World Cup Day 20: USA Goes to Battle

United States' Michael Bradley, right, congratulates his teammate Jermaine Jones after qualifying for the next World Cup round following their 1-0 loss to Germany during the Group G World Cup soccer match between the USA and Germany at the Arena Pernambuco in Recife, Brazil on June 26.

What is this wild World Cup?
It's Brazil narrowly taking Chile to a penalty shootout — and even winning that just barely; Colombia running over Uruguay — giving rise to a soccer god in the making named James Rodriguez; and Algeria putting Germany through the 120-minute ringer.
It's Greece taking the tournament dark horse Costa Rica to a penalty shootout in the first round of 16 the coastal nation had ever seen. It's Robben and the Netherlands breaking the hearts of Mexican fans everywhere.

It's drama. It's the World Cup that keeps on giving. On the last day of the round of 16, it has one the of best gifts to give yet: An opportunity to watch Lionel Messi take the pitch again, and Team USA fight in the playoff spot nobody thought they would earn.

Argentina vs. Switzerland, noon ET


Argentina's Lionel Messi, left, is carried by his teammates Argentina's Angel di Maria (7) and Argentina's Marcos Rojo after scoring Argentina's first goal during the Group F World Cup soccer match between Nigeria and Argentina at the Estadio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre, Brazil on June 25.
Let's just say it. Switzerland narrowly edged out of their group. But the knockout round is a whole new beast and a wonderful chance for a team to prove their real mettle — when it's all on the line.
The biggest threat on the Swiss side will undoubtedly be Xherdan Shaqiri, who earned the tournament's second hat trick against Honduras on Wednesday. A 3-0 victory going into knockout rounds is great, but we'll have to look at their performance against France to get a better idea of how the Swiss stack up against the much higher quality teams bred for the round of 16.

Scoring two goals against France — after they put five in a row — makes for a less stinging defeat, but not by much.
On the other side, there's the Lionel Messi-led Argentinian squad. And that is actually an understatement. Argentina's World Cup success has been entirely on Messi's shoulders, which was expected, but not to this degree. "Messi-tina" could be a glaring problem in the favored team's future, but not here, against a Switzerland that has failed to put up any hugely meaningful results throughout the group stages.
Beating Honduras and Ecuador is fine, but Argentina — even solely led by Messi — is a much bigger threat to Switzerland than either previous team was. Should Argentina beat Switzerland as is expected, eventually, every soccer fan comes to terms with the fact that these players are only human beings — despite their godly performances. Although Messi is considered to be the best player to ever touch the ball, he'll need a team in the quarter finals against the USA or Belgium.

USA vs. Belgium, 4 p.m. ET

For everything Team USA-related going into this match, check out the return of our ultimate USA preview as the United States Men's National Team (USMNT) fights in the knockout round.
But to play "devil's" advocate (because the Belgian squad is nicknamed the Red Devils), let's look at Belgium's strengths going into this first round playoff game.


Belgium's Jan Vertonghen celebrates after scoring Belgium's first goal against South Korea's goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu during the Group H World Cup soccer match between South Korea and Belgium at the Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil on June 26.
Let's start with the bad: It's reportedly "doubtful" that Belgium's captain Victor Kompany will play in Tuesday's match. Additionally, in Belgium's last match against the Republic of Korea, midfielder Steven Defour was booked with a red card and will sit out.
Belgium's midfield is probably the biggest strength of the team compared to the United States. With a Kompany-less defense and Defour out, the threat is mitigated to a degree.
On the flip side, the USA's attacking midfielders have been lackluster, namely Michael Bradley. Kyle Beckerman has been a delight to watch and a huge part of the USMNT's defense. Though Jozy Altidore is reportedly available to play, if Jurgen Klinsmann decides to sit him for a potential quarter finals match, expect Beckerman to have to come up big — especially with Jermaine Jones playing a more offensively minded game against Belgium.
If Team USA has a super sub in the German-American John Brooks, Belgium has theirs in Dries Martens and Marouane Fellaini. Granted, both of them have been starters after their stellar substitute performances in their opening match against Algeria, so they'll deserve an appropriate amount of consideration from the Americans.
It's a hard match to call as the teams are fairly evenly matched — one which many thought to be one of the closest of the round of 16.
And in World Cup that's as dramatic as this, what more could you want?

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