By Ken Boehlke

Argentina vs. Switzerland (F1 vs. E2)


2 way line (90 minutes) – Argentina -1 (-125) Switzerland +1 (+105)
3 way line (90 minutes) – Argentina (-225) Switzerland (+655) Draw (+340)
Outright Winner – Argentina (-450) Switzerland (+370)
Total – Over 2.5 (-130) Under 2.5 (+110)

Side: Lionel Messi has put his country on his shoulders and the Argentinians appear perfectly fine to ride him as far as the diminutive superstar can carry them. Messi has four of the team’s six goals and one of the remaining two was an own goal scored by Bosnia and Herzegovina. Things are about to get a lot tougher on the Sky Blue and White as they now move into the elimination rounds. They’ve caught a tough draw in Switzerland a team that has the ability to bunker down inside their own half, but also can get on the break and score goals. Argentina struggled mightily to break down the Iranian defense in the middle of their three group stage matches. In this one with the Swiss, they’ll face a similar defense with the added threat of attackers like Xherdan Shaqriri and Josip Drmić. Argentina will see plenty of possession in the match but thus far it hasn’t produced them the gobs of opportunities that most expected. There’s no question Switzerland will man mark Messi all afternoon and then attempt to safely double whenever possible. Argentina should be able to find space along the wings but will need much better service into the box and then have to get better touches from Sergio Agüero and Ángel di María on the end of the crosses. The less reliant on Messi this team can become, the better off they will be. However, they haven’t shown even an ounce of conviction toward playing that way. Defensively, the Swiss are absolutely good enough to slow Messi down. Maybe this is the time the rest of the team shows up.

Switzerland used a hat trick from their star Xherdan Shaqriri to dominate Honduras and secure their place in the Round of 16. They had an interesting run through the group stage in which they used a late goal to steal three points from Ecuador then followed it up with a dreadful performance against France. Now they head into the knockout rounds feeling confident they have reassured their defensive organization. They’ll deploy a defense minded approach and allow Argentina to bring the game to them. All eyes will be focused on doing the best possible job on Messi, but they must be careful not to let the Argentinian wing backs to flood the flanks and outnumber them in their own end. When the Swiss do gain possession of the ball they will try to replicate the strategy of Nigeria. The Nigerians were able to find areas behind Argentina’s three man midfield and then play the ball straight through the center of the defense. Shaqiri will be the main man to get the ball into the dangerous positions, but it will take help from others if the Swiss do indeed want to score upon Argentina. The longer the Swiss can keep the game tied, the more belief they will gain and more pressure will mount on Argentina. Argentina certainly appears vulnerable, the question remains: is Switzerland good enough to pounce on the opportunity? Pick: 2 way 90 minute bet – Switzerland +1 (+105) [A fractional wager should also be placed on Switzerland outright at +370 in hopes of a shootout win]

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Total: Argentina were billed as a team that would spend most of their matches on the attack, but three matches in, only the match against Nigeria have they been able to consistently create chances. Meanwhile, the Swiss were expected to be a defensive fortress and they conceded seven times in their three group stage games. Both should return to their normal M.O.’s and Argentina will spend a majority of the game on the Swiss half of the field. But, if Messi cannot get going it’s hard to predict many goals from La Albiceleste. Counter attacks will be the best way for Switzerland to relieve pressure and create goal scoring chances. Expect a game played close to the vest as the Swiss will hold their defensive shape while Argentina will approach their attack cautiously with the understanding that one mistake could send them home. Pick: Under 2.5 goals (+110)

United States vs. Belgium (G2 vs. H1)


2 way line (90 minutes) – United States +0.5 (-115) Belgium -0.5 (-105)
3 way line (90 minutes) – United States (+300) Belgium (-105) Draw (+245)
Outright Winner – United States (+175) Belgium (-200)
Total – Over 2.5 (+135) Under 2.5 (-155)

Side: The U.S. are backing into the Round of 16 coming off a lackluster performance against Germany. However, the Yanks have been here before as they used almost an exact replica of the 2002 group stage (win, draw, loss) here in 2014. In that tournament, the United States wound up winning their first knockout game before heading out of the tournament after a fantastic match with Germany. There’s a strong chance Jozy Altidore will remain out for the game with Belgium (although he will be available), but that doesn’t mean Jürgen Klinsmann will necessarily stick with the formation he deployed against Portugal and Germany. Klinsmann has made it abundantly clear that he wants his side to hold more possession of the ball after they finished the group stage 31st out of 32 in time on the ball. An extra attacker would return Michael Bradley to a more comfortable role underneath a pair of strikers rather than a focal point of the attack. The weak spot in the Belgium defense is their lack of outside defenders. The Belgians play a four man defensive line in which all four players are natural center backs. What this will do for the U.S. is to allow the American wing backs to venture forward and overlap the midfield knowing they do not have to worry about a counter starting from the Belgian defense. This being said, the key players for the U.S. will be Bradley, Alejandro Bedoya (or Graham Zusi), and Jermaine Jones. Axel Witsel, the Belgian defensive midfielder has played so well in this tournament that his defensive prowess has allowed the rest of the Belgian midfield to join in on the attack. If the U.S. can control the ball and force the Belgian midfield to defend, a ton of pressure will be relieved on the American defense when the ball is lost. Michael Bradley has had a rough tournament thus far, but this may be the perfect team for him to step up against. Witsel is the tactical mark on Bradley, but expect to see Bradley pop up in different areas to confuse the Belgian defense. If the U.S. can maintain possession and Michael Bradley can return to the player he’s always been for the U.S. they could easily win this match.

Belgium won all three of their group stages matches, but they’ve only led for a total of 34 minutes. They have started slow in all three games and were able to rescue wins in the last 12 minutes of every game thus far. The pressure of the knockout rounds could interrupt the Belgian’s ability to score late goals though. The further the match professes without Belgium going ahead, the more pressure they will begin to feel as the favorites to beat a team whom they perceive to be inferior. Belgium has to be very careful to not allow the U.S. to catch them napping early. In the opening match against Ghana, the Yanks scored in just 31 seconds, while Belgium conceded just 24 minutes into their tournament opener. The Americans have vowed to play a more proactive game and Belgium must be ready for a flurry of attack right off the bat. The Red Devils could use this to their advantage though. With the understanding that the U.S. want to be on the ball more and play further forward, Belgium may opt to let it happen and try to steal a counter attack goal before the match really settles in. Belgium has had success on the attack by sending in heaps of long high balls to the attacking third. The U.S. have been good on high advancing balls, but have really struggled on crosses from the wings. The Belgians have the better players, are playing a better brand of soccer, and fully expect to win the game, but they have still yet to put together a team effort and they are going up against a side that relies on playing as an 11-man unit. Pick: 2 way 90 minute bet – United States +0.5 (-115)

Total: The two teams and their strategies make the possibility of an early goal much higher in this match than most knockout round games. The U.S. will look to take control of the game while Belgium have the technical ability to take any slight mistake and turn it into a goal. Once that early goal is scored, the game should resemble something similar to the one in Manaus between Portugal and the United States. Both teams will remain on the offensive and the ball will spend more time in the attacking thirds than it will in the neutral part of the field. The Belgians will look to try and get their excellent midfielders into space and then try to pressure the United States’ outside backs. Both DeMarcus Beasley and Fabian Johnson have held up pretty well during the group stage, but players like Edin Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne bring a level of creativity that is not matched by almost anyone in the World Cup. Add in the dangers of Romelu Lukaku and super-sub Marouane Fellaini, there’s no question the Belgians will constantly ask questions of the American defense. All in all, it should be an enjoyable game to watch in which both teams plan on playing an aggressive style of soccer. Pick: Over 2.5 goals (+135)

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Listen to Over and Under with Ken Boehlke and Jason Pothier on CBS Sports Radio 1140 every Sunday morning from 8 to 10. Follow the show on Twitter @OAU1140 and on Facebook.

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