RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The world’s best player goes up against perhaps the world’s best goalkeeper. The highest-scoring lineup in the World Cup takes on the tournament’s most surprising team.
There are two remaining quarterfinals to be played Saturday at the World Cup and both create intriguing matchups as Argentina faces Belgium and the Netherlands plays Costa Rica.
The winners will meet in the semifinals next week.
What to watch on Saturday:
ARGENTINA vs. BELGIUM
Lionel Messi has faced Thibaut Courtois plenty of times in club competitions, and the Belgium goalkeeper has a habit of getting the better of the four-time player of the year.
In fact, Courtois has kept Messi scoreless the last seven times his Atletico Madrid faced Barcelona. If he can do it again, Belgium will have every chance of reaching the semifinals for the first time since 1986 — when it was eliminated by Argentina.
Messi has scored four of Argentina’s seven goals in the tournament so far and set up two of the others — including Angel Di Maria’s extra-time winner against Switzerland in the second round.
Belgium is hoping a collective effort will be able to outshine one outstanding individual.
“I don’t want to depend on a single player, I want to depend on many,” Belgium coach Marc Wilmots said. “That is one of our strengths.”
Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella also insists there are more players who can make the difference for his team, even though striker Gonzalo Higuain is scoreless in Brazil and Sergio Aguero is injured.
“Obviously he (Messi) is the best player in the world but there is teamwork,” Sabella said. “It’s a team that supports Messi, makes him stronger, makes him feel well. And, therefore, Messi performs as he’s doing.”
And while Argentina vs. Belgium is about much more than Messi vs. Courtois, the winner of that matchup will go a long way toward deciding which team reaches the last four.
Venue: Brasilia. Kickoff 1 p.m. local time (noon in New York, 5 p.m. London, 1 a.m. Tokyo)
NETHERLANDS vs. COSTA RICA
Few outsiders give Costa Rica much of a chance of knocking off the free-scoring Netherlands and extending its best-ever run at a World Cup. Then again, few people gave it much of a chance of getting out of the group stage, much less into the quarterfinals.
Costa Rica has been the little team that could at this World Cup, beating Uruguay and Italy to advance from a tough Group D and then ousting Greece in a penalty shootout.
Can it pull off yet another upset win?
“We want to keep writing history,” Costa Rica midfielder Johnny Acosta said. “In 90 or 120 minutes, we will see which is the better team.”
Most would say that’s the Netherlands, which reached the final in 2010 and stunned defending champion Spain with a 5-1 win in their opening match in Brazil. While the Dutch haven’t been quite as rampant since then, they’ve racked up a tournament-leading 12 goals so far despite often playing in a formation with five defenders.
Costa Rica, though, has only allowed two goals en route to its first quarterfinal appearance, despite facing three former world champions in the group stage.
“We should not underestimate Costa Rica at all. I think it’s going to be a very tough match,” injured midfielder Nigel de Jong said. “Costa Rica got here with a lot of passion and belief and, of course, they’re playing without pressure, so we should not take them lightly.”
Venue: Salvador. Kickoff 5 p.m. local time (4 p.m. in New York, 9 p.m. London, 5 a.m. Tokyo)