By TIM FONTENAULT
Jozy Altidore is ready to play for the United States on Tuesday against Belgium, when the two sides face off for a spot in the World Cup quarterfinals (4 p.m., ESPN).
That does not mean that Altidore would play from the start; the United States has made it to the Round of 16 with the 24-year-old striker sidelined because of a hamstring injury. It does mean, however, that Jurgen Klinsmann’s options are plentiful.
The Americans have played two tactical formations in their three matches. In the match against Ghana, a 2-1 victory for the United States, they played a 4-4-2 with Altidore and Clint Dempsey up top. It worked early for the United States, as Dempsey got to goal and scored 30 seconds into the match. With Altidore out against Portugal and Germany, Klinsmann switched to a 4-5-1 formation, with Dempsey up top by himself. The diamond midfield became more of a pentagon, with two defensive midfielders, two wide players and Bradley playing behind Dempsey.
Against an injury-laden Portugal side, the United States took the game to the opponent, and was the better team throughout, despite the 2-2 draw. Belgium could be in the same predicament on Tuesday, as injuries could leave it without two top defenders.
Thomas Vermaelen has already been ruled out, but Belgium coach Marc Wilmots has yet decided on whether or not captain Vincent Kompany will play. If Kompany is out, Daniel Van Buyten and Nicolas Lombaerts will most likely be the center back duo for Belgium. Defense was the strength for Belgium in the Group Stage, allowing only one goal in three matches.
Here is a look at the rest of Tuesday’s World Cup action:
ARGENTINA vs. SWITZERLAND
Now is the time for Lionel Messi to step up and prove that he can be a hero for Argentina.
After an incredible performance in the Group Stage, Messi will have the weight of a longing nation on his back as he leads Argentina into battle against Switzerland on Tuesday afternoon (noon, ESPN).
Sergio Aguero will be out for Argentina, so look for Gonzalo Higuain to be the lone man up top, while Messi plays behind him to the right with Ezequiel Lavezzi on the left. Argentina has the ability to score a lot of goals, but for as much pressure as it applied to opponents in the Group Stage, it could not find a way to finish. Messi carried his team to nine points, but his winning goals against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran were made out of nothing. Against Nigeria, Argentina had an issue regrouping after scoring goals to take the lead. On Messi’s two goals, Nigeria managed to quickly equalize.
If Argentina is struggling to create as a team and is unable to protect its leads, just how far can Messi take them?
Switzerland, meanwhile, looked decent in the two matches that did not involve France.
Argentina will have to be mindful of the Swiss’ ability to attack from wide areas, which is exactly what they did repeatedly in the Group Stage. The Swiss tactical formation is the same as the United States’ 4-5-1, with Xherdan Shaqiri and Admir Mehmedi creating havoc down the wings.
Making the defense of Switzerland’s wide play even more difficult for Argentina is Ricardo Rodriguez, Switzerland’s young left back with a knack for barreling into the attacking third and playing in dangerous passes and crosses. He announced himself on the World Cup stage with the cross to Haris Seferovic for the winning goal just before the final whistle against Ecuador.
What do you think of the final day of matches in the Round of 16? Who will join the six teams that have already cemented their place in the quarterfinals? Will injuries affect the United States or Belgium? Will Argentina need another magical goal from Messi to proceed?
Share your thoughts below.