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World Cup Round Up: Match Day 20

The death of the underdog

Robert Cianflone

The round of 16 has concluded with, for the first time in history, the winner of each group progressing to the quarter finals, with so many heart breaks a long the way.

In the first encounter on match day 20, Argentina faced Switzerland, in what was the most dire of all the last 16 matches.

The game got off to a rather laboured, and by that I mean pish, start, with neither team actually doing anything.

The first chance of note came when Xherdan Shaqiri, beat his man with ease then cut the ball back for Granit Xhaka, whose shot brought a good save out of Romero.

There was a real lack of movement and urgency in forward positions from Argentina, with all the players being quite static and not getting involved in the game.

Switzerland should have taken the lead when good link up play between Josip Drmic and Shaqiri saw the striker go through on goal, but he haplessly chipped into Romero's thankful arms.

And that was all for the first half, Switzerland has defended well and completely snuffed Messi out of the game, and should have been ahead going into the break.

After the interval, Gonzalo Higuian went close with a flicked header, from Rojo's cross, which Benaglio tipped over the crossbar.

Argentina were playing a lot better after the interval, but were again relying on Messi to carry them through. The Barcelona man hit a volley just a few inches off the top corner.

Into the latter stages of the half and Switzerland were channelling the spirit of Greece, with resolute and stubborn defending, but Messi nearly picked the lock and gave Argentina the lead. He shook off a challenger with a quick burst of pace then struck a low shot to the bottom corner, but Benaglio got down to it and then was brave to punch the ball away when attackers were descending upon the lose ball.

I'm not going keep you on this game any longer, all of extra time was a complete bore, up until the last few minutes.

A moment of magic from Messi, he skipped past a flying tackle whilst racing towards goal, then teed up Angel Di Maria, who'd been woeful all game, and he slotted into the far corner past the diving Benaglio. We had to sit through all that and didn't even get penalties for it.

Even though the goal came late, Switzerland came so, so close to finding an equaliser. A cross into the box was met by former Wanderer, Berlim Dzemaili, his header from four yards hit the post, then rebounded of his leg for a goal kick.

It was a boring game, with a thrilling ending, further proving that even the worst games in this World Cup have been brilliant in some way.

Full Time: Argentina 1-0 Switzerland

118 - Di Maria

MOTM: Ricardo Rodriguez

There has been a worrying pattern during this round of World Cup matches: The underdog in each game has played so well all through the game, and looked like they could very well knick it themselves, but in each game they've fallen at the end. The tie of Belgium v USA, would be no different.

Belgium came into the game having not really impressed in their group matches, but despite that, still managed to grind out wins in each of their games. A sign of champions?

Against America, the Belgians were immediately on the front foot. Young striker Divok Origi, given a starting birth after impressing from the bench, got in behind the American defence and forced Tim Howard, into his first of many saves, with in forty seconds.

The US came forward with an attack of their own, when Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley linked up, the latter finally managed to tee up the former on the edge of the box, but he hit his shot straight at Thibaut Courtois.

In a game that was end to end through out, Belgium should have capitalised, when Graham Zusi lost the ball in midfield, but Kevin de Bruyne failed to convert his chance. And then DeMarcus Beasley, had to be alert to clear Jan Vertonghen's dangerous cross, with Maurine Fellaini prowling.

The US then lost their influential right back Fabian Johnson, who was replaced by DeAndre Yedlin, who did not disappoint, instantly winning a corner as a result of his lighting speed. From the resulting corner kick, Dempsey managed to bring the ball under control and shift it to Jermaine Jones, who dragged his shot wide of the post. Yedlin was getting the better of Vertonghen, and sent a good cross into the box, which took a vital defensive header from de Bruyne, to deny Dempsey.

A quick Belgium counter attack saw Origi escape Jones and race down the field, he gave the ball to de Bruyne, but he hit his shot straight at Howard.

That would be the end of fairly even first half, but the second would be anything but, as Belgium really started to pressure the USA, with the star spangled men hardly able to hold on.

Immediately after the restart Dries Mertens, flicked a Toby Alderwiereld cross goal wards, which Howard had to tip over the cross bar. From the other side of the field, the adventurous Vertognhen whipped in another dangerous ball, but the slightest of touches from Omar Gonzalez, just diverted the ball out of de Bryune's and Origi's path. Then Origi hit the top of the cross bar, with another flicked header from another Alderwiereld cross.

Belgium were really turning the screw, Vertonghen proving a constant menace down the left. The Tottenham defender feinted through the American defence with a quick drop of the shoulder and brought another save from Howard. Vertonghen then showed stunning technique, when he hit an over the should volley, which flew just over the goal.

The USA were really struggling to keep the ball when ever they got it, with Michael Bradley being particularly poor in possession; but they did manage to go on a rare foray forward, when Beasley ran down the left, his cross eventually found Zusi, whose effort was blocked and hacked away.

Back up at the other end, Origi managed to get to the byline and crossed for Mertens, who hit a shot wide and Axel Witsel dragged a shot wide of the post from distance.

Dempsey got the ball and drove forward from deep, he had options either side of him, but he opted to shoot and his tame effort was easily gathered by Courtois.

Despite Belgium's best efforts, they weren't breaking down the US side, so manager Marc Wilmots introduced Kevin Mirallas, who made a big impact on the game. It was his quick feet that allowed him to skip past Jones and set up Origi, but he scuffed his shot straight at Howard. Eden Hazard then got himself involved in the game by tracking back and winning the ball of a US attacker, he gave the ball to Origi, whose quick touch took him away from a tackle and allowed him to slip in Mirallas, and it took a long leg from his Everton team mate to divert it wide.

The game was in full throttle at this point, with both teams trying to find the illusive first goal, but unfortunately for America, they really felt the loss of Jozy Altidore and his ability to hold the ball up. The highly impressive Yedlin, however, showed remarkable determination to catch up with Hazard and make a perfectly timed tackle, as the attacker was away on the break.

A great tackle from Matt Besler then denied Belgium a golden opportunity and Hazard hit the side netting, when he really should have played the ball across.

The game was coming to the 90th minute mark and Vincent Kompany put an end to an American attack at one end, then advanced to the half way line before releasing the ball, the Red Devil's captain continued his run until he was in the opposing box, where he inventively flicked de Bruyne's cross towards goal, which brought yet another save out of Howard.

Despite complete dominance from Belgium for most of the half, USA could have so easily nicked it at the end. Geoff Cameron lofted the ball into the box, it was flicked on by Jones and an unmarked Chris Wondolowski, put his shot high over the cross bar, which made me collapse to me knees and scream.

A flag was raised after the shot, so it's possible the goal wouldn't have stood anyway, but Wondolowski was miles onside so I have a feeling the flag was for a goal kick. A massive opportunity for the US, and they squandered it.

The miss would mean we get another helping of extra time action.

USA started extra time positively, with Jones heading over Beasley's cross, but it wouldn't stay positive for long.

Belgium introduced a fit, fresh and with a point to prove Romelu Lukaku, who must have sent the tired legs of the American defence into a puddled mess. He brushed aside Matt Besler's challenge with ease, squared the ball to de Bruyne, he took the ball around two US defenders, before hitting a composed finish into the corner, with Howard finally beaten.

Lukaku had made a massive impact on the game, with the US defenders unable to cope with him, but Howard managed to keep him at bay twice in quick concession; and then he saved from Mirallas, who after a one-two was through on goal, but was thwarted yet again.

Belgium doubled their lead not long after, with Lukaku finally getting past Howard. A quick counter attack saw Mirallas play the ball forward to de Bruyne, who carried the ball several yards before playing a smart pass in behind the defender, which Lukaku latched on to and smashed past Howard.

Probably thinking the game was lost, Klinsmann threw on nineteen year old Julian Green, giving the youngster some competitive minutes. But it would be Green who would get the US right back in the game, when all hope seemed lost.

Bradley floated a pass into the area, which Green ran onto and volleyed past Courtois.

The goal would be the catalyst for the most dramatic, tense and exciting fifth teen minutes of football, I've ever witnessed.

Yedlin, somehow still running, managed to send a great cross into the box, which was nodded back into the path of Jones, but his volley went agonisingly wide of the post.

Then a wonderful free kick routine, which saw Bradley saw a triangle of passes to put Dempsey through on goal, but the formidable Courtois was out in an instant to stop the move in its tracks.

Wondolowski then should have buried Yedlin's great cross and Jones drilled over from distance, and with that, the whistle blew for full time.

The game ended with 56 attempts on goal and with Tim Howard having made the most saves by any goalkeeper at the World Cup in recorded history - 17. Belgium fully deserved their win, they completely controlled the game for the most part and had 39 (!) shots, the USA were also a bit poor, especially at keeping hold of the ball.

But, our American brothers can go out with their heads held high, because they've put more 'established' teams to shame in this tournament and they've been an absolute pleasure to watch, on and off the field. If England played with half of the passion, commitment, determination and pride that the US boys did, well, then we might actually do something.

Full Time: Belgium 2-1 USA

93 - de Bruyne  107- Green

105 - Lukaku

MOTM: Tim Howard