From Ground Zero: Argentina, Belgium enter last eight after tough battles

Zee Media Bureau/Shobhan Saxena from Rio de Janeiro

It was very hard for Germany. It was very painful to Brazil. The Netherlands almost lost their game. Why would it be easy for Argentina? On Tuesday, Switzerland pushed Argentine to the boundary of despair – until 12th minute of the second half of extra time, when their goalless game became 1-0 in the favour of South Americans.

The genius of Lionel Messi created an opportunity for Di María and he put the team in the quarterfinals of the World Cup. Now, they will face Belgium, who eliminated the US after winning by 2-1, also in extra time.

Even the Swiss, not given to outburst of emotions, collapsed on the field in tears after the final whistle. Argentina spent 117 minutes trying to find a way to enter the area of Switzerland, but they failed. In the first half, Messi, always well marked, failed. Lavezzi started on the right, then moved to the left. He did everything to pull the trigger, but he failed to find the target.

Switzerland had a clear game plan. They had prepared their defense well and it was their plan to release Shaqiri in counter attacks. It could have worked very well before halftime. But the few moves that they made, the Swill failed to disturb the Argentinian goalkeeper.

The South Americans totally dominated the second half for one main reason: Messi began to find space to play his natural game. In that sense, it looked like the Brazilian team, which too depends on their number 10 striker to take the ball to the opposition area.

Messi created moves and he could have decided the game in normal time. But what made his work difficult was the lack of creativity in Argentinian midfield. In the extra time, Argentina looked tired. Switzerland too didn’t make many attacks. Only Di Maria had some breath to run across the pitch. Like a man possessed, he ran from one side to the other without stopping, as if waiting for the reward.

The goal was a result of Messi's individual brilliance with three minutes remaining and the shot found the target. The Argentine supporters exploded with joy at the Sao Paulo stadium.

But it was not the end. For the Swiss, Dzemaili almost scored in the last minute of the game when his header struck the post and his flick on the rebound was not on the target.

Messi and Di María celebrated with a hug when the match ended. After all suffering and the pain, Argentina are in the quarterfinals.

In the final game of the pre-quarter-finals of the World Cup. Belgium beat the U.S. by 2-1 in extra time at the Fonte Nova in Salvador. Now, the European team will clash with Argentina for a spot in the semifinals. The Bahian stadium, which saw the best average of goals from the first phase of this World Cup with 5.25 goals per game, witnessed "only" three goals this time. But the game was spectacular.

Belgium played well, created numerous chances, but they were stopped by the best player on the field, the American goalkeeper Tim Howard, who began his series of defenses in the first minute.

The first goal came three minutes into extra time after Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku pushed past Matt Besler along the right touchline, raced into the penalty area alone and sent the ball forward for Kevin De Bruyne, who spun away from two defenders and rolled the ball into the far corner. And with the U.S. pushing hard for the tying goal, Lukaku, who didn’t come off the bench until the 91st minute, added what appeared to be an insurance goal on a counter-attack, near the end of the first 15-minute overtime.

That goal proved to be important, though, when U.S. teenager Julian Green beat Belgium’s all-world goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois on a right-footed volley just seconds after stepping on to a World Cup field for the first time. The only other goal Courtois has allowed in Brazil, came on a penalty kick in Belgium’s first game.

Saddled with the worst attack in this World Cup, U.S. Coach Juergen Klinsmann made several changes to a line-up that lost the possession battle in all three of its group-play games, getting outshot 2 to 1.

The U.S. caught a couple of huge breaks early in the second half when Belgium’s Divock Origi stepped over a perfect pass at the far post, giving up what would have been an easy tap-in for the goal. Less than two minutes later, Origi bounced a header off the crossbar.

And those were just two of the seven shots Belgium had in the first 10 minutes after the break. This was Belgium time – all six of the team’s goals in this World Cup had come after the 70th minute and they were clearly beginning to find their range.

After being down 1-2, the Americans pressured to come back into the game but they ended up being eliminated. In the quarterfinals, there are four teams from Europe and another four from the Americas.

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