Argentina and Belgium have had a mixed bag of performances over the course of the World Cup so far in Brazil, but both will fancy their chances of progressing to the semi-finals. The two nations meet on Saturday in Brasilia for their quarter-final clash, having clawed their way past Switzerland and the USA respectively, both in extra time.
In terms of team news, Belgium manager Marc Wilmots is likely to have a full roster of players to choose from, while Argentina’s Alejandro Sabella will be a little more limited. Full-back Marcos Rojo is suspended having picked up another yellow card in their labored victory over the Swiss, and though Sergio Aguero is back in training, he is unlikely to start with Ezequiel Lavezzi and Rodrigo Palacio hoping to fill his space in the starting eleven.
Argentina have been less than convincing as a team so far in this tournament, but with Lionel Messi close to his mesmerizing best, the sky is the limit. He teed up the atrociously out-of-form Angel di Maria to score in the final minutes of their last-16 tie, and has scored a string of top-quality goals to put himself in the running for the Golden Boot.
However, Aguero was clearly missed in that game as they ran out of ideas early on, lacking invention and penetration against a much less high-profile defense than Belgium’s. Lavezzi, di Maria and his former Real Madrid teammate Gonzalo Higuain will have to step their game up considerably if they are to progress – they can only rely on Messi’s brilliance for so long.
Belgium, meanwhile, played well against the Americans but were stopped for the best part of 120 minutes by Tim Howard, a man possessed between the posts. Romelu Lukaku had been having a poor tournament, but his introduction in that match made the difference – his pace and power were too much for their defense, attributes which can be used against a less physical Argentine side.
Dries Mertens, Eden Hazard and new boy on the block Divock Origi have shown moments of brilliance, so if they can all maintain a good level of performance in this game, they will surpass their ‘dark horses’ status and become true contenders. However naturally talented it may be, though, the Belgian squad is short of international experience – this could count against them against an Argentina side who for the most part have seen it all and done it all.
Belgium’s Spurs defender Jan Vertonghen has added fuel to the flames by stating that “we are certainly not scared,” because “the Argentines haven’t played well to date.” Vertonghen went on to parallel Messi’s form with the brilliance of Chelsea’s Hazard, calling him “something special.”
However, it does not quite live up to the praise little Leo received from Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi, who described him as a player “from Jupiter” after his two goals against the Super Eagles saw Argentina out of the group stage.
Both teams have flattered to deceive so far, but make no mistake about the quality they possess; this one could be a classic.