: They rely on him far too much.
Angel Di Maria stepped up in the 118th minute to see off a stubborn Switzerland outfit after losing the ball 51 times, per BBC Sport's live broadcast, and things have to improve quickly.
The only selection dilemmas of note are whether Alejandro Sabella trusts Jose Maria Basanta from the start in place of the suspended Marcos Rojo, and whether Maxi Rodriguez comes in for the previously ineffectual Ezequiel Lavezzi.
It'll be a 4-3-3/4-3-1-2 again with Messi freed up for creativity, but it'd be nice if Gonzalo Higuain showed up.
For Belgium, read Argentina: A slow, cumbersome route to the quarter-finals, but is it truly possible to sniff at four wins in a row?
The Red Devils haven't had a man to rely on solely as yet with Romelu Lukaku underwhelming and Eden Hazard only impressing in spurts, but Divock Origi's impressive cameos appear to have coaxed the best out of Belgium's forward-thinking playing.
"We'd never played so badly than in our first three matches," coach Marc Wilmots told FIFA.com ahead of the game. "It was a disaster, but somehow we managed to get through."
While Argentina continue to underwhelm in search of their feet, it genuinely feels as though Belgium are moving through the gears. They're the clear form side of the tie, and that should translate into the early play.
2 Tactical Clashes
1. Belgium in Space
Belgium faced three successive low blocks during the group stage, restricting their movement and forcing them to think outside the box in terms of winning substitutions.
But the USA gave them space to operate, and Argentina, via their inherent attacking tendencies through Di Maria, Messi and Co., will also open the pitch out.
The Red Devils may have flattered to deceive so far, but whenever the slightest portion of space has opened up, they've utilised it superbly. There's a chance this game is end-to-end, and Belgium have more in-form difference-makers in the final third than Argentina do.
2. Clogging the Zones
If there's one performance in the World Cup so far that Belgium should be analysing frame by frame, it's Iran's defiant showing against Argentina in the groups.
Carlos Queiroz's defensive strategy, while very negative, was just the sort of thing required to halt La Albiceleste for 90-plus minutes.
In the end, a wonder strike from Messi beat the Persian Stars, but put Thibaut Courtois behind that defence and there's a very good chance you emerge with a clean sheet.
Andranik Teymourian, Mehrdad Pooladi and Co. showed us how to defend against Messi; Belgium have all the components to replicate the strategy but finish the job.
Bleacher Report will do a tactical preview and review of every single 2014 FIFA World Cup game. Stay tuned to this link and check it every day for more.
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