It was a night for history. A first for the up-coming quarter-finals and a first for a goalkeeper. Five of the eight second-round matches went into extra-time. Already more than the entire 2010 World Cup finals—drama.
Argentina 1-0 Switzerland (AET)
A largely forgettable match in Sao Paulo exploded into action during the last two minutes of extra-time.
A burst of pace and trickery from La Albiceleste’s talisman Lionel Messi gave the Barcelona star vital space in the final third to pick out Angel Di Maria who curled in the winner.
Despite the media bemoaning Di Maria’s performance, which admittedly did include a very poor pass completion rate of 68%, the Real Madrid winger possessed an admirable willingness of total unyielding perseverance for the cause.
It was therefore apt that the player with the most endeavour combined with the world’s best footballer for the late winner.
With the tie then seemingly over, Switzerland defender Blerim Dzemaili headed onto the woodwork and, with the goal at his mercy, the follow-up crept just wide—Swiss players dropped to their knees in despair.
It was a harsh conclusion to Ottmar Hitzfeld’s magnificent managerial career. The former Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund coach now retires after 19 major trophies and two World Coach of the Year awards.
For Argentina, Messi’s magic yet again sufficed. A quarter-final date with Belgium now awaits with the South Americans knowing a vast improvement is a prerequisite if they are to advance to the final four.
Belgium 2-1 USA (AET)
Although the match at the estadio Fonte Nova in Salvador was certainly more entertaining than the earlier kick-off in Sao Paulo, it took extra-time to really liven-up the proceedings.
Tim Howard regularly thwarted the Belgians to the extent he created World Cup history with the most ever saves in one match—16.
Jurgen Klinsmann’s USA performed as per expectations, with an admirable, steely determination to dominate their opponents physically.
In contrast Marc Wilmot, alongside Germany’s Joachim Low, can probably boast of having one of the strongest squads in Brazil and it was once again a Belgian substitution which won the match.
Romelu Lukaku, who was dropped in favour of Liverpool target 17-year-old Divock Origi, was brought on after full-time had elapsed.
Three minutes later, the Chelsea forward combined with Kevin de Bruyne who gave de Rode Duivels the lead. 11 minutes later, Lukaku made it 2-0 to spark premature celebrations on the Belgian bench.
Julian Green volleyed, somewhat fortuitously with his toe, to reduce the arrears and setup a grandstand finish.
The US threw the kitchen sink at their opponents to no avail and Belgium’s golden generation have now reached a World Cup quarter-final—the country’s first since 1986.
The Americans displayed great heart and spirit but ultimately Belgium’s class shone through. A mouth-watering quarter-final against Argentina is next.
Friday 4th July—France vs Germany (5pm GMT); Brazil vs Colombia (9pm GMT)
Saturday 5th July—Argentina vs Belgium (5pm GMT); Holland vs Costa Rica (9pm)