prepare for Messi test, U.S. face Belgium
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[July 01, 2014]
By Peter Rutherford
SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Lionel Messi has
been the key to Argentina's perfect start at the World Cup, scoring four
of their six goals in three straight group wins, and the South Americans
hope his blistering form continues when they face Switzerland in the
last 16 on Tuesday.
Also battling for a place in the quarter-finals are the United
States and Belgium, who arrived as one of the favorites to lift the
trophy but have not yet fired on all cylinders.
Although Argentina have yet to reach the heights many expected of
them in Brazil, Messi has been on a different planet, electrifying
crowds and banishing memories of the goal drought he endured in
South Africa four years ago.
Fellow forward Sergio Aguero is a major doubt after picking up an
injury against Nigeria in their final group game, however, and
should he miss out manager Alejandro Sabella may opt for the
versatile Ezequiel Lavezzi.
Sabella, though, was playing his cards close to his chest on the eve
of the match in Sao Paulo.
"In case Lavezzi plays he can play in two different positions," he
told reporters. "But I am telling you, the line-up is not decided
Switzerland hope Xherdan Shaqiri, dubbed the 'Alpine Messi' for his
impish skills, will provide the key to beating Argentina for the
The bustling little forward has been in top form for the Swiss,
stealing the show with a hat-trick in a 3-0 win over Honduras that
sealed their spot in the last 16.
"The midfield will feed him, and he plays really well up front,"
captain Gokhan Inler said of Shaqiri. "The good thing is he cannot
be figured out that easily. We need to have him free."
In Salvador, the United States will look to sprint out of the blocks
to unsettle slow-starting Belgium.
The Belgians ground out group wins over Algeria, Russia and South
Korea but were far from impressive, failing to score in any of those
games until the last 20 minutes.
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Defender Thomas Vermaelen has not recovered from a hamstring injury
and will miss the game while captain Vincent Kompany will undergo a
late fitness test.
But coach Marc Wilmots expects playmaker Eden Hazard, another one
who has yet to hit full stride, to have a big influence on the game.
"I’m sure that we’ll see a massive Hazard performance tomorrow which
could prove decisive," he added.
After muscling out Portugal and Ghana for second spot behind Germany
in Group G, the United States have grown in confidence and plan to
go on the offensive.
"We have no fear at all," U.S. coach Juergen Klinsmann said on
Monday. "We feel fresh, we have recovered well after every game so
far. We feel we have just started this adventure."
Klinsmann will be able to call on forward Jozy Altidore, who has
recovered from a hamstring injury picked up in their group opener.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)
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