Half of the last four is set, with Germany lining up to face Brazil next Tuesday. The other half will be determined today, as three brilliantly creative sides and Costa Rica battle for the remaining two positions in knockout play. Yesterday's games were both competitive to the very end, and with the amount of quality on the field and what's at stake, I don't expect anything less from today's.
Argentina v. Belgium, 12pm, ESPN2
Argentina has perhaps the best single player remaining in the tournament in Lionel Messi. He is trying to step into the venerated shoes of Diego Maradona, the last superstar to lead Argentina to a World Cup victory. What people forget in the comparison, however, is that Maradona's Argentine side was loaded with talent and, while he scored 5 goals, his teammates had nine. This year, Argentina's opponents have scored only one fewer goals than Messi's teammates, while he outpaces the lot of them with four goals. Argentina isn't Messi and ten others, but it's awfully close.
Belgium, on the other hand, are what a side with a bright future looks like. They're chock full of young and developing talent and - as Tim Howard can attest - more than capable of laying siege to an opponent's goal. The Belgians haven't scored a single goal this tournament fewer than 70 minutes into the game, but they are probably the most talented team Argentina has faced. If they can keep Messi isolated, they may well be headed forward in the tournament.
Kingdom of the Netherlands v. Costa Rica, 4pm, ESPN2
Costa Rica caught everyone by surprise by blitzing Uruguay 3-1 in their opener and have only gotten worse since. They nipped by Italy 1-0, tied England 0-0, and needed penalties to defeat Greece. This also illustrates their strength, however, in that they are a capable and organized defensive force. They are yet to surrender a goal from open play with 11 men on the field, with Uruguay needing a penalty to score and Greece tallying once in an hour of power play soccer after Costa Rica had a man sent off. Keeper Keylor Navas has been sensational for Costa Rica, and they are more than capable of pinching a goal and shutting down most sides.
The Dutch are not most sides. They have an embarrassment of attacking options, as evidenced by the fact that they have the luxury of bringing Klaas-Jan Huntelaar off the bench when they want to change things up. Robin van Persie is a skilled and creative forward, and Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder support him from slightly deeper. Beyond that, Daley Blind, Memphis Depay, Dirk Kuyt, Leroy Fer, and Jeremain Lens leave manager Louis van Gaal spoiled for choice in the attack. The defense doesn't get much attention, but they have been workmanlike in front of Jasper Cillessen in goal.