Day 2 of the quarterfinals in the 2014 sets up the second semifinal match. We begin with Argentina and Lionel Messi facing Belgium in Brasilia while the late match gives us the Netherlands, favored to beat Costa Rica on the pitch in Salvador.
If there’s one thing we learned from the first two quarterfinal matches is that teams that are able to slightly change their tactics and be flexible usually benefit from it. Argentina have actually tried shifting formations and approaches in this tournament, but the result remains the same: If it wasn’t for Lionel Messi, they’d be in very big trouble.
Belgium put on their first complete performance of the tournament in their 2-1 win over the United States. They also showed annoying wastefulness in front of goal, although that had a lot to do with Tim Howard putting on the performance of a lifetime.
How does this mesh going into this match? Belgium have a slow defense, but they should have no problem marking someone like Gonzalo Higuain, who like Argentina’s other striker, Sergio Aguero (doubtful for the match) are having a terrible tournament. Things might become a bit more problematic if Lionel Messi and Angel di Maria are able to get behind Vertonghen and Alderweireld.
Kevin Origi or Romelu Lukaku, it doesn’t matter. The movement of the Belgian offense opened up the US defense completely and Argentina need to beware of completely being opened up. It makes the job of Javier Mascherano and Fernando Gago more important than before. Belgium, as a team, are probably better, but they don’t have anyone close to Lionel Messi.
The Netherlands playing against Costa Rica is in a different kind of balance. Clear favorite, clear underdog, although quarterfinals usually mean the team that made it that far aren’t exactly minnows making their way so far by mistake.
The Dutch will have a problem because of Nigel de Jong not playing. The Dutch defense isn’t exactly formidable or too experienced, but the veteran defensive midfielder really helped organize the lines. Costa Rica will miss Oscar Duarte, who has been one of their best players so far in the tournament.
Costa Rica didn’t get by in the match against Greece thanks to their counter attacking and getting behind the defense. They haven’t been faced with a player like Arjen Robben until now, who forces the attention of at least two defenders at all times. They’re not going to change their ways: Possession isn’t important, but attacking quickly and getting behind the defense is going to be their attempt, hopeful to score early to clamp down their defense.
Van Gaal might have been the best head coach so far in the tournament, learning from his mistakes in-game and winning the match against Mexico by taking some big gambles. It’s going to take some of that creativity to be the first ones to beat Costa Rica in the tournament.