50-50 Challenge: Argentina vs. Switzerland

Argentina were a perfect three wins out of three matches in Group F and now face a dangerous Switzerland team for a place in the quarterfinals of the World Cup. Our ESPNFC bloggers Sam Kelly (Argentina) and Brian Homewood (Switzerland) preview the round of 16 tie.

Form and fitness

Sam Kelly: In terms of fitness, Argentina are in good shape with one notable exception: Sergio Aguero has been ruled out for this match (very few expect him to play at all in what's left of the World Cup). Normally, Aguero's being injured would be a big blow for Argentina, but his performances so far during this World Cup have ensured it's not being met with the panic it might have been. Cesar Luis Menotti, the World Cup-winning manager from 1978, has even suggested it could be a blessing in disguise. "Not because he's a bad player," Menotti clarified, "but because it gives Argentina the chance to add a little more width in midfield."

As for form? Well, they've not been great, but notably Lionel Messi has been on fire. So far, that's proved to be all they've needed ...

- Cox: What we learned in the group stage

Brian Homewood: Apart from losing central defender Steve von Bergen, who suffered a blowout fracture of his left eyeball socket in the defeat to France, Switzerland are pretty much in good shape. Their squad is at full strength and, although they played their final group game in Manaus and must now travel to Sao Paulo, they have a full four days to get over their exertions in the steamy heat of the Amazon. Switzerland's group performance was very mixed: a dramatic last-gasp win over Ecuador, an embarrassing thrashing at the hands of France and a very convincing 3-0 win over Honduras. Goalkeeper Diego Benaglio, captain Gokhan Inler, midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri and forward Josip Drmic are among those in fine form.

World Cup history

SK: These sides have met only once before in World Cups, in their last group stage match in the 1966 World Cup in England. Argentina won 2-0 at Hillsborough, with legendary forward Luis Artime and River Plate midfielder Ermindo Onega scoring the goals. Argentina of course went on to lose 1-0 to hosts and eventual winners England in the next round (the quarterfinals). Outside World Cups, the sides have met a further five times, with Argentina winning three and drawing two; most recently was a February 2012 friendly in Berne, in which Messi scored his first hat trick for his country in a 3-1 win.

BH: In the 1966 match, Artime opened the scoring when he weaved his way through the Swiss penalty area and rifled home before Onega latched on to a delightfully flighted ball over the middle of the Swiss defence and flicked it over the goalkeeper. Messi took the headlines from the most recent friendly in Berne in 2012, though Shaqiri -- Switzerland's own hat-trick hero from the group stage -- replied for the Swiss.

Key battle

SK: Lionel Messi vs. Philippe Senderos. Switzerland, managed by Ottmar Hitzfeld, will be well set up defensively, and have enough going forward to be optimistic that they could cause a so-far-underwhelming Argentina one or two problems if the favourites are off-colour. When all's said and done, though, it's become clear in the tournament so far that when his teammates aren't playing that well -- for that matter, when Messi himself isn't playing that well -- he's still capable of pulling a huge fluffy bunny out of his hat in the form of a breathtaking goal to make the difference. Switzerland have it in them to scare Argentina, but if they're going to give themselves a realistic chance of keeping their opponents out, they have to deal with Messi. Senderos, given his position on the pitch, is likely to be one of the main men responsible for that.

BH: Diego Benaglio vs. Lionel Messi. Although the 3-0 scoreline gives the impression that Switzerland's win over Honduras was easy, that was certainly not the case. Honduras created plenty of clear-cut scoring chances in the second half and were repeatedly foiled by Switzerland goalkeeper Diego Benaglio, who was in outstanding form, as he will need to be again Tuesday.

Why does your side deserve to progress?

SK: To be honest, I'm not entirely sure most of the players do deserve it, just yet. Marcos Rojo has done far better than anyone expected of him, though, and deserves the chance to keep on overperforming. Of the other players, there has been enough to suggest they can all improve and grow into the tournament, but Angel Di Maria is the only other one who has shown flashes of what he's truly capable of so far. It would be a shame if he exited the World Cup without having really shown us what he can do.

Of course, I've deliberately left Messi out of the above discussion. He's already become one of the stars of the tournament, and if there's one justification for hoping an underperforming side can continue to advance, it's the thought that Messi continues to provide us with one jaw-dropping goal per game for a little bit longer.

BH: Having bored fans to tears in their past two World Cup appearances, Switzerland have been a far more entertaining proposition so far. Their three matches in the group stage produced a total of 13 goals (seven for and six against), at an average of 4.25 per match, more than their previous two World Cup campaigns combined (at total of six goals in seven games). Shaqiri is a precocious talent as he showed against Honduras, while Drmic and Granit Xhaka also show huge promise. In terms of domestic politics, the Swiss national side, with an abundance of second generation immigrants, has become an example for the entire country in terms of integration, which is something of a thorny issue. Finally, a Swiss win would allow Hitzfeld one more game in his illustrious career -- he retires after the tournament.


SK: 2-0 to Argentina. Switzerland have been more positive than expected but were shown up defensively against France, and realistically Argentina should have too much for them. And as I said above, I think Messi against Senderos is a key battle. Who do you think is favourite to get the better of that one?

BH: It hasn't been plain sailing for Argentina despite their 100 percent record in the group stage. The Swiss have now shown that they have plenty of firepower, especially with the partnership between Shaqiri and Drmic. They can certainly give Argentina some problems, however a 2-1 win for the South Americans would be my prediction.

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