A look at the two World Cup quarterfinal games scheduled for Saturday in Brazil.
ARGENTINA VS. BELGIUM
Where: Brasilia. Time: 9 a.m. PDT.
TV: ABC, Univision.
The buzz: Lionel Messi will make his 91st appearance for the Argentine national team in this game, the same number Diego Maradona played in, which of course invites comparisons between the two. Both are considered among the greatest players of all time and though Messi has outscored Maradona, 42-34, there's one thing Maradona has that Messi doesn't — a World Cup title. Messi is doing everything he can to change that, having scored four times in four games to get Argentina to the quarterfinals. But wait, there's more to the comparison that haunts Messi: Maradona scored a brilliant solo goal against Belgium in the semifinals of the 1986 tournament, leading Argentina to the final it won. As much as he'd like to duplicate that, Messi may have to be content serving more as a playmaker than goal-maker Saturday since Belgium, the best defensive team in the tournament, plans to use a physical zone approach against him, which will undoubtedly free up others. One of those could be Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero, who has been slowed by a thigh problem but could play off the bench. Left back Marcos Rojo is definitely out, serving a one-game suspension for yellow-card accumulation. Belgium survived an epic extra-time game with the U.S. to get here, taking 38 shots on goal but managed to score just twice against Tim Howard. Romelu Lukaku came off the bench in second-half stoppage time to set up one goal and score the other, probably earning a start in this one.
NETHERLANDS VS. COSTA RICA
Where: Salvador. Time: 1 p.m. PDT.
TV: ESPN, Univision.
The buzz: Who would have thought that Costa Rica would be the last CONCACAF team standing? Or that it would be the only team from outside South America or Europe to reach the quarterfinals? But Costa Rica has earned its way here, winning a tough group that included three former champions — Italy, Uruguay and England — with only a draw to blemish its record, then beating Greece on penalty kicks in the round of 16. Now it faces another stern test against the Netherlands, which are not former champions but are three-time runners-up, the last second-place finish coming four years ago in South Africa. And though the Dutch come into this one perfect in four games, they barely made it past Mexico in their last match, tying the game in the 88th minute then getting the winner in the final moments of stoppage time on a penalty kick. The Netherlands, whose 12 goals heading into the quarterfinals led the World Cup, can score in bunches, having gotten three goals apiece from Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben. But they'll be missing key midfielder Nigel de Jong, which should make it easier for Costa Rica's top two players — Bryan Ruiz and Christian Bolanos — to find space, something they've had success with all tournament. Costa Rica will be without defender Roy Miller of the New York Red Bulls, who has a torn muscle in his left foot. If this game becomes a shootout, Costa Rica could go down quickly — the Central Americans have scored multiple goals in a game just once in this World Cup. In fact, the Dutch scored as many goals in the first 80 minutes of their opening game as Costa Rica has scored in the tournament.
— Kevin BaxterCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun