Another quarter final and another mouth-watering tie in the offing – but the unique thing about this tie is that it’s Belgium that needs to call the shots in terms of team selection, formation and tactics. Argentina will only use a simple plan – give the ball to Messi. In fact, Pablo Zabaleta has said so on the record.
But before we go into tactics let’s look at a little bit of history between these 2 teams in the World Cups. Last time when Belgium and Argentina met in a knock-out stage of the World Cup, it was way back in 1986 semi-finals and Argentina beat Belgium 2-0 courtesy Diego Maradona’s brace and went on to win the World Cup.
Most of the Argentine fans will be hoping Messi does to Belgium in 2014 what Maradona did to them in 1986. This is where the game in my view will be decided. If Messi gets to unveil his magic then there is no stopping Argentina but if Belgium is somehow able to tie Messi down then they would already have taken one step closer to the semi-final. On paper, Argentina has the best attacking quartet in the world – Messi, Aguero, Higuain and Di Maria. In fact, Argentina could even afford to leave a player of Carlos Tevez quality back home. But in reality, Aguero is struggling with injuries and indifferent form and highly unlikely to feature, Higuain is yet to open his World Cup goals account and Di Maria has had an average tournament so far barring the goal against Switzerland.
Barring injuries and/or suspensions Argentina’s starting XI is more or less decided. Belgium on their part may have some tactical decisions to make in selecting the team. Key among them in my view are:
- Alex Witsel over Mouranne Fellaini in the midfield – Witsel surely is much better defensive midfielder than Fellaini, more dynamic and less susceptible to rash challenges than Fellaini
- Eden Hazard on right or left of attacking trio – usually Hazard plays on left and he will be up against Zabaleta but with Argentine left back Sergio Rojo suspended, Argentina has no option but to put Jose Basanta in that position. If Wilmots moves Hazard to right and if Hazard can play equally effectively on the right side then he can cause havoc against Basanta. But the big question is, will Wilmots risk such a tactical shift in such a big game?
Another tactical decision that Wilmots needs to make is about how he approaches the game against Argentina. In this World Cup Argentina have often found it difficult to break down resolute defences (e.g. games against Iran and Switzerland) and have relied on Messi’s brilliance to save the day for them. At the same time, against the teams that come out and attack (e.g. game against Nigeria) they scored more goals but have conceded too (e.g. 2 goals against Nigeria). Keeping that in mind, Belgium has a tactical decision to make – whether to go out and attack or let Argentina keep the ball and play on the counter. Going by the performances in this World Cup, Belgium has been one of the better counter attacking teams and in Hazard, De Brunye, Marallas and Lukaku they have players who can break with pace and have played their club football in a team that plays counterattacking system. So it might just suit Belgium.
Prediction: I expect it to be a thrilling tactical battle where Argentina keeps the ball and attacks Belgium but Belgium defends deep and counter attacks with speed. Eventually Belgium to beat Argentina by 1-0 or 2-1