World Cup 2014: Can Belgium and Costa Rica surprise the giants?


Messi (left) and Eden Hazard will be looking to lead their respective side to the semifinals - AFP

GERMANY got their tactics right on Saturday morning when they beat France 1-0 at Maracana Stadium to qualify for the semi-finals and home nation Brazil have to thank David Luiz and Thiago Silva who scored the goals to beat Colombia 2-1 in Fortaleza.

On Sunday, Lionel Messi’s Argentina will play European underdogs Belgium in the third quarterfinal match at the Estadio Brasilia in Brasilia while Costa Rica will look to continue the Concacaf challenge at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador though they face strong opposition in the form of Netherlands.

Here is my assessment of how the four teams will fare in their respective matches:

Argentina vs Belgium

Both sides are unbeaten and this match will decide who advance to the semis.

Argentina’s head coach Alejandro Sabella has said that his team are more than Lionel Messi and they have other players who can turn up. To my eyes, however, Messi has been the difference for Argentina.

Four goals in four games so far and the man is living up to his reputation as one of the world’s best players. But he shouldn’t be the only one doing the job.

The likes of Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain and  Ezequiel Lavezzi have had a quiet tournament so far. Fernando Gago and Javier Mascherano are organised but they don’t offer any flair. Thus, the three forwards will need to be more potent in the final third.

I know it’s the knockout stages but sometimes risk is something one has to take. Sabella should be more enterprising and utilise his attackers. Mobility and a quick tempo is something that will catch the Belgians off guard.

Marc Wilmots side, on the other hand, were dominant against the United States in their last game and many players may have tired legs going into this match. But professionals have ways of bouncing back.

Beligium have flair and determination but against Argentina, they will have to tread with caution.

Wilmots may have to change tactics.

Play Moussa Dembele and Romelu Lukaku and you will get grace, poise and power and that may catch the Argentineans off guard. Tactics are key and both managers know that.

I’m looking forward to an entertaining match but considering that it’s the knockout stages, both sides may be extra cautious.

I’m going for a 2-1 win for Argentina.

Costa Rica vs Netherlands

Will Costa Rica become the first Concacaf side in history to qualify for the World Cup semi-finals? Well, it may be tough for them but Jorge Luis Pinto certainly has some tricks up in his sleeves.

Los Rojiblancos’ performance in Brazil will surely be one of the main stories of this tournament. Shocking Uruguay, Italy and drawing against England in the group stages, the side captained by Bryan Ruiz have garnered so many new fans thanks to their performances.

And even though they were down to 10 men, their resilience and determination helped them beat the Greeks in their Round of 16 encounter. But can they do so against the stylish Dutch?

Ruiz, Joel Campbell, Cristian Bolanos and goalkeeper Keylor Navas will be the key players for this match. The loss of Oscar Duarte may affect the midfield but the team’s pressing game will continue without him.

Whether it’s his half-time team talks or cooling break motivation speeches, Louis van Gaal is one of the best tacticians in the world. He brings out the best in his players and with a new look defence, Netherlands have defied the odds to make it to the quarter-finals.

Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder will be the key attacking players for the Oranje and you can expect them to run riot against the Costa Ricans.

The loss of Nigel De Jong will surely affect the balance in midfield but I’m expecting van Gaal to weave his magic and play Bruno Martins Indi or Jordy Clasie in Jong’s position.

He might also play two men upfront for this match with Persie partnering Klaas Jan Huntelaar. It will be interesting to see his tactics for this game.

Cinderella story to continue? I don’t think so. Expect Netherlands to nick this match 3-2.

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