Thirty-two teams began World Cup 2014 with lofty dreams of lifting the famous trophy in Brazil come July 13. Now, though, just four will remain after Day 24's action as the last semi-final berths are decided.
Germany and Brazil booked their respective places in the last four on Day 23, thanks to narrow victories against France and Colombia, respectively, and it's now up to Argentina, Belgium, Netherlands and Costa Rica to attempt to follow suit.
We've seen some quite remarkable matches and stories unfold in this year's tournament, and with the climax now within sight, let's hope that the drama continues.
|Matchups||Home Win Odds||Draw Odds||Away Win Odds||Prediction|
|Argentina vs. Begium||57-50||23-10||3-1||1-0|
|Netherlands vs. Costa Rica||53/100||321-100||165-25||2-0|
Argentina vs. Belgium
Kicking Day 24 off are two sides that have been heavily backed to go all the way in Brazil. Argentina and Belgium haven't quite got going between them, though, and they both require a big step up in Brasilia.
However, one man who just needs to keep doing what he's been doing is Lionel Messi, who's been his usual, sensational self in Brazil.
With four goals and an assist, Messi has proved to be the difference in all of Argentina's fixtures so far and has finally taken his club form to the international stage—impressing former England striker Gary Lineker in the process:
I can't think of another man that excites me quite as much as Messi does.— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) June 25, 2014
The Barcelona star is bound to be the difference in the Brazilian capital once again, but Belgium defender Jan Vertonghen believes that his side can handle the threat of the 27-year-old—reported by FIFA.com:
"I think Messi has been outstanding so far in this tournament. He has been their main man. But if we defend like we did in our previous matches we will stop him, (Sergio) Aguero, (Angel) Di Maria and (Gonzalo) Higuain. I'm convinced of that."
The Belgians have kept three clean sheets in normal time in their four World Cup matches so far, and one more could see them progress to the semi-finals for just the second time in their history.
However, the task of silencing Messi for the duration is one that borders impossibility, and the maestro may once again have the last laugh for Argentina.
It's bound to be another tight match that could go either way, but with Messi firing on all cylinders, the Argentinians have a slender advantage.
Prediction: Argentina 1-0 Belgium
Netherlands vs. Costa Rica
The next stop on Costa Rica's remarkable journey is Salvador, where the Central Americans take on Netherlands for a place in the last four.
Jorge Luis Pinto's side have come into every World Cup match as underdogs, but they've risen to the occasion and are now just 90 minutes away from the semi-finals.
No one expected the Costa Ricans to perform so admirably, least of all Queens Park Rangers midfielder Joey Barton, who found them taking the lead against Uruguay in their opening match rather humorous:
WOW. Costa Rica lead...😆😆😆— Joseph Barton (@Joey7Barton) June 14, 2014
There's nothing funny about the way that they've played, though, and the Netherlands will need to make sure they don't underestimate their opponents on Day 24.
Though Costa Rica have already made history by reaching the last eight, star man Bryan Ruiz says that his nation is hungry for more—per FIFA.com:
"Maybe in a few months this will all sink in, but for right now we're just trying to enjoy what we're living. We have nothing to lose. We've come so far and done so much, but we want more. We want to continue on and see how far this can go."
Continuing their dream run will take a monumental effort against the Dutch, though, who are looking to reach back-to-back finals.
The Netherlands' group-stage performances were nothing short of superb, disposing of Spain, Australia and Chile with minimal fuss to top Group B.
However, they needed to perform a minor miracle in the round of 16 against Mexico, coming from 1-0 down with just two minutes of normal time remaining to win 2-1.
Their courage and heart has been clear for all to see, and with star man Arjen Robben in the international form of his life, the semi-finals could await for the Dutch.
Vastly superior in terms of personnel, the Netherlands just need to get their tactics right to triumph over Costa Rica, and with Louis van Gaal at the helm, that's a near certainty.
Prediction: Netherlands 2-0 Costa Rica