Friday, 4 July 2014

WC 2014: Di Maria redeems himself, Belgium win against spirited USA in a super game

Before the tournament had begun, Argentina were probably not on the list as one of the clear favourites to win the competition - which may come as a surprise given their attacking capabilities with the likes of Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero and Barcelona forward Lionel Messi in their team.

But in the end, their weak spot is their defending, which looks shaky at times under pressure and they can been exploited against the best teams in the world.

They came up against a half-decent opponent in the form of Switzerland, who did their best to close down any space and time on the ball for the Argentinians, who struggled to create any real chances during the whole 90 minutes - despite looking dangerous on the counter attack.

Magical Messi looked good on the ball, as he always does and had flashes of individual brilliance in the Switzerland area, but his unselfishly good passing play resulted in giving his team-mates the fair share of half-chances and goal-scoring opportunities throughout the 90 minutes.

A notable performer in the game though would have to be Real Madrid winger Angel Di Maria, who was unusually poor for his usually high standards on the flank....

His ball retention was inconsistent, his runs ended with no end product and he was either left crashing to the turf as a result of good Swiss pressure or he failed to find a team-mate in space, which is his job out on the wing. 

After the 90 minutes were up, extra time was poised to start - and you could tell that both sides were starting to tire and the heat was taking its toll on the players' concentration, more mistakes were being made and reckless tackles were being commited as both teams were desperate to win and progress to the quarter-finals of the competition.

And then, Argentina found a breakthrough. If you are a defender, and you are playing against Argentina or Barcelona, I am 110% sure that you WILL be told before the match to stay tight to Messi.

Whatever you do, stay on him. Give him an inch, and there is a very good chance that he will either score or create a goal-scoring opportunity. And that's exactly what he did. 

He picked up the ball, 35 yards out from goal. He sped past two oncoming markers before unselfishly squaring the ball onto Di Maria, who cooly slotted the ball into the bottom corner of the net out of Benaglio's reach with a tidy finish to make it 1-0 with minutes of stoppage time remaining!

Slot into the corner: Di Maria broke the deadlock after unselfish play by Messi 
There was a late charge from the Swiss, as the fourth official had signalled for 3 minutes of stoppage time - and despite pressure from Switzerland in the final stages of the match, it was not enough as Argentina scraped past them in the dying moments to set up a quarter-final clash with the winners of the Belgium vs USA match, which was later on that day. 

It was always going to be a tense game in the Last 16, Belgium were under pressure to perform against a spirited USA side who felt that they had a real chance if they played to their strengths - it was the first competitive meeting between the two sides since they played against each other in the first ever World Cup, resulting in a 3-0 USA win. 

Belgium were the favourites going into the game, but after some tense endings to previous matches in the knock-out rounds already, it was pretty clear before kick-off that this had the making of a super match.

And unexpectedly, the match lived up to its hype! The USA were put immediately on the back-foot in the early seconds of the match thanks to the pace and power of young Lille striker Divock Origi, who almost broke the deadlock if it were not for Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard.

The first-half was a tense period for the Americans, they struggled to create any real chances but looked good on the counter attack as the Belgian line was exposed - the likes of Hazard and de Bruyne on the flanks was also effective for Belgium as they began to pressurize their opponents into making a mistake. 

At half-time, the score was 0-0. Both teams had played well, and despite Belgium's early pressure it was a fairly even game for the most part. 

The Belgians knew that they had not exactly played on top-form in the group stage matches but had got the job done, with the majority of their goals coming in the second-half of matches. 

The second-half had come and gone, with the same old story. Both teams trying to attack, Belgium looking dangerous on the counter attack and Tim Howard had to be alert on numerous occasions to deny the oncoming shots from the opposition attack - as Mirallas and de Bruyne both came close.

The last kick of the game in the second-half fell to a USA player, as Jones' flick onto Wondolowski was mis-kicked over the bar - the linesman had flagged for offside, yet it wasn't. 

So if he had scored, it would not have counted. Good that he didn't score then.

Late drama was to follow as extra time was needed to separate the two teams, and it was in-fact Belgium who broke the deadlock thanks to substitute striker Romelu Lukaku who blasted past his markers on the flank to pass the ball into the path of De Bruyne, who could not miss from close range against a top-form goalkeeper in the name of Tim Howard. 

De Bruyne broke the deadlock in the early stages of extra time after a good run from Lukaku
Relief: De Bruyne celebrates, as Belgium finally take the lead. But it wasn't over there..
Romelu Lukaku. The power of a substitution. Lukaku had been unfairly criticized in the past fortnight for lacklustre performances against Algeria and South Korea, but he was not getting any real service from his team-mates and he proved his quality off the bench to help give Belgium the lead.

But Lukaku wasn't done there. He got his first goal of the World Cup with a beast finish after a set-up from De Bruyne on the flank - thanks to a bursting run from the centre circle to powerfully slot into the top corner, out of Howard's reach to make it 2-0 before the stroke of half-time in extra time.

2-0, but it wasn't over yet... Lukaku celebrates his beastly finish with his team-mates.
You would have written USA off after Lukaku's goal right? Well, you would have been wrong. 

Straight after the extra-time restarted, USA pulled one back thanks to young Bayern winger Julian Green who beat Courtois with a half-volley into the net to make it 2-1 and make for a tense finish.

FACT: Julian Green became the youngest American ever to play at the World Cup, and scored two minutes after coming on.

FACT: Based on his age and the majority of playing time he had was in youth-team football, Julian had only played 3 minutes of first-team football for Bayern this past season - and already has a World Cup goal.

The USA kept up the pressure, with arguably one of the best well-worked free-kicks you will ever witness almost resulting in an equaliser.

I'm still struggling for words trying to describe it, have a look here:

As you can see, the well-worked free-kick routine almost came off and Belgium were under pressure to defend. 

And despite a tense late finish from the Americans, Belgium hung on to seal a slender 2-1 victory - which was deserved.

Fair play to the Americans, they proved their doubters wrong and took the game to Belgium. Brave, fierce and not afraid of tough opposition, which will help them in future tournaments.

The support for the sport as a result of their recent performances is sure to have increased in North America, and you have to acknowelgdge a super effort from Jermaine Jones, Clint Dempsey and goalkeeper Tim Howard especially. 

FACT: Howard has broken the record for the most saves in one World Cup match, with 16 saves against Belgium.

My Man Of The Match, he was supreme. Watch all of his saves in the match down below:

Top performers: Messi and Howard were awarded the respective MOTM's in their matches

FINAL VERDICT: Belgium deserved to win, but USA made them go the full distance.

One of the matches that you don't want to end. Best match of the tournament in my opinion, I cannot wait for the quarter-finals to begin.

Here are the quarter-final fixtures to be played: 

France vs Germany - Friday, 5pm
Brazil vs Colombia - Friday, 9pm 
Netherlands vs Costa Rica - Saturday, 5pm
Belgium vs Argentina - Saturday, 9pm

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