As Germany is set to advance to the World Cup semi-finals following the team’s July 4 victory over France, Argentina looks ahead to their quarter-final match against Belgium on July 5. The winner of the Argentina-Belgium game will proceed to the semi-finals where they will take on the victor of the Netherlands-Costa Rica game. As both Argentina and Belgium are likely to be running through last-minute strategies, Argentina has no shame owning their belief that Lionel Messi will play a principal role in an Argentine victory over Belgium.
Belgium is likely to be riding a wave of adrenaline following their knockout victory against the U.S. The game was telling insofar as how Belgium coach, Marc Wilmots, utilizes a consistent and effective substitution strategy for his team. Of Belgium’s six goals in the 2014 World Cup, four of them were scored by substitutes.
To complicate matters, Argentina will miss the defensive presence of Marcos Rojo, who will play left bench during the game after incurring a second yellow card against Switzerland. Coach Alejandro Sabella will likely choose between José Basanta and Martín Demichelis to replace Rojo.
The achievable task for Argentina will be to dominate the midfield and overpower Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Axel Witsel. Wilmots stated that his strategy against Argentina will be to not sit deep defensively. Arguably the right decision (in light of the backfire that strategy had for Iran and Switzerland), though it will open up the potential for Argentine counter-attacks driven by the Messi-Gonzalo Higuaín-Sergio Agüero trio. Ezequiel Lavezzi and Ángel di María will also be crucial for breaking down the Belgium back line.
On two occasions, Argentina has secured wins late in the game. Messi found the back of the net in the 91st minute against Iran in Group play, and fed Ángel di María to score in extra-time (118th minute) against Switzerland to qualify for the quarter-finals. The late wins are a morale boost according to Argentine defender Pablo Zabaleta, and illustrate for opposing teams the importance of staying focused for the entire 90 minutes. Argentina will take advantage of a fatigued and complacent defense.
One Guardian Liberty Voice writer has jumped on the wagon of Messi-bashing that has resulted in the bleeding ears of Argentine fans and players alike. Yes, the world knows Messi is the crutch, but that being said, stating the obvious has yet to yield a result other than encouraging Argentine supporters to perfect the art of selective hearing.
Zabaleta (Manchester City) mocked the transparency of what has become the clichéd critique of Argentina, namely that the national team relies on Messi to lead them to victory. So what? In what is bound to disappoint the hate wagon, Zabaleta responded to the affront by simply conceding: it is no revelation that Argentina’s tactic is to rely on Messi to drive home the win. “Every time we recover the ball,” Zabaleta said, “we try to pass to him as he is the best player we have in the team and he will score goals.”
So with criticism reaching an all-time anticlimactic opposition—in the form of no opposition whatsoever from the Argentinian national team—the ultimate statement will be if Belgium has the capacity to subdue the not-so-secret weapon in Argentina’s arsenal. There will be no apologetic from Argentina regarding their chief strategy and that is fine. In fact, that should be an advantage for opposing teams, saving them time and effort in constructing a scouting report. Argentina’s cards are on the table, and the team has no reservations about it. While the public seems to get enjoyment out of pointing to the trump card, opposing teams have yet to counter with anything substantial.
The winner of tomorrow’s World Cup quarter-final match, to be held at the Estádio Nacional de Brasilia in Brasília, will advance to the semi-finals on July 9. The winning team will either face Costa Rica or the mighty Oranje. Argentina knows that Messi can lead their team to victory against Belgium and will see to it that it happens tomorrow.
Read more Guardian Liberty Voice Coverage on the FIFA World Cup Quarterfinals
Commentary by Courtney Anderson