Swiss banking on ‘Alpine Messi’ to upset Argentina
By Mike Collett-White
Switzerland’s ‘Alpine Messi’ Xherdan Shaqiri, hot from a hat-trick against Honduras in his last game, meets the real Messi on Tuesday as the Europeans seek a major World Cup upset when they face Argentina in the last 16.
Shaqiri is the same height as Lionel Messi and has a similarly low centre of gravity and, while he has some way to go to match the feats of the prolific Argentina forward, the 22-year-old gives Switzerland a genuine threat up front.
Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano said his team would be keeping a close eye on him.
“The (Swiss) are an orderly team who like to play good football and have top players,” he told Argentina’s TyC Sports TV station. “Shaqiri and (forward Haris) Seferovic are in good form and we’re going to have to be very careful.”
Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld believes that by remaining organised his team could make their first quarter-final appearance since they hosted the finals 60 years ago. The Swiss have never beaten Argentina, drawing two games and losing four.
“We are the clear outsiders but we have nothing to lose and much to gain,” he told the Swiss FA website (www.football.ch).
“We can make history on Tuesday. In one game, anything is possible,” added the German coach, who will step down after the World Cup.
Switzerland are hoping the large Brazilian contingent expected in the crowd at the Corinthians arena in Sao Paulo will be backing them against the hosts’ arch-rivals Argentina.
“I think we will definitely have the support of the Brazilian fans in the stadium,” goalkeeper Diego Benaglio said at the Swiss training camp in Porto Seguro. “You can feel the rivalry between Brazil and Argentina here.”
Benaglio said his side had the added motivation of winning for absent team mates Steve von Bergen, who was injured in the loss to France, and unused striker Mario Gavranovic, who tore his cruciate knee ligament in training on Saturday.
While Argentina’s defence will be hoping to shackle Shaqiri, Switzerland’s back line has an arguably tougher task in shutting out an inspired Messi.
The 27-year-old, whose stuttering international career before this World Cup was the only blip in an otherwise stellar career, has set about putting that right with four goals in Brazil so far.
He also scored his first international hat-trick the last time Argentina and Switzerland met, in a friendly in 2012.
“We are preparing just as we do for any other game. However, it’s clear that it will be difficult to completely take Messi out of the game,” Benaglio said. “You can see so many videos of Messi where he does something surprising at a decisive moment.”
Argentina have relied heavily on their number 10’s talents – he has scored four of the team’s six goals in three narrow wins.
Far from waltzing through the groups stages, none of their victories was comfortable, and only an injury-time winner from Messi ensured three points against lowly Iran.
“Everyone said we were going to win by big scores in the group stage and it’s clear that it was not the case,” said midfielder Maxi Rodriguez.
“Our mentality is always the same, in a World Cup you have to concentrate 100 percent, if not then anyone can beat you.”
Argentina, aiming for their third World Cup title, will be without injured forward Sergio Aguero, with Ezequiel Lavezzi set to take his place in a continued three-man attack also comprising Messi and Gonzalo Higuain.
US plan to attack unbeaten but underwhelming Belgium
By Neil Maidment
The United States’ declaration of their attacking intentions may awaken the more thrill-seeking instincts of unbeaten but so far underwhelming Belgium as they prepare for “war” in Tuesday’s last-16 World Cup clash.
The Belgians came through the group stage with three wins from three against Algeria, Russia and South Korea but failed to hit the heights expected of their exciting, star-studded squad with somewhat lukewarm performances and late shows.
However with talents likes Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku there is time for that to change and the Europeans will be a stiff test for a US side that surprised many by beating off 2010 quarter-finalists Ghana and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal to qualify alongside Germany in Group G.
The American’s mix of organisation and physical fitness has been improved by coach Juergen Klinsmann’s focus on quick passing moves that have sharpened their attacking edge, and it is that high energy mantra that could unsettle Belgium.
“Physically they are very strong. We are preparing for a war,” Belgium coach Marc Wilmots told reporters.
A fast start could be key to the progress of the US who will have noticed that Belgium took until at least the 70th minute to score in all three of their group matches.
“We are going to take it to them,” said Klinsmann, whose players’ families have been told to change flights home until after the World Cup final. “We believe we have enough confidence now going into this game to beat them. We know we have to go to our extremes to make this happen.”
While the Belgians may have stuttered slightly, an unbeaten qualifying campaign extended to their first three World Cup games is enviable and does support their ranking as fifth favourites with bookmakers going into the tournament.
A defence possessing Thibault Courtois in goal and dominant centre half Vincent Kompany have conceded just once in Brazil – a penalty to Algeria – and despite their ‘dark horse’ tag appear unperturbed by a void of anticipated flair in their displays.
“What does it mean to play beautifully?,” Wilmots said.
“Every game is characterised by tactics and physical fitness. What is important in the end is the result, to win the match with whatever style of play.”
The Belgians have won the last four of their five games with the US, including a 4-2 victory in Cleveland in May last year. A solitary win for the US came in the 1930 World Cup.
Having sealed a last 16 spot after two group games, Wilmots fielded a much changed side in Belgium’s final tie with South Korea, meaning there will be many fresh legs for the US clash with the line-up expected to revert to that which faced Russia.
Both Kompany and fellow defender Thomas Vermaelen are expected to play despite recent injuries but Wilmots will definitely be without the suspended Steven Defour, as well as injured duo Laurent Ciman and Anthony Vanden Borre.
For the US striker Jozy Altidore is expected to be on the bench after resuming training following a hamstring injury but Klinsmann is unlikely to tinker too much with his line-up.
Toby Alderweireld, Moussa Dembele, Jan Vertonghen and Axel Witsel are one booking away from suspension for Belgium, while the same threat applies to Omar Gonzalez, Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones for the US
The winner of the clash at Salvador’s Fonte Nova arena will play Argentina or Switzerland in the quarter-finals.