After a dramatic 2-1 win over the United States in stoppage time in the first stage of the knockout round, Belgium will take on Argentina, a team that squeaked by a tough Switzerland squad 1-0.
The Argentians field the best player remaining in this tournament in Lionel Messi and so far, his campaign has been nothing short of brilliant. Messi has tallied four goals and one assist in his team’s four games, and has saved them from disgrace in just about every single contest as well.
Even on an off day, Messi can produce a singular moment of magic that can tilt a game in his team’s favor, and Belgium will have their hands full, even with a world-class center-back like Vincent Kompany leading the defense.
The weak link for Belgium at this World Cup has been their fullbacks, and Argentina will look to exploit that with Messi and Angel Di Maria, who is having an excellent tournament as well. Di Maria’s relentless pace and work rate, combined with a dynamic left foot, should allow him to have a lot of success on Saturday. Argentina also has Barcelona stalwart Javier Mascherano running the show from the midfield.
Coming in to this tournament, Belgium was billed as the dark horse with their significant amount of young, promising talent like Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Thibaut Courtois, Kevin De Bruyne, Axel Witsel and Marouane Fellaini.
That group of players will need to play like veterans in order to attack a sturdy, but fallible Argentina defense. While a quarterfinals appearance is impressive for this Belgian team, a deeper run may be a tall task. Argentina and Messi need a run at winning this World Cup more than Belgium does right now, and I believe the moment is a bit too big for them.
Messi is under a tremendous amount of pressure to secure his legacy and equaling (or surpassing) Diego Maradona; fair or unfair, I think the motivation will push Argentina through.
Prediction: Argentina 2, Belgium 1