Messi back for Swiss test, us eye Belgium upset

By Drum Digital
01 July 2014

Lionel Messi returns to centre stage at the World Cup on Tuesday as Argentina face Switzerland for a place in the last eight while the United States aim to score another upset against Belgium.

Argentina captain Messi has almost single-handedly steered his team to the knockout rounds, scoring four goals in three group games.

The four-time world footballer of the year is aiming to emulate the feats of Diego Maradona, who captained Argentina to victory in the 1986 tournament in Mexico. Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella believes Messi is more than capable of matching Maradona's magical contribution to that triumph 28 years ago. "Messi's playing an amazing World Cup, that's what everybody expected," Sabella said ahead of Tuesday's clash at Sao Paulo's Corinthians Arena.

"He's an important player for us. Maradona was a very important player in that time and Messi is important as well."

If Argentina advance on Tuesday, it will signal the end of the most glittering careers in football.

Switzerland's German coach Ottmar Hitzfeld announced before the tournament that it would be his final bow in the sport that has brought the 65-year-old among other titles two world coach of the year awards and two Champions League trophies.

The winners of the Argentina v Switzerland game will play whoever comes out on top in Tuesday's other match between Belgium -- yet to lose a competitive match since Marc Wilmots took over the reins in 2012 -- and the Jurgen Klinsmann-coached United States in Salvador.

More than 100,000 Argentine fans will flood Sao Paulo to see if Messi can work his magic again as he has done throughout the tournament so far.

Switzerland are calling Xherdan Shaqiri -- who scored all the goals in the 3-0 triumph over Honduras -- their own Messi. But Switzerland have never beaten Argentina at the World Cup in six previous attempts.

Belgium are waiting anxiously on the fitness of their talismanic captain and centre-back Vincent Kompany, who is struggling with a niggling groin injury.

However, Wilmots said even without Kompany the 'Red Devils' should go through to their first World Cup quarter-final since 1986 and if they slipped up he would consider it a "failure".

The 45-year-old former international striker -- who is Belgium's all-time scorer at the finals with five in the three World Cups he played at --also batted away criticism of the unconvincing manner in which his side won their three group games.

"I let people make their complaints, we just advance. We are not going to bang our heads against the wall," he said.

Off the pitch, FIFA declined to comment on allegations of matchfixing involving Cameroon's ill-fated World Cup campaign.

Cameroon's football federation (FECAFOOT) said in a statement on Monday it had launched an investigation into a Germany press report which alleged a Singaporean match-fixer had correctly predicted the team's losing 4-0 scoreline in their Group A defeat to Croatia, as well as a first-half sending off.

Football's governing body FIFA said it could not comment on an ongoing investigation.

"Speaking generally, the integrity of the game is a top priority for FIFA and as such we take any allegations of match manipulation very seriously," a statement said.

-SAPA

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