Argentina have two big nemesis awaiting their path to the title - a World Cup QF match and potentially three European opponents. Their win ratio in WC over European opponents stand at a measly 30% (6 wins out of 19) and they are yet to beat any European opponent out-rightly in WC QF matches post 1986.
In 1990, they drew 0-0 vs Yugoslavia, eventually sailing via penalties; in 1998, Dennis Bergkamp’s wonder goal took them out; and in the last two world cups, Germany have shown the door.
To make matters worse Belgium (their rivals tonight) have a youthful team, a golden generation, who have already achieved what was expected; strong, tall, burly defenders; fast, counter attacking players and a nothing-to-lose attitude to play for. The pressure is all on Argentina.
However, the disadvantages end there. Argentina have stars on their favour as WC 2014 slowly steadily is resembling Mexico 1986, the last time Albicelestes lifted the Julius Rimet trophy. Here are ten reasons to believe why this is going to be the Messi year, as it was for one Diego Maradona, 28 years ago.
1) Belgium are yet to play any opponent of the calibre of Argentina’s attacking prowess. They are yet to play any South American team as a matter of fact.
2) Belgium struggled in group stages with all three wins, over un-fancied opponents, coming via late goals.
3) Belgium (ironically along with Argentina) have the most shots at goal (83 to 80). This is precisely what the Argies want - a team which comes out to play, that will allow Messi-Maria and co more space to operate.
4) Belgium play four centre-backs, out of which, two on the wings, are slow by standards of what good wing backs provide. That’s a big area for Argentina to expose.
5) In WC 2014 Argentina have had maximum possession at 65%. Their play most times has resembled that of the current Barcelona team - lots of passing, little meaningful penetration… but the big threat remains. For all that possession, they are due for goals, likely to come in a big game.
6) While the South American’s defence has been classified as their achilles heel, they have managed two clean sheets and looking more assured as the tournament progresses. Between 40th and 120th minute, their R16 opponents, the Swiss, never got a chance to test keeper Romero.
7) There is improvement across the board too. Mascherano, Gago and Di Maria were different players in the R16 encounter.
8) While much is made of Brazil’s weak strike force (Fred, Hulk), it missed everyone that star striker Gonzalo Higuain has been wasteful and disappointing, so far. Lavezzi didn’t impress last game either. There is every chance Maxi Rodriguez will take the latter’s place tonight and that would mean Higuain plays upfront as lone striker with more space to him.
9) Argentina have omens in their favour. They got a lollipop group and then found themselves in easier half of the draw. World Cup in Americas have always been won by a South American team and Argentina are now the strongest amongst those that remain – considering Brazil are weakened without Neymar and captain Silva for their next encounter. It’s slowly becoming Argentina’s world cup to lose.
10) The Albiceleste have beaten Belgium three out of four times in world cup encounters. The last victory was when Diego Maradona scored two jaw dropping goals in the 1986 SF. The signs are all there that Messi may score two tonight too.
Prediction: Argentina to prevail in a high scoring encounter 3-1