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Argentina vs. Belgium: Which team will take first World Cup loss?

FIFA World Cup
Who will blink? Belgium and Argentina are both 4-0, thanks to a lot of late-game heroics

Funny thing about Belgium. It is one of only two unbeaten and untied teams in the World Cup but has led for a mere 52 out of 390 minutes played, plus stoppage time.

Next up for the Belgians is Argentina, the other squad that entered the quarterfinals 4-0 but also is prone to fiddling around before moving ahead in the second half -- or beyond.

On the flip side for Belgium, it has been tied for most of those minutes. An air-tight defense backed by goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has yielded only one goal in the flow of play. (The other came on a penalty kick.)

Thus is the challenge heightened for Lionel Messi, who has banged in four of Argentina's modest seven goals and assisted on a fifth, in the 118th minute against Switzerland. Messi has yet to see a defense in Brazil like this one.

Not for a lack of trying have the teams failed to generate goals. Belgium has six scores out of 83 attempts, a figure inflated by its nonstop gunnery against the United States. Argentina has 80 tries. No team began the quarterfinals with more shots.

Argentina's aggregate possession time of 64.3% is unmatched in the tournament. Its ball-hogging tends to wear out opponents, which could lift the importance of substitutes. Belgium has benefited significantly from its reserves. Four have scored, most recently Romelu Lukaku in an energetic stint against the U.S.

Those are a lot of numbers that add up to ... what? Most likely, a game that will hang in the balance until the numbers on the stadium clock get real high.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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