Messi test for Belgium as last eight looms
Brasilia: Four-time footballer of the year Lionel Messi`s misfiring Argentina and Belgium completed the line-up for the World Cup quarter-finals and will face each other in a repeat of the 1986 World Cup semi-final.
Their qualification on Tuesday leaves the make-up of the quarter-finals evenly balanced with four Latin American sides and four Europeans, giving the `old continent` a good chance of finally triumphing in a World Cup hosted in the Americas.
Both the Argentinians and Belgium sealed their places with victories in extra-time against Switzerland and the United States respectively, though, the South American giants` performance left plenty question marks hanging over whether they can add to their two World Cup trophies.
The last one came in 1986, when like the present team, they relied on the genius of one player, in the volatile Diego Maradona, who all but singlehandedly drove them to victory.
This time around the Belgians will be hoping they cope better with the wizardry of Messi than their predecessors did with Maradona, whose double in the 2-0 defeat dashed their dreams of a first ever final appearance.
The Belgian-Argentinia clash on Saturday in Brasilia is not the only one of the quarter-finals that evokes memories of a glorious past in terms of previous match-ups.
For on Friday two European titans, Germany and France, face each other in the appropriately historic setting of the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro with the French bidding to erase memories of two semi-final defeats in the 1980`s at the hands of what was then West Germany.
However, it is the 1982 semi-final that still rankles with many in France, not only because they let a 3-1 lead slip in extra-time to go out on penalties, but also due to the infamous incident when German goalkeeper Harald Schumacher`s shoulder charge left Patrick Battison unconscious on the pitch.
Schumacher, himself, persists in his defence that it was unintentional although his one regret is he did not attend to the prone Battiston immediately after the incident.
Indeed the 60-year-old told AFP he feared that a similar incident could happen in Friday`s game given the penchant of present German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer to rush from his area to clear the ball.
"If one looks at yesterday`s match (Germany`s 2-1 win over Algeria on Monday) and how many times Neuer came out of his goal.....he can always be unlucky and arrive too late and something like what happened (in 1982) can occur."
The French camp like the German one is solely focussed on the future and not the past as coach Didier Deschamps, who was 14 at the time of the 1982 match, explained.
"They (his players) weren`t even born then, what would I speak to them about?" he said.
"Joachim Loew (Germany coach) is completely right. Have respect for former players and what`s taken place but we`re not playing against old rivals."
Belgian coach Marc Wilmots - who arrived on the international scene as a player after the 1986 World Cup - is also focussed solely on beating the present crop of Argentinians.
There were signs of hope for the `Red Devils` in Messi`s mood on Tuesday as the 27-year-old was stifled for the majority of the match by Swiss hardman Valon Behrami and took out his frustration at one point by shoving his opponent.
However, the down side for the Belgians was that almost the first time Messi escaped Behrami`s attentions he created the goal which not only killed off the Swiss but brought the curtain down on the glittering career of Switzerland`s German coach Ottmar Hitzfeld.
"Suffering, suffering that`s what I felt, but now we know we can go through times like this," said Messi.
"We were lucky, we had luck on our side and now we have to take advantage of it and move on."
Wilmots, who has yet to lose a competitive match since he took over in 2012, believes his young side can overcome the Argentinians.
"Their team lacks balance. As regards Messi we are not going to stand by and watch him play. I know how to take them on. With regards to them I wonder how they will deal with us when we attack."