Shaqiri's red hot form gives Swiss hope to upset Argentina
Switzerland's 'Alpine Messi' Xherdan Shaqiri, hot from a hat-trick against Honduras in his last game, meets the real Messi on Tuesday as the Europeans seek a major World Cup upset when they face Argentina in the last 16.
Shaqiri is the same height as Lionel Messi and has a similarly low centre of gravity and, while he has some way to go to match the feats of the prolific Argentina forward, the 22-year-old gives Switzerland a genuine threat up front.
Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano said his team would be keeping a close eye on him.
"The (Swiss) are an orderly team who like to play good football and have top players," he told Argentina's TyC Sports TV station. "Shaqiri and (forward Haris) Seferovic are in good form and we're going to have to be very careful."
Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld believes that by remaining organised his team could make their first quarter-final appearance since they hosted the finals 60 years ago. The Swiss have never beaten Argentina, drawing two games and losing four.
"We are the clear outsiders but we have nothing to lose and much to gain," he told the Swiss FA website.
"We can make history on Tuesday. In one game, anything is possible," added the German coach, who will step down after the World Cup.
Switzerland are hoping the large Brazilian contingent expected in the crowd at the Corinthians arena in Sao Paulo will be backing them against the hosts' arch-rivals Argentina.
"I think we will definitely have the support of the Brazilian fans in the stadium," goalkeeper Diego Benaglio said at the Swiss training camp in Porto Seguro. "You can feel the rivalry between Brazil and Argentina here."
Benaglio said his side had the added motivation of winning for absent team mates Steve von Bergen, who was injured in the loss to France, and unused striker Mario Gavranovic, who tore his cruciate knee ligament in training on Saturday.
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Image: Switzerland's national soccer team player Xherdan Shaqiri, centre, controls the ball during a World Cup 2014 training session at the stadium in Porto Seguro
Photographs: Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters
'It will be difficult to completely take Messi out of the game'
While Argentina's defence will be hoping to shackle Shaqiri, Switzerland's back line has an arguably tougher task in shutting out an inspired Messi.
The 27-year-old, whose stuttering international career before this World Cup was the only blip in an otherwise stellar career, has set about putting that right with four goals in Brazil so far.
He also scored his first international hat-trick the last time Argentina and Switzerland met, in a friendly in 2012.
"We are preparing just as we do for any other game. However, it's clear that it will be difficult to completely take Messi out of the game," Benaglio said. "You can see so many videos of Messi where he does something surprising at a decisive moment."
Argentina have relied heavily on their number 10's talents - he has scored four of the team's six goals in three narrow wins.
Far from waltzing through the groups stages, none of their victories was comfortable, and only an injury-time winner from Messi ensured three points against lowly Iran.
"Everyone said we were going to win by big scores in the group stage and it's clear that it was not the case," said midfielder Maxi Rodriguez.
"Our mentality is always the same, in a World Cup you have to concentrate 100 percent, if not then anyone can beat you."
Argentina, aiming for their third World Cup title, will be without injured forward Sergio Aguero, with Ezequiel Lavezzi set to take his place in a continued three-man attack also comprising Messi and Gonzalo Higuain.
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Image: Lionel Messi of Argentina warms up during a training session at Cidade do Galo
Photographs: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
'Group of Death' survived, US aim to stay alive v Belgium
It was considered the 'Group of Death' in the United States but Juergen Klinsmann's team emerged from Group G to earn a second-round clash with Belgium and now believe they can really make the world sit up and take notice.
Victory over Ghana, a 2-2 draw with Portugal and a 1-0 loss to Germany was enough for the Americans to make it into the last 16 against the predictions of many.
"Before this tournament started, no one was talking that America can come to the next round. It was always Portugal and Germany,” said combative midfielder Jermaine Jones, the US's outstanding player so far who got a superb goal against Ghana.
The decision to leave the country's all-time top scorer Landon Donovan out of the squad caused considerable debate in the U.S., as did some of Klinsmann's other selection choices, but Jones believes the coach got it right.
“We showed people that we have a good team and we have a good atmosphere in the group. Everything that the coach did before the tournament, who he sent home and who he took for the team, I think was a good decision,” he said.
“The team showed heart and gave good feedback. Now for the next game, it's the same tough game as Germany was. Belgium have a lot of experienced players, good players from different good clubs. It's a knockout game and we have to see it like a final,” he said.
Clint Dempsey, who has been pushed into a more advanced centre-forward role in the absence of the injured Jozy Altidore, knows that form from the group stage counts for little in the knockout phase.
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Image: Jermaine Jones of the United States celebrates after scoring his team's first goal
Photographs: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
'Excited about the opportunity to play in a knockout stage again'
Four years ago, the US were euphoric after scraping into the second round ahead of Algeria and Slovenia but were quickly brought down to earth by a loss to Ghana in the knockout round.
"Everything’s fresh again," said Dempsey. "It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the group stages, it’s what you’re going to do on that day. I think there’s more pressure to that game because you either stay or you go home.
"I’m excited about the opportunity to play in a knockout stage again. We came up a little bit short last time, in 2010, losing in overtime to Ghana and we look forward to playing against Belgium.”
After a scrappy rearguard display versus Germany, Klinsmann wants his team to return to the swift passing game that was so impressive against Portugal.
"We have to keep the ball longer, be calmer under pressure and move the ball around," said the German coach.
"Every time we shifted the ball and had four or five passes, we looked really good. It is generally something we have to improve, to make our opponents run."
Image: Belgium's Marouane Fellaini (left) and Dries Mertens celebrate after the victory
Photographs: Ian Walton/Getty Images