World Cup 2014 quarter-final preview: Argentina v Belgium
Argentina and Belgium head into their crunch game well matched, with both teams having topped their groups with three wins, but needing extra time to secure eventual victory in their respective last 16 clashes with Switzerland and the USA.
La Albiceleste, 11/10 to win the tie in 90 minutes, have faced the Red Devils in a World Cup knockout stage once before, and take a slight historical advantage into this duel, having claimed the spoils in that last encounter.
Argentina sent Belgium crashing out of the tournament in Mexico ’86, with a certain Diego Maradona netting both goals in the 2-0 semi-final win. Alejandro Sabella’s side are at 9/1 to replicate that result, and 7/2 to further emulate that historic team by lifting the World Cup.
Mention of La Albiceleste’s most iconic and celebrated player inevitably draws the attention to their current saviour, Lionel Messi. The Barcelona superstar is 4/1 to score two or more, having so far carried his team through the tournament. Despite having netted four times in Argentina’s three group stage outings, and providing an assist that saw his side squeeze past Switzerland in the last 16, there is the distinct feeling that Messi is just warming up.
Whether the fearsome forward, 7/2 to fire home first, or 18/1 to hit a hat-trick against Belgium, can inspire La Albiceleste to win the tournament on their bitter rival’s home soil remains to be seen. However, they are 11/8 to at least reach the final, having collected results despite not quite reaching top gear yet.
Whilst Messi has so far shouldered the hopes of a nation by responding with genius and panache, Belgium’s star man Eden Hazard has contributed noticeably quieter performances.
The usually electrifying attacker has so far failed to transfer his impressive club form for Chelsea to a Red Devils shirt. With two assists under his belt in Brazil, Hazard is 8/1 to show his mettle against Argentina and open scoring.
He has so far been outshone by former Blues clubmate Kevin De Bruyne. The 23-year-old was the one to break the United States’ deadlock, with a goal and an assist for Romelu Lukaku in extra time. He is 20/1 to make Argentina sweat by netting two or more, and 10/1 to fire home first.
Marc Wilmots has kept his side fresh in the tournament by constantly tweaking personnel, and may face some selection headaches, with youngsters Romelu Lukaku, 2/1 to net anytime, and Divock Origi vying for the lone striker role. The Red Devils are 14/5 to push past La Albiceleste in 90 minutes, or 13/8 to qualify and make their first semi-final appearance since they were knocked out by the South Americans at Mexico ’86.
Argentina, meanwhile, will likely replace suspended left back Marcos Rojo with Jose Maria Basanta, and misfiring forward Ezequiel Lavezzi is set to retain his place in attack, as Sergio Aguero’s injury keeps him confined to the sidelines.
One aspect in which the Red Devils, 12/1 to win the World Cup, can claim an advantage over La Albiceleste is defensive strength. A strong spine including aggressive Axel Witsel in midfield, and a centre back partnership of Vincent Kompany and Daniel van Buyten protecting Chelsea stopper Thibaut Cortois is superior than anything Argentina can offer.
If they fail to break down Belgium, who have only conceded two goals in Brazil so far, early on, the Europeans have quality on the counter-attack to punish, that the likes of Iran and Switzerland did not.
Both sides have so far struggled to fire on all cylinders, only recording 13 goals in eight games between them. Fans will be hoping that the two nations, 23/10 to draw in 90 minutes, will find form and utilise their array of exciting attacking players to create a memorable encounter. Belgium have become famous for their late wins in Brazil, and Argentina also had to wait until extra time to defeat Switzerland, meaning the first goal of the game is 16/1 to take place in the 81 to 90 bracket.