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QUICK PREVIEWS: Argentina vs. Switzerland / Belgium vs. United States
Argentina vs. Switzerland—Noon (ESPN):
The teams last met in a friendly in February of 2012 in Europe when Argentina won 3–1 behind Lionel Messi’s hat trick. . . . Argentina hit its stride offensively in its last group game, outshooting Nigeria 13–7, but its defense was exposed a bit by the Nigerians’ speedy forwards and counterattacks. Messi went for a brace for La Albiceleste and Marcos Rojo netted the game-winner in the 50th minute. Pablo Zabaleta will have to get the defense tightened back up in from of goalie Sergio Romero, who has had a solid tournament. If they don’t tighten it up, Switzerland could give them trouble with their solid midfield. Xherdan Shaqiri exploded for three goals in Switzerland’s final group game against Honduras. If they fall behind, it may be hard for them to chase the game in the heat of the day. Argentina will be without Sergio Aguero, who suffered a left leg injury against Nigeria and is out.
Prediction: Argentina 3–1
Belgium vs. United States—4 p.m. (ESPN):
The teams last met in a friendly in Cleveland in May 2013, with Belgium winning 4–2. . . . Imagine what the Belgians could be like if they put in a solid effort for a full game instead of just when they feel like it; they have scored all four of their World Cup goals in the final 20 minutes of games. Three have been by substitutes; Jan Vertonghen’s 78th-minute tally against South Korea was the only one by a starter. Belgium’s Eden Hazard is always a threat on the wing, as is Dries Mertens in the midfield. They have an experienced goalie in Thibaut Courtois behind a defense that has allowed just one goal, a penalty kick against Algeria. The defense should be a test for the United States, even if captain Vincent Kompany can’t play. Jozy Altidore will be available to play for the U.S. Clint Dempsey has been dangerous around the goal with his guile and shiftiness. The defense has actually been pretty solid when it doesn’t lose focus. Michael Bradley played better against the Germans, but is still struggling to possess the ball at times. As usual, Tim Howard will most likely be a key figure against the Red Devils’ potentially potent offense. . . . This game may turn on which team scores first. Prediction: United States, 2-1