In the warmup match to today’s USA vs. Belgium encounter, Argentina and four-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi (pictured above) meet inconsistent Switzerland, against whom they’ve never lost in seven matches (4-0-2). The Swiss nicked a late victory against Ecuador, were blown off the pitch against France, and then blanked Honduras 3-0. Argentina have had their own problems, having beaten Bosnia, Iran, and Nigeria so far by only a goal apiece – and conceding three goals along the way. Who shows up today for each country?
What’s At Stake
Argentina, looking for their third World Cup (Argentina 1978, Mexico 1986), are licking their lips over this match and the prospect of the USA or Belgium in the next round. They’ve only been knocked out at this stage once in six tries (against Romania at USA 1994). The Argentines are now officially an aging team – the oldest in the tournament, in fact – and this year may be Messi’s best chance at World Cup glory.
Switzerland, meanwhile, have never made it past this stage, having reached it only twice (USA 1994, Germany 2006). They’re a young team with a bright future.
Switzerland play a 4-2-3-1 that has evolved throughout the tournament. While Josip Drmic has retained his place as striker from the first match, the band of three behind him has undergone a slight reshuffling. Xherdan Shaqiri started wide right and is drifting more and more central (which paid off against Honduras, when he picked up a hat trick). Meanwhile, Granit Xhaka, who was expected to be the middle man in the “3,” has moved right to cover for him. On the other side, Valentin Stocker has been replaced by the more defensive-minded Admir Mehmedi.
The result is that the Swiss 4-2-3-1 now looks like a lopsided 4-3-2-1, or “Christmas Tree” formation. One thing has remained constant, however: Switzerland’s attacking threat comes from the excellent movement of the forwards, as Zonal Marking explained this week.
All of that may be rendered academic by the fact that Argentina can bend any opposing formation out of shape through their excellent ball retention. At 65%, they have the highest average possession figure in the tournament so far; Switzerland will have a hard time implementing their tactics if they only see 35% of the ball.
The Argentine formation has been approximately 4-3-3, with one midfielder (Real Madrid’s Angel di Maria) slightly advanced and given license to roam much more than the other two (Javier Mascherano and Fernando Gago). Though Argentina’s progression from Group F was secured by Messi’s heroics, the midfield three have been responsible for providing the platform for the front three to improvise on. You can see just how crucial their contributions are from this FourFourTwo StatsZone map of Player Influence in the last two albiceleste matches:
Players to Watch
Argentina: di Maria. He’s been surprisingly wasteful in promising attacking situations so far, but he is the alchemist tasked with quickly converting defense into counterattacking offense. Watch his decision-making when Argentina recover possession.
Switzerland: Drmic, the striker. Hat-trick hero Shaqiri is the obvious choice, but his success against Honduras was made possible by Drmic’s clever, defense-distorting runs.
Adrian Healey and Alejandro Moreno. The same team as for Switzerland vs. Ecuador. Ex-player Alejandro nails the Spanish names and offers startlingly insightful analysis. Healey makes clever puns about the nations involved.
Match-specific Drinking Games
Neutral: Take a shot whenever Adrian Healey makes a nationality-based pun. How drunk? No Belgian chocolate jokes today, but Switzerland’s cheese and politics offer plenty of material.
Spectators: Drink any time a minute passes without a Swiss player touching the ball. How drunk? Light buzz. Argentina know how to keep the ball.
Martyr: Take a shot any time Lionel Messi (pictured above) looks disappointed by the play of one of his misfiring teammates. How drunk? He’s no Cristiano Ronaldo, but you’ll have a sip or two.
Argentina: Malbec. Delicious. Pair with salty grilled meat, the Argentine way.
Goldschläger. Sorry. I don’t get to choose. Wait, yes I do! Beer. Whatever kind of beer you want. Go nuts. (I recommend something light and fizzy with Swiss cheese.)
– Read my general World Cup watching guide.
– Check out Zonal Marking, my favorite tactics website.
– See a commentary schedule or a review of each commentator.
– See where I’m getting my national drink recommendations.
– Check out other match previews involving these teams: Argentina vs. Iran, Switzerland vs. France, Argentina vs. Bosnia & Herzegovina, Switzerland vs. Ecuador
Picture credit: soccerkickz.com