The World Cup’s quarterfinal round concludes Saturday with two matches (all times Eastern):
– Argentina vs. Belgium in Brasilia, noon, ABC
– Netherlands vs. Costa Rica in Salvador, 4 p.m., ESPN
At stake: Winners will advance to face each other in a semifinal on Wednesday at 4 p.m. Eastern time in Sao Paulo.
Argentina vs. Belgium
It’s all about Lionel Messi, who so far has lived up to enormous pressure by being one of the standout performers of the tournament. But, as The Post’s Steven Goff writes, only a World Cup title will help him run out of the enormous shadow of Argentine legend Diego Maradona. The echoes ring for some in Belgium as well. The Red Devils’ greatest World Cup run, to the 1986 semifinals, was ended by Argentina thanks in part to a signature goal by Maradona. Belgian Coach Marc Wilmots told the Associated Press that Maradona was “the player that struck us down and gave us bad memories. Fortunately, that is well in the past now.”
Netherlands vs. Costa Rica
Los Ticos have been the surprise of the tournament, winning the most decorated group in the field, then surviving a lengthy stretch with 10 men in the round of 16 to beat Greece on penalty kicks. Their coach went on the offensive before their first-ever World Cup quarterfinal, telling reporters that he wants referees to watch out for any attempts to dive by Netherlands star Arjen Robben. “He admitted he dived” in the round of 16 vs. Mexico, Coach Jorge Luis Pinto said, according to Reuters. “So I hope that the referee and the assistant referees are very careful tomorrow. I respect FIFA and the referees very much but I tell them, please watch out.”
The Dutch will likely be down two midfielders, with Nigel De Jong having suffered a torn groin in the 2-1 win over Mexico and Leroy Fer recovering from a strained hamstring. But they don’t figure to get too rattled if the Costa Rica takes an early lead, having come from behind to beat Spain, Australia and Mexico already at this tournament. On other hand, are they playing with fire?
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