South American powerhouse Argentine will bid to reach the semi-finals of the world cup for the first time since 1990 when they take on dark horses Belgium in the last 8. Ahead of the clash Footybunker looks at the key men for both teams, the team news, current form and history.
With four goals and four man of the match performances to date it is hard to look past Lionel Messi as the key man for Argentine. The Barcelona forward is finally looking comfortable in the white and blue of his country at a major tournament and his performances to date have echoed those of Diego Maradona in 1986 with both single-handedly guiding their team-mates through the tournament. Messi hasn’t won anything yet though in Brazil and he will need to once again be creator and scorer if Argentina are to beat the Red Devils.
To do that he will have to overcome the challenge, or indeed challenges, of one Vincent Kompany. The Manchester City defender is without doubt one of the best defenders in the game and his ability to marshal a strong Belgian defence will be key to the outcome of this game. If Kompany and co. can keep Messi quiet then it will set the stage for the likes of Romelu Lukaku, so effective from the bench against the USA and Eden Hazard to punish an Argentine defensive that doesn’t looked the strongest in the tournament.
Argentina will be without left back Sergio Rojo through suspension with Jose Basanta in his likely replacement. Belgium meanwhile will have left back Thomas Vermaelen available after a hamstring injury and Steven Defour back from suspension.
Argentina have won all their games to date without truly hitting form. Narrow wins over Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran coupled by an equally nervy 3-2 win over Nigeria in their final game saw them reach the last 16. A late goal from Angel di Maria was enough to see off the challenge of Switzerland however Messi and co. will need to improve if they are to win the cup. Belgium meanwhile have been resilient if unspectacular in their wins over Algeria, Russia, Korea and the USA. Each game has been won by a single goal each of which have come after the 70th minute.
This will be the fourth meeting between the two sides and the third at the world up. The two first met in 1982 when Belgium won 1-0 against the then defending champions in their opening group game. The Belgians went into top the group ahead of the Argentines. Four years later they met again this time in the semi-finals when two goals from Maradona sealed a 2-0 win. On that occasion Argentina went onto win the cup and if Messi and Co. can secure another win then the belief will grow. The fourth place finish achieved by Belgium in 1986 remains their best ever effort at a World Cup but there is a growing belief, especially amongst football hipsters that the current crop but emulate if not build on that success.
Argentina and Belgium have both been workman like with moments of brilliance so far at the tournament. Each time they have looked like they could be beaten they pop up with a winner. For Lionel Messi’s run and through ball to Angel di Maria against Switzerland read Kevin de Bruyne turn and shot to give Belgium the lead against the USA. Both have stars capable of turning a game although in the case of Argentina key men like Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero have yet to impress when they have played. The Belgian’s boasts one of the strongest squads in the tournament and their options from the bench plus a never give-up attitude has seen them claim victory near the end in each of their four games. If the game is level coming into the final minutes then you would fancy Marc Wilmots side to justify the generous.