World Cup: Belgium ready to put brakes on Messi

Lionel Messi in training in Vespesiano for the quarter-final against Belgium. Picture: Victor Cavano/APLionel Messi in training in Vespesiano for the quarter-final against Belgium. Picture: Victor Cavano/AP
Lionel Messi in training in Vespesiano for the quarter-final against Belgium. Picture: Victor Cavano/AP
So FAR none of Argentina’s 
opponents have been able to stop Lionel Messi.

Perhaps Belgium have what it takes. But even if they don’t, the Red Devils present a fresh challenge for 
Argentina at this World Cup. For the first time in Brazil, 
Argentina face opponents with enterprise and attacking 
potential to rival their own.

“We will have to adapt, but what really interests me is to see how they will adapt to us,” Belgium coach Marc Wilmots said.

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Argentina have ruggled on their road to the quarter-finals, relying on single moments of Messi magic to break stalemates against mostly defensive teams.

Tomorrow in Brasilia, they are up against a young, sparkling team long considered dark horses to lift the World Cup. Even though they needed extra time to prevail against the United States, Belgium unleashed admirable attacking qualities in that game that could present problems for Argentina’s shaky defence.

Against the Americans Belgium fired in 38 shots, half of them from midfielders Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard, and strikers Divock Origi as well as Romelo Lukaku who scored in extra time. A great performance by US goalkeeper Tim Howard kept the score down.

Meanwhile, Argentina’s attack hasn’t been as fearsome as predicted. Centre forward Gonzalo Higuain has not found the net after four games and his strike partner Sergio Aguero is out injured. Ezequiel Lavezzi is replacing the Manchester City striker but he was largely ineffective against Switzerland.

And then there’s Messi. The little genius has delivered when Argentina needed him most, scoring in every group stage match and setting up Angel Di Maria’s extra-time winner against Switzerland. In a tight game, the Swiss shackled him successfully until his decisive run in the 118th minute. “We knew that we would face a situation like that, but that’s football and we had luck on our side,” Messi said. “We’re aware that all matches are going to be very close.”

Wilmots was unwilling to compare the strengths of the two teams but noted that except for a few players, Argentina’s performance at the World Cup has exposed some weaknesses.

“Obviously they have Di Maria, Lavezzi, Higuain and Messi,” Wilmots said. “But I also saw they showed a lack of balance within the team and that they had problems.” 
If Messi is in extraordinary form, he will cause problems for Belgium, Wilmots conceded yesterday. “But if you ask me as a coach whether I prefer a good collective or one great player, I prefer the team.”

Argentina left back Sergio Rojo is suspended and will probably be replaced by Jose Basanta in tomorrow’s game.

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Wilmots said Belgium left-back Thomas Vermaelen is likely to return after missing the US game with a hamstring injury, while midfielder Steven Defour is back from suspension.

Belgium and Argentina haven’t met in the World Cup since the 1980s.

In 1982, Belgium beat Argentina 1-0 in their World Cup opener. Four years later Diego Maradona scored both goals in a 2-0 semi-final win on Argentina’s road to their second World Cup triumph.