World Cup quarter-final preview: Argentina v Belgium
Head to head
These two modern heavyweights have met only four times previously, most notably in the 1986 World Cup semi-final. In that meeting, Diego Maradona’s Argentina were the victors and went on to be crowned world champions for the second time. Belgium have only won one of the other three matchups with the teams never playing out a draw.
Both squads come into this quarter-final in very similar positions. Both dominated possession against mediocre opposition in their opening four matches, and neither has been tested by a world class opponent yet.
La Albiceleste now face a new challenge. A Belgian team with a very solid defence and a punishing forward line await them on the pitch in Brasilia. The Red Devils also sport a very solid core with a great balance of attacking and defensive talent. This may prove to be the difference between the two sides.
The attacking virtues of Argentina are more than well known, but they lack balance in the team and, more importantly, a link between their defensive and attacking units.
Javier Mascherano does a great job of guarding the vulnerable back four but Fernando Gago has failed to form the much needed link to the South Americans attacking class. This may prove crucial in a game where they will be spending more time in their own half than in any other game so far in the tournament.
Belgium have a terrific balance and an unyielding defensive unit. Although lately they have been criticised for using four centre halves in defence, this may work to their advantage against a team with the likes of Lionel Messi and Angel Di Maria.
The Red Devils have grown accustomed to dominating possession and dictating the pace of the game. Sunday morning will be a completely different situation with Argentina’s attackers bound to pressure the Belgian backline and keep the ball when they gain possession. This could end up complementing Belgium’s lightning quick transition. After all, they have scored the most goals (three) on counter attack in the tournament.
Both teams are desperate to reach the top four with neither of them achieving it in the last two decades. Marc Wilmots’ men have been getting progressively better as they get more match practice together but the same can be said of the Blue and Whites. One thing is for sure, there will be lots of end-to-end attack and hopefully a bag full of goals.
The big issue
Will Belgium’s defence hold strong or will the Argentine individuals shine? A lot rests on the shoulders of Vincent Kompany and the soldiers he captains in the backline. If Messi’s superstars fail to break down the stubborn Belgian defence, then you can bet on The Reds Devils having a right crack at Sergio Romero’s goal.
The game breaker
If Alejandro Sabella has found a solution to his midfield problem then the Argentinians will be especially hard to break down. They have the highest possession figure in Brazil to date (65%), and Belgium may feel uncomfortable in a position they have not yet experienced as a group. On the other hand, if Belgium can knock Argentina off their rhythm, as Bosnia did in their opening match, then they have more than a fair chance of winning this contest.
Prediction: Belgium 3-2 Argentina
A change up from the excruciating goalless matches of the round of 16. Get prepared for some goals.