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World Cup: Knockout Stages Day 4

Argentina and Switzerland should be a gripping prelude to the game everyone in the US will be lining up to see.

Romelu Lukaku must relish the thought of going up against the US back line.
Romelu Lukaku must relish the thought of going up against the US back line.
Quinn Rooney

Yesterday the mighty very nearly fell. For 75 minutes, Nigeria gave the French all they could handle as Victor Moses and Peter Odemwingie tore into the back four with a vengeance. The French coach eventually eralized that he still had Olivier Giroud on the pitch though, and Les Bleus (who were in white) grabbed the two late goals that would put them into the quarterfinals. Their opponent there was very nearly their former province of Algeria. The Fennec Foxes actually briefly led Germany before their shock goal was, correctly, ruled out for offside. Unlike the French, the Germans never rallied in regular time, needing 30 extra minutes and a lot of running from Andre Schurrle to finally salt away the win. Kind of. Algeria scored what looked to be a consolation goal in the 121st minute and then somehow scraped together another chance that very nearly sent the game into penalties.

Argentina v. Switzerland, Noon kickoff

Argentina advanced out of group where Bosnia figured to be the biggest competition and Nigeria and Iran figured to be nothing more than bumps in the road. Instead, it took a great goals from Lionel Messi late in two of the games to end up putting away the points. Not convincing on the attack or at the back, the Argentines don't exactly look unstoppable right now. Their opponents, Switzerland, won their first game over Ecuador with the very final kick of the ball, got buried by France, and the pounded a hapless Honduran squad behind a Xherdan Shaqiri hat trick.

Knockout games are, by their very nature, more cagey than the group stages games. Managers are less likely to take the chance that will lead to their team surrendering a possibly eliminating goal. That leaves more room for moments of individual magic. That would seem to tip the scales here toward the team that has Lionel Messi, but Shaqiri is a tiny little powerhouse of a player in his own right. The Swiss are a bit more solid at the back, where Argentina pack more of punch going forward if Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero get in the act.

Belgium v. USA, 4pm kickoff

The Belgians were never dominant, but they swept through their group with all nine points and only one goal allowed. The US got here by virtue of a win over Ghana, a draw against Portugal, and a loss to a German team that was playing at a jog from which they haven't shifted back out.

Striker Jozy Altidore is available for the US this game, but it's hard to see what exactly he adds to this side. His hold up play is arguably better than Clint Dempsey's, but his movement and nose for goal are, frankly, abysmal. I'd expect Dempsey to start up top and Klinsmann to go pragmatic with a 4-5-1 lineup against the Belgians. What will be interesting to see is when University of Akron (Fear the Roo!) product DeAndre Yedlin enters the game. Yedlin has seen more time in each contest as the World Cup has gone on and offers a bit of punch on the counter should the US be chasing the game.

For Blegium, it's all about injuries. The Rote Teufel could be missing both of their starting center halves with Thomas Vermalaen and Vincent Kompany are both battling to be fit. That could give Dempsey the litle bit of room he needs. Of course, this team beat the US 4-2 in a friendly in Cleveland and still features a wealth of attacking talent, most notably one of the best attacking mids in the world in Eden Hazard. If they get clicking up front, they'll rip holes in the US defense. This game will be tightly poised, but talent tends to tell in these situations, and the Beligans are loaded with it.