Can the Red Devils stop Lionel Messi?

As the 2014 World Cup enters the business stages of the tournament, eight teams will have high aspirations of building on their progress to the quarter final stage and go all the way to the Final. Brasilia will see Argentina and Belgium come head-to-head on Saturday evening in a game which promises to be an intriguing battle between one of the strong favourites and a World Cup dark horse. The big question hanging over the upcoming fixture is how Belgium will handle Lionel Messi, with the mercurial superstar showing that he can win games on his own in an instant. However, there is no question that Marc Wilmots’ young and vibrant Belgium side can cause problems for any team for face, with a no-fear factor playing into their hands in a game where they will be valued as the underdogs by many pundits and bookmakers. The leading bookmaker Betsafe have Argentina as favourites in their sport betting odds to progress in their odds, but both teams have a chance in what could be yet another wonderful World Cup match that has everyone on the edge of their seats.

Despite coming into the World Cup as strong favourites alongside Brazil, Argentina have flattered to deceive – yet still find themselves preparing for a quarter final match. Alejandro Sabella’s side met all expectations by topping Group F with three straight victories, but it does not tell the story of how they played. Argentina struggled to break down three teams who were resolute, but were also prepared to have a real go and attack themselves. Lionel Messi won the games against Bosnia and Iran single-handedly through moments of pure brilliance, but it is no exaggeration to say that Iran more than deserved a draw and had several glorious chances to cause one of the biggest World Cup shocks. A Messi brace was also decisive in their 3-2 victory over Nigeria, although the game highlighted defensive vulnerabilities as Argentina struggled to contain the power and pace of Nigeria’s impressive attacking play.

Argentina managed to get the job done deep into extra time against Switzerland through Angel Di Maria’s, but were ultimately left counting their lucky stars as the Swiss hit the woodwork and missed a glaring opportunity to at least take the game to penalties. Despite being slight favourites at 2.12 to win in 90 minutes and 1.51 to qualify in the event of extra time and penalties, Argentina will have to be on their game to get past a Belgium side who are no pushovers. It may come down to the magic of Lionel Messi to come to the fore, with the striker 4.00 favourite to open the scoring.

Although Belgium remains in the transitional period as an emerging nation, they have shown enough promise at the 2014 World Cup to show that they could be major contenders in future international tournaments. Marc Wilmots has the luxury of picking from what could be considered as Belgium’s golden generation of players, with the squad packed with talented young players who have embraced the World Cup and shone on the biggest stage. Winning every game in Group H was achieved through workmanlike performances that, albeit lacking the powerful impact and quality to blow teams away that was expected before the tournament began, showed that Belgium could get the job done whilst always carrying an attacking threat.

Going into the game as underdogs at 2.55 (3.75 to win in 90 minutes) should suit Belgium who have all the qualities required to not only give Argentina a real run for their money, but also shock the world and knock out one of the World Cup favourites. Belgium may never have a better chance to beat an Argentina team that are performing well below their best, and will take encouragement from the wonderful work Valon Behrami and Gokhan Inler put in for Switzerland in stifling Lionel Messi of any room – although the rare occasion he found space he created the decisive goal. Getting the ball to Eden Hazard (9.00) and Dries Mertens (10.00) will be key to Belgium establishing a foothold in the game and having a real chance of progressing to the semi-finals.


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