Argentina are one of the favorites to win the World Cup. They have yet to play like it. Granted, the Albiceleste are one of just three teams at this tournament who managed three wins in their three group-stage games. But each came by only one goal, and their overreliance on the inimitable Lionel Messi remains a concern.
Switzerland do not have a lot of star power, and they got lit up for five goals by France. In their other two games, however, the Swiss looked good, taking care of business with wins over Ecuador and Honduras. If Argentina continue to underperform, this could be a very tight contest.
CARRYING A NATION: Messi has an immense weight of expectations resting on his slight frame, but so far he’s borne up like Atlas under the pressure. Through three games, Messi has four of Argentina’s six goals, and two of them were game-winners. Goals are ultimately the most important stat, but if you take those away, Messi has not played particularly well. You wonder if the goals will dry up if he continues his underwhelming performances against tougher teams. Or maybe he’ll get better. That’s a scary thought.
STRIKE PARTNERS: Sergio Aguero has started all of Argentina’s games, but he’s going to miss Tuesday’s matchup with Switzerland as he recovers from a thigh injury. Paris St.-Germain striker Ezequiel Lavezzi will likely slot in his place, but Lavezzi and Aguero are two very different types of forwards, and Argentina will have to adjust accordingly.
GOTTMAR AND GENERAL: Switzerland head coach Ottmar Hitzfeld has been managing teams since 1983. He has the experience to adjust his team’s tactics and strategy when needed, and a slight correction to Switzerland’s formation in their last group stage game – moving Xherdan Shaqiri to the No. 10 role – helped the Swiss bounce back from a 5-2 loss to France with a 3-0 win over Honduras. What tricks might he have in his bag against Argentina?
HITS DON'T LIE: Shaqiri is overshadowed at his club team, Bayern Munich, by guys like Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, but after his hat trick against Honduras, it’s become clear that he’s a legit goalscoring threat. After conceding twice to a Nigeria squad that had only managed one (iffy) goal in their previous two games, Argentina’s defense is on notice against a player who’s in very good form right now.
Xherdan Shaqiri shows the thigh's the limit for Switzerland ahead of Argentina meeting: If there was a World C... http://t.co/Y8DVyw2rYJ— YOUNGOG (@Segzy006) June 29, 2014
MARK 10: In particular, what kinds of tricks can Switzerland use to stop Messi? It’s a good question, but the answer is apparently not man-marking him. "Man-to-man marking against Messi? No," Hitzfeld told the Swiss journal Blick. Instead, Hitzfeld said Switzerland will rely on the organization of their system: “In this, each player needs his concentration and attention levels extremely high.”
THE STAR YOU KNOW
- Lionel Messi, forward, Argentina – Duh. He can wander around the field for 89 minutes and then kill you with a moment of magic in the 90th. God knows what it will look like if he can actually start playing up to his ability.
THE PLAYER WHO WILL SURPRISE YOU
Granit Xhaka, midfielder, Switzerland – Hitzfeld compared Switzerland’s young midfield general to Germany’s Bastian Schweinsteiger. Lofty praise, and he’ll need to live up to it for the Swiss to hold possession..