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Argentina look to celebrate yet again after the final whistle - a date with the US or Belgium is on the horizon

Messi inspired Argentina clash with an unheralded Switzerland

Few, if any, have shone brightest this World Cup that Lionel Messi.  Despite all it’s firepower with the weapons that are Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Ezequiel Lavezzi, Messi has literally dragged his nation through the muck and filth of the group stage in each and every match.  Whether it was his crucial strike against Bosnia that insured all the points, his stoppage-time blockbuster against Iran, or his brilliant brace against Nigeria, Argentina could have well been on a bus back south to Buenos Aires if it wasn’t for their talisman.

Lionel Messi has finally given the performances at a major tournament that have been befitting of Maradona and the number 10 shirt.

Lionel Messi has finally given the performances at a major tournament that have been befitting of Maradona and the number 10 shirt.

Simply put, Argentina must improve by leaps and bounds if they are to keep their hopes alive of reaching the final on South American soil.  To do so, they’ll have to negotiate a very tricky match against a Switzerland side who, apart from being mauled by France, have been rather good on the whole.

 

If you look at the group stage, you’ll naturally be drawn to the fact that those famous creators of delicious chocolate, beautiful watches and a THAT knife (that isn’t even standard issue in their army) surrendered 6 goals in the group stage – five of those were against a France team that have a very real chance of making a run to the final.  But more impressive, was their seven goals and the play of the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri, Granit Xhaka and Gokhan Inler.

Xherdan Shaqiri (in red) has been immense for Switzerland, capping off the group stage with a historic hat-trick for his country.

Xherdan Shaqiri (in red) has been immense for Switzerland, capping off the group stage with a historic hat-trick for his country.

Argentina have Messi, but Switzerland are not a team of superstars, but a team of good players who have finally meshed together – it’s the classic showdown in sports.  Can Messi continue to carry his nation? Will Argentina improve? Will Switzerland send them crashing home far too early? We’re about to find out.

Projected Starting XI’s

Argentina: Romero; Rojo, Fernandez, Garay, Zabaleta; Mascherano, Gago; Di Maria; Lavezzi, Higuain, Messi

Switzerland: Benaglio; Rodriguez, Schar, Djourou, Lichtsteiner; Inler, Behrami; Memedi, Xhaka, Shaqiri; Drmic

Marcos Rojo (center) has been a revelation for Argentina. He's been brilliant going forward, but he'll be tasked with marking Shaqiri, which is a far more important goal.

Marcos Rojo (center) has been a revelation for Argentina. He’s been brilliant going forward, but he’ll be tasked with marking Shaqiri out of the match, which is a far more important goal to accomplish

Key’s for Argentina:

- STOP RELYING ON MESSI! Given the abundance of talent that is on offer in their preferred XI, the fact that Argentina had to be put on the back of their talisman for the duration of the group stage has been slightly ridiculous.  Neymar has done much the same for Brazil, which is why many don’t fancy them to win the tournament, or even make it tot he final.  Argentina must improve on the whole.

- Make sure to not allow space behind the defense for Shaqiri to find.  His hat-trick against Honduras in the last match of the group stage was no fluke – he’s been very good all tournament, but now he’s found his scoring boots.  Rojo has been quite good at left-back and does love to get forward, but that would suit Shaqiri far too well.

- Keeping Xhaka under lock and key.  Shaqiri has been very good, but so has Xhaka.  He can pull strings from both deeper areas and further up the pitch just behind the striker – he’s one of those quiet creative types that can kill you without you recognizing it.  As such, Mascherano must keep tabs on him all match.

Key’s for Switzerland:

- They must, must, must improve at the back.  The warning signs were there against France in the way Djourou and Senderos were exposed.  Ottmar Hitzfeld finally turned to Schar against Honduras, and he was excellent, so that’s a start.  Even if Argentina have struggled, Messi has not, and any mistakes at the back could be ruthlessly exploited by him.

- Drmic must find his scoring touch.  He came into the tournament with rave reviews via his domestic performances for FC Nurnberg which landed him a big move to Bayer Leverkusen, but he is still without a goal in Brazil this summer.  There is no better time than now for him to have his breakout performance of the tournament and bag a goal or two.

- Collectively must find a way to somehow shut down Messi, even if they have to turn to black magic to do so.  It’s going to take a team effort, but whenever Messi is on the ball, he must be closed down.  If you give him time, space and keep backing off of him, goals like the one against Iran will be the result.

Key Battles:

- Messi v the Swiss defense – Because, well…you know, yeah…pretty self explanatory.

- Drmic v Garay – Drmic has been misfiring and desperately needs a goal, while Garay has been a breath of fresh air for Argentina at the back.  Capable of shutting down anyone, if he gets the better of Drmic as well, that’s one less threat from Switzerland – Drmic must improve and find his form to give him a moment of pause.

- Di Maria v Behrami – When Messi is not on the ball, chances are that Di Maria is.  He’s been deployed more and more as a proper midfielder, but he still prefers to drift to the left, take players on and try to find space to either provide service or have a sniff at goal himself.  Behami is a terrier, so he must find a way to frustrate Di Maria all match long and keep him away from creative areas.

Ezequiel Garay and Federico Fernandez (left to right) will be hoping to lead the celebrations for Argentina as they hope to storm into the quarterfinals

Ezequiel Garay and Federico Fernandez (left to right) will be hoping to lead the celebrations for Argentina as they hope to storm into the quarterfinals

Match Prediction:

We have seen so many individual performances lift teams up in the knockout stage already, haven’t we?  James Rodriguez for Colombia, Arjen Robben for the Netherlands, Toni Kroos for Germany and Mathieu Valbuena for France – it would be foolish to think that we will not see the same again from Messi.  Already widely thought to be the player of the tournament thus far (thought Robben and Rodriguez will have a say on the matter), Messi has finally produced the form for his country under Sabella that so many were waiting so long to see – those performances will continue today.  Switzerland will battle for 90 minutes and leave it all on the pitch surely, but in truth, there really is no stopping Messi when he gets going and unfortunately for the Swiss, the Messi train reached full momentum in the group stage.  2-1 Argentina.

Tags: 2014 World Cup Argentina Preview And Prediction Soccer Switzerland

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