Lionel Messi will look to take another step to the World Cup final later today, but which Belgium players can stop him?
We look at the three key men Alejandro Sabella and Marc Wilmots will rely on in Brasilia and see what they must do to ensure it is their team in the semi-final
Lionel Messi, in this game, as in any other that he plays, holds the key. Messi is the only player on the pitch with the capabilities of winning this football game alone. Messi has carried Argentina up to this point, and I strongly believe that he is going to carry Argentina the whole way to winning the World Cup. Expect the lightning quick drop of a shoulder, and before you know it Messi will have scored a trademark goal.
Angel Di Maria
Undoubtedly one of the best players in Europe this season, Di Maria is part of the Argentina engine room, his pace and quality in midfield is a real plus for the side. His quick distribution to Messi will be of vital importance, if Argentina can allow for some rapid build-up play and Di Maria can find Messi in space on the counter attack it will be very difficult for the Red Devils. As we saw against Switzerland too, when needs must Di Maria can be the man to finish off an important attack.
Marcos Rojo may have been unknown to many before this World Cup but he has certainly made a big impression in Brazil. The 24 year old left-back plays for Sporting Lisbon in Portugal, but his recent performances have seen him heavily linked with a summer transfer to Liverpool. Rojo has done on the left for Argentina what his team-mate Pablo Zabaleta is renowned for doing on the right. He has bombed forward at will, linking up with the Argentine attackers, and adding another dimension to Argentina’s play, so much so that they have crossed the ball into the box more than any other team during this World Cup. Rojo also headed home the winner in a 3-2 group stage win against Nigeria.
Left back Marcos Rojo has been one of Argentina’s biggest attacking threats
Undoubtedly Belgium’s most dangerous attacking threat, Eden Hazard really needs to step up at this World Cup. He has bags of ability but none of it has been on show. Hazard has the pace to hurt Argentina, their defence is by no means the best in the world, and he is capable of both getting in behind the back four, and of beating full-backs in one-on-one scenarios. In those positions, he can supply his team-mates in the middle, or even cut in himself, as we see him do so often for Chelsea. Hazard really does have star quality, but he needs to show it against Argentina in order to try and help the Belgians progress.
Divock Origi is another fantastic young Belgian footballer, except unlike his team-mates, Origi isn’t as well known. That will soon change, though, as Origi has been building a reputation for himself in Brazil. He came as a squad player but in the eyes of coach Marc Wilmots he may have already eclipsed Romelu Lukaku, as Wilmots opted to start with Origi as his lone striker for the last-16 clash with the USA. Origi is tall, quick and powerful, he is a confident player who hasn’t been afraid to shoot at goal from anywhere. He can hurt Argentina in a number of ways and if Belgium’s midfield can perform he will certainly get the service to do so. Lionel Messi has not scored past Thibaut Courtois in seven matches
For Belgium to progress, Courtois will need to play well, very well. In fact, if Lionel Messi has a great game then Courtois needs to perform better than he ever has before; and Messi is in that sort of mood. However, the Argentine has not scored in seven matches against the 6ft 6in keeper. The gangly Belgian keeper has really been on form for Atletico Madrid, and looks set to return to his parent club, Chelsea, next season. If he can be the shot stopper Atletico fans know him as against Argentina, then Belgium may progress, and Courtois may return to Chelsea, a happier man.