Day 19 of the 2014 World Cup saw two European powerhouses defeat two valiant African teams to move on to the quarterfinals of the world's greatest testament to the global game.
In the day's first match, a late header from Paul Pogba and a disastrous Nigerian own goal propelled France to the quarterfinals with a well-deserved 2-0 victory.
France dictated the pace of play for the majority of the match but was unable to break through against Super Eagles goalie Victor Enyeama for the most part. Enyeama made a number of strong saves against France, stymieing the fluid attacks set up by Karim Benzema, Mathieu Valbuena and Olivier Giroud.
Ahmed Musa was able to get a couple of shots on France's Hugo Lloris, but the quality opportunities were few and far between.
Pogba eventually notched the winner for Les Bleus with a thumping header in the 79th minute. ESPN FC has the highlight:
Soccer is a cruel sport at times, as France could have easily played part of the match down a man. Blaise Matuidi was lucky to escape with a yellow card in the 54th minute after a dangerous tackle that took Ogenyi Onazi out of the game.
France finalized the 2-0 score line in stoppage time as Valbuena sent a dangerous cross into the box that Joseph Yobo knocked into the back of his own net for a disappointing own goal.
Valbuena, marginally taller than the corner flag, was the biggest star for France on the day. ESPN Stats & Info has the roundup of his incredible performance:
Germany needed brilliant extra-time goals from Andre Schurrle and Mesut Ozil to dispatch Algeria 2-1 and move on to the quarterfinals.
Algeria played bravely and showed a willingness to put men forward in attack, although it was apparent from the beginning that Germany had better options up front. Thomas Mueller was a constant threat, while Mesut Ozil and Bastian Schweinsteiger did well to play dangerous balls into the box.
German keeper Manuel Neuer looked more like a gloved sweeper than regular keeper at times, as per ESPN Stats & Info:
He saved the disorganized German defense on multiple occasions with his daring ventures outside of the box.
Germany got the majority of the quality chances on the day, but the players either sent their shots wide or Algerian goalie Rais M'Bolhi would come up with a brilliant save. He denied the likes of Mueller and Schweinsteiger time and time again. Bleacher Report UK has the highlight of one of his better efforts:
Ninety minutes of soccer came and went, and still the scoreline read 0-0. Algeria was playing out of its mind and looked like it could bring this match to penalty kicks, but Germany had other ideas.
Schurrle, who came on at halftime for Mario Goetze, got on the end of a low cross and used a brilliant backheel move to bounce the ball past M'Bolhi in the 92nd minute and give Die Mannschaft the 1-0 advantage.
Ozil added another goal on a brilliant counterattack to give Germany a 2-0 advantage, which turned out to be vital, as an ultra-late goal from Abdelmoumene Djabou gave Algeria a brief glimmer of hope at the death. Algeria managed to get one chance before the final whistle, but Neuer made a calm save to ensure his team went through to the next round.
Here is the updated schedule for the round of 16 as well as predictions for the remaining games on the slate before the quarterfinals.
|2014 World Cup Updated Round of 16 Schedule|
|July 1||Argentina vs. Switzerland||12 p.m.||ESPN||ARG 2-1 SUI|
|July 1||Belgium vs. United States||4 p.m.||ESPN||USA 2-2 BEL (USA wins 4-3 on penalties)|
An interactive bracket can be found at FIFA.com.
Day 20 Predictions
Argentina vs. Switzerland
Lionel Messi—big surprise here—has been the main source of inspiration for Argentina in this tournament. He's done well to silence those who believe he doesn't play well for his homeland, scoring four goals in three games.
Argentina should have a more dynamic attacking side, but coach Alejandro Sabella hasn't been able to get the best out of Gonzalo Higuain or Angel di Maria in this tournament.
This could cause problems for Argentina, as the normally defensive-oriented Swiss have proven to be rather adept in attack. Switzerland scored seven goals in the group stages, three of those via a hat trick from the blossoming Xherdan Shaqiri against Honduras.
Sabella has been forced to utilize midfielders Javier Mascherano and Fernando Gago as extra cover for his shaky back line; Switzerland's best defense in this one could be a strong offense.
Argentina will also be without Sergio Aguero on Tuesday, so Ezequiel Lavezzi will likely step in for the injured striker. Assistant coach Claudio Gugnali believes Lavezzi will come through in the big moment.
"He finished his club season very well. He has been asking to be on the pitch since he came (to Brazil). I don't have any doubts that he will know how to take advantage of his opportunities," said Gugnali, via Frank Griffiths of The Sydney Morning Herald.
Argentina will find Switzerland a worthy opponent, but the brilliance of Messi should be enough to ensure the South Americans move on to the next round.
Prediction: Argentina 2-1 Switzerland
United States vs. Belgium
The United States has received a huge boost ahead of its match against Belgium. U.S. Soccer has the official news:
The return of Jozy Altidore gives coach Jurgen Klinsmann the full flexibility he needs against a top side such as Belgium. It is probably too much of a risk to start Altidore, but his holdup play and ability to chase down long balls could be vital if the United States needs a goal late in the match.
Belgium's attacking options were the story coming into the World Cup, with the likes of the dazzling Eden Hazard and powerful Romelu Lukaku set to tear up defenses. Instead, it's been the defensive unit doing the majority of the heavy lifting, as Belgium allowed just a single goal—on a penalty—while scoring just four of its own.
Goalkeeper Tim Howard isn't underestimating the Belgians' wealth of talent. "We need to find a way to bottle up their key players, but they have so many of them. It will be difficult," he said, as per Raf Casert of The Associated Press.
This could give the United States the opportunity it needs, especially if midfield linchpin Michael Bradley can return to his usual excellent form.
Belgium should be able to break down the United States' defense, but Clint Dempsey, Altidore and Jermaine Jones are plenty capable of taking on a suddenly uncertain Belgian defense. This game could go to extra time, and if it does, expect Howard to inspire his team to victory in a penalty shootout.
Prediction: United States 2-2 Belgium (USA wins 4-3 on penalties)