Two more tickets to the 2014 World Cup semi-finals will be at stake on Saturday, as the Netherlands, Argentina, Belgium and Costa Rica take to the Brazilian pitches looking to keep their tournament bids alive.
The Albiceleste were amongst the heavy favourites going into the tournament, but they'll face a big challenge from a young, hungry Belgian team looking to make a statement. Meanwhile, the Dutch team will go up against the ultimate underdogs in Costa Rica, who already impressed against top teams such as Italy and Uruguay.
All four teams are unbeaten going into the quarter-finals—only two will keep that streak alive. Saturday's slate of fixtures promises a lot of drama, and with the chances of an upset being very high, fans can't afford to miss a minute of the action.
|Time (BST)||Time (ET)||Match||TV Info||Live Stream|
|5 p.m.||12 p.m.||Argentina vs. Belgium||ABC/ITV||WatchESPN/ITV Player|
|9 p.m.||4 p.m.||Netherlands vs. Costa Rica||ESPN/BBC1||WatchESPN/BBC iPlayer|
Argentina vs. Belgium
The Albiceleste are favourites going into this match—but not by much. The team has relied too heavily on the genius of Lionel Messi, as his offensive teammates have failed to make much of an impact during the tournament so far.
Via the Independent's Ian Herbert, the Argentine players themselves admitted to being a one-man-team. As Pablo Zabaleta told reporters:
We know he is our main player, our captain, the best player in the world. This team is playing for him as we know how important Messi is for this team. Every time we recover the ball we try to pass to him as he is the best player we have in the team and he will score goals.
Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is a good thing, and this Argentina squad has its weaknesses. Defensively, the Albiceleste have failed to impress, and they'll have the chance to prove their doubters wrong against one of the tournament's most creative attacking units.
Via FIFA's official stats page, Belgium rank as the top attacking team in the entire tournament. They pepper the goal with shots, share the ball quite well and don't rely on one player to finish chances. In fact, every single one of their goals has been scored by a different player.
But like Argentina, the Red Devils have so far lacked efficiency in front of goal, needing too many chances to convert in their round-of-16 match against the USA.
Belgium have the more balanced starting XI, and they look a lot stronger defensively. Their main stars have so far failed to live up to their expectations, and at this stage of the competition, matches are often decided by a single flash of brilliance.
Containing Messi is nearly impossible, and Belgium don't have the experience some of the other teams playing in the quarter-finals do. This match could go a lot of ways, but unless Eden Hazard finally shifts gear, Argentina have the edge.
Prediction: Argentina 1-0 Belgium
Netherlands vs. Costa Rica
David vs. Goliath? Think again. While the Dutch may have the edge in individual talent, this match has all the makings of a tactical battle between Louis van Gaal and Luis Pinto, and the people involved know it.
Via the London Evening Standard's Mike Corder, Arjen Robben said as much before the match:
Costa Rica has a very good team. I think before not a lot of people would have expected them to go through to the next round but I think they are a very strong team and it's going to be another very difficult game for us where we have to give everything to go through to the semi-finals.
Van Gaal switched his formation to a 5-3-2 ahead of the tournament to work around the loss of Kevin Strootman, and with Nigel de Jong missing the rest of the tournament with an injury (per his own Twitter account), the Dutch manager will once again have to make alterations:
Devastated with the news about my injury. Sadly enough this is part of the sport as well. Will work hard on my recovery now and keep hope 👊— Nigel de Jong (@NDJ_Official) July 1, 2014
Similarly, Costa Rica will be without defender Oscar Duarte, who was given his marching orders against Greece. Roy Miller also won't be available, so the most likely replacement in the heart of the defence will be Johnny Acosta.
This does not bode well for the Central Americans. Acosta isn't a bad player by any means, but he's nowhere near as accomplished as Duarte is. Against a Dutch team relying on pace moving forward, the 30-year-old could be a liability.
But without De Jong, the centre of the pitch suddenly looks like it will be wide open for Costa Rica's playmakers. Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz like to have free reign over the pitch—against the Netherlands, they'll have just that.
Via OptaJohan, De Jong's loss could be devastating for the team's chances:
6 - The Netherlands won all their six games in 2014 with Nigel de Jong, while failing to win the two games without him (D1, L1). Blow.— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) July 1, 2014
Much will depend on what Pinto and his men decide to do. Do they give the ball to the Netherlands and let them control the play, or do they continue attacking and exploiting the spaces, knowing they might not be able to deal with the counter-attacks?
Prediction: Netherlands 2-1 Costa Rica