230px-Argentina_logo_svgBelgium(c)wikimedia(dot)orgARGENTINA

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BELGIUM

Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha, Brasília

July 5, 2014; 17:00 BST

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This edition of the World Cup is perhaps one of the best in recent times. Goals have come in abundance and some breathtaking talents made their way to the frontpage of major dailies around the globe. While offensive players have ruled the roost, goalkeepers too have had their share of glory after some stunning performances. Defense however has in general been the nadir of this World Cup – no team can boast of a solid defensive performance.

Argentina take on Belgium in one of the most exciting matches of recent times. Both teams can match each other in offense with a slight edge to Argentina, thanks to the presence of Lionel Messi. Belgium are on the other hand a stronger defensive unit and has a better goalkeeper.

The last time these two teams met was in the iconic 1986 Mexico World Cup. Inspired by Diego Maradona, Argentina took the match from the Belgians. While fans remember Diego’s brilliant solo goal and the controversial ‘Hand of God’ against England, they seem to ignore the fact that Maradona scored an equally brilliant goal against Belgium.

There’s no Maradona this time around. But there’s Lionel Messi. Will he able to replicate Maradona’s heroics? Only time will tell. THT presents the match preview and other details.

Team news and tactics

Argentina

On paper this team looks good. Off it not so much. An abundance of offensive riches but not being able to deliver the goods on the pitch. Wherever Argentina is in this tournament, it is solely due to the exploits of Lionel Messi, who has not been anything less than phenomenal in this edition of the quadrennial event. If there’s ever been a one man team, it is this Argentina. Even the 1986 squad had the two Jorges – Burruchaga and Valdano, assisting Diego. Messi hasn’t got any support whatsoever. How far will he be able to take this team on his own is unknown but in the last four matches he has at least proved a point – he’s the greatest player of his generation.

Sabella made some ludicrous decisions while selecting the squad and even while playing them. Carlos Tevez relegated because of his unsavory relation with Sabella, but the rest? Pastore may not have been as regular for PSG as he’d have liked but it goes without saying that among the current crop of Argentine midfielders he is perhaps the most creative. Gino Peruzzi could easily have fitted into the slow Argentine defense. More so in the absence of Rojo, who has been one of Argentina’s outstanding players sand Messi.

While the farcical squad selection can be water under the bridge, tactically too Sabella has been nothing but pedestrian. Why did he choose not to experiment with the defense and play either Demichelis or Campagnaro against Nigeria? From what it seems these two may not get to play at all this time and neither do they seem too reliable as far as bench strength is concerned. Mateo Musacchio and Federico Fazio couldn’t have been any worse than these two 33 year olds.

While Higuain and Aguero has been near-invisible, Lavezzi and Palacio aren’t doing great either. Messi will have to look out for Di Maria, who has been profligate but can rise to the occasion like he did for Real Madrid countless number of times last season.

Marcos Rojo has been the standout performer for Argentina in defense. And his suspension might just be the vital point which may rob Argentina of an opportunity to proceed further. Sabella is expected to use Basanta to replace Rojo – a player who has never played in Europe against an offense considered to be one of the best in Europe.

Only a miracle can pave the way for Argentina’s progress to the next round. Whether it comes in the form of Messi or Di Maria or not at all, is to be seen.

Probable Starting Line-up (4-3-3): Romero; Zabaleta, Fernandez, Garay, Basanta; Gago, Mascherano, Di Maria; Messi, Higuain, Lavezzi

Belgium

Many national teams have a host of great talent who come up at the same time and comprise the much revered Golden Generation. This is Belgium’s Golden Generation. With Eden Hazard leading the charge, Wilmots also has a host of other talented youngsters who can decide the fate of this match with their pace and sheer brilliance.

Wilmots will know that Argentina haven’t yet faced a quality attack which has the perfect combination of guile and speed. Belgium is just that. All their offensive players are extremely pacy and have a good bit of skill. Eden Hazard of course take that to an altogether new level. What Enzo Scifo couldn’t in 1986, Hazard surely can in 2014. Dries Mertens and Kevin De Bruyne pack a punch as well, against an ageing and slow Argentina defense.

If handling a pacy and tricky winger like Shaqiri was bad enough for Sabella’s back four, the Belgian super-fast quartet of Hazard, Mertens, De Bruyne and Origi will be nothing short of nightmarish. And to add to that they also have the burly Fellaini.

The ideal strategy for Belgium will be to stifle Messi with two midfielders – Witsel and Fellaini. Without the dynamism of Leo, the Argentine offense is impotent. And to deal with any other threat, there will always be Van Buyten and Kompany. The lack of a genuine fullback might be a bit of a blessing in disguise for the Belgians who will have four solid defenders. Vertonghen’s propensity to move into attack might have to be curbed a bit.

And behind all of them will be Thibaut Courtois who seen defeat against an attack led by Lionel Messi in as many as seven occasions last season.

This is Belgium’s match to lose.

Probable Starting Lineup (4-3-3): Courtois; Toby, Van Buyten, Kompany, Vertonghen; Witsel, Fellaini, De Bruyne; Mertens, Origi, Hazard

Player To Watch Out For

Lionel Messi (Argentina)

Now that all debates have been put to rest, Messi is certain the greatest player of his generation. Without him Argentina may not even have qualified for the knock-out rounds. He was instrumental in 6 of the 7 goals scored by Argentina and not only Belgium but the local Brazilian fans too will be against him. Against such belligerence if there is anyone who can turn the odds, its Leo. Wilmots’ men will have to be alert all the 5400 seconds and more they are on the pitch.

Prediction

Argentina 1-2 Belgium

This is Belgium’s match to lose. They are playing against a team which has lost their best defender to suspension and a world class striker to injury. If Wilmots’ men do not make the most of it, then they will remain just another bunch of great quality players whose potentials were for nothing.

Blast from the past