The artistry of Lionel Messi and Eden Hazard will take centre stage at Brazil 2014 on Tuesday as the Round of 16 concludes with tough tests for European duo Switzerland and Belgium against Argentina and USA respectively.
Messi came into the tournament following a below-par club season by his own stratospheric standards, but has already grabbed four goals to help La Albiceleste clinch a trio of wins without fully hitting their stride. As for Switzerland, they have blown hot and cold so far, seeing off Ecuador and Honduras but slumping to a heavy 5-2 defeat by France. Die Nati have never beaten Argentina, posting two draws and four losses, and they will need to be in top form to break their duck against the South Americans.
Belgium's bid, meanwhile, has featured a string of late victories, Les Diables Rouges (Red Devils) putting their fans through the ringer in all three group games before making the difference in the closing moments. Hazard has yet to find the net, but the exciting playmaker has set the tempo for his team, disappearing from view on occasions before popping up to wreak havoc in the opposition area. The Belgians can expect another hard-fought encounter against USA, who qualified as runners-up in a highly competitive section by edging out Portugal on goal difference. The Stars and Stripes play a lively and committed brand of football, taking their lead from coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
Argentina-Switzerland, Arena de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, 13.00 (local time).
Belgium-USA, Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador, 17.00 (local time).
Did you know?
Messi's Swiss saga: Messi long harboured painful memories of Switzerland, having made his international debut there against Hungary on 17 August 2005, only to be dismissed 47 seconds after coming on. Redemption nonetheless beckoned seven years later, on 29 February 2012, when he returned to Bern to score his maiden international hat-trick in a 3-1 success against the hosts. This time, he will be facing the Swiss on neutral ground.
On a roll: Belgium head into the Round of 16 having never made a better start to a World Cup campaign. Outstripping their predecessors, Marc Wilmots' men recorded an unprecedented clean sweep of wins during the group stage.
Hat-trick history: Switzerland's Xherdan Shaqiri became the 50th player to notch a World Cup hat-trick when he helped himself to three goals against Honduras. The hallowed list of treble scorers includes just one other Swiss player, Sepp Hugi, who achieved his feat against Austria in 1954.
Goal streak: Messi has managed at least one goal in his first three outings in this tournament, making him only the second Argentinian to do so after Oreste Corbatta lit the way in 1958.
Memory lane: USA will have to reverse recent history if they are to see off Belgium as they have not beaten a European team in their last eight attempts. The Stars and Stripes have drawn four and lost another four since getting the better of Portugal at Korea/Japan 2002, but the players will all know the story of how their forebears stunned everyone at the first World Cup in Brazil. Facing powerhouse rivals England on 29 June 1950, Joe Gaetjens sealed a famous 1-0 triumph to spring one of the tournament's all-time great upsets.
Steven Defour (BEL)
Treading the tightrope
Marcos Rojo (ARG)
Johan Djourou (SUI)
Toby Alderweireld, Axel Witsel, Jan Vertonghen, Moussa Dembele (BEL)
Omar Gonzalez, Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones (USA)
Check it out
While Messi has his own history with Switzerland, the same can be said of Argentina as well. The two sides previously crossed paths on the World Cup stage 48 years ago, and it was the South Americans who came out on top in a 2-0 win. Relive that group stage outing at England 1966 thanks to FIFA.com's video highlights.
With Belgium and USA now gearing up to meet, FIFA also spoke with the senior figure in both camps: 35-year-old American goalkeeper Tim Howard and Belgium centre-back Daniel Van Buyten, 36. The two men look forward to their coming duel, and the qualities that could propel their teams into the last eight.
On this day
Portugal faced England in the quarter-finals in Gelsenkirchen on 1 July 2006 and it took penalties to separate the European duo, with A Selecção das Quinas edging the shoot-out 3-1 at the end of a goalless stalemate. The game was notable for Wayne Rooney's 62nd-minute sending-off, which forced England to play with ten men for an hour, plus a trio of spot-kick saves from Portugal custodian Ricardo.
The result also confirmed Luiz Felipe Scolari's status as England's bogey man, the then Portugal coach having knocked the Three Lions out of a third consecutive major tournament. His Brazil side had seen off England 2-1 in the quarter-finals at the 2002 World Cup, before he led Portugal to a last-eight victory against the same opponents at UEFA EURO 2004, his troops winning 6-5 on penalties following a 2-2 draw. Given Brazil's recent triumph against Chile, Scolari has clearly not lost his knack for shoot-out successes.
Play and win
Put your football expertise to the test with Castrol's FIFA World Cup Predictor Challenge. For every upcoming game, you will need to give answers to five questions, with some superb prizes on offer for the keenest predictions.
— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) June 30, 2014