Lionel Messi will look to take another step to the World Cup final later today, but which Belgium players can stop him?
We look at the three key men Alejandro Sabella and Marc Wilmots will rely on in Brasilia and see what they must do to ensure it is their team in the semi-final.
Lionel Messi, in this game, as in any other that he plays, holds the key. Messi is the only player on the pitch with the capabilities of winning this football game alone. Messi has carried Argentina up to this point, and I strongly believe that he is going to carry Argentina the whole way to winning the World Cup. Expect the lightning quick drop of a shoulder, and before you know it Messi will have scored a trademark goal.
World Cup 2014: A World Cup XI of players linked to Premier League clubs
World Cup 2014: A World Cup XI of players linked to Premier League clubs
1/11 GK: Guillermo Ochoa
(Free agent – Liverpool) As of July 1, the Mexican goalkeeping hero is a free agent and, according to his agent, over 20 clubs has already enquired about his availability. Ochoa put in an inspired performance against Brazil which alerted the likes of Liverpool, and his contract at French Ligue 2 side Ajaccio has just expired. The Merseyside club have also been linked to another World Cup goalkeeper in the form of Costa Rican penalty shoot-out star Keylor Navas, but the 27-year-old will cost upwards of £6.5 million from Levante.
2/11 RB: Serge Aurier
(Toulouse – Arsenal, Tottenham) The Toulouse right-back was a shining light in an otherwise indifferent World Cup campaign for Ivory Coast. While still a raw talent, the 21-year-old looked lively going forward and provided the assists for both of his country’s goals against Japan. His form has seen him linked with a move to Arsenal although it is understood that PSG could beat both Arsenal and Tottenham to his signature.
3/11 CB: Hector Moreno
(Espanyol – Tottenham, Manchester United, Hull City) Barring Guillermo Ochoa, Hector Moreno was Mexico’s star turn at the World Cup this year. Before he broke his shinbone against Holland, the 26-year-old was being linked to the likes of Manchester United, Tottenham and Hull City but now faces five months on the sidelines. While a move this summer is now off the cards, it is believed the Espanyol defender has also attracted interest abroad from Barcelona, Inter Milan and Juventus and may make a move in January.
4/11 CB: Raphael Varane
(Real Madrid – Chelsea) Varane was signed by Jose Mourinho during his tenure at Real Madrid and it appears the Portuguese wants to bring him to Stamford Bridge this summer. Varane has looked assured alongside Laurent Koscielny at the World Cup, and is still only 21-years-old, which suggests that he could be a long term replacement for John Terry. Indeed, the current England duo of Cahill and Terry at the heart of Chelsea’s defence could well be usurped by a French pair in the not too distant future, with fellow starlet Kurt Zouma also joining Chelsea this summer.
5/11 LB: Daley Blind
(Ajax – Manchester United) One of several Holland stars linked with a move to Manchester United this summer following the appointment of Netherlands coach Louis Van Gaal. It is largely acknowledged that United need completely rebuild their back four after the departure of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, so Blind’s versatility makes him likely option. With Luke Shaw already signed and Thomas Vermaelan seemingly on the way, Blind may be the final piece of a new-look back four at United ahead of their new era under Van Gaal.
6/11 CM: Paul Pogba
(Juventus – Chelsea, Manchester United) Having already secured the signing of Cesc Fabregas, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho is reported to be in the market for a midfield partner to add some steel in the centre of the park. Frenchman Pogba certainly fits the bill for Chelsea, although he won’t come cheap. Juventus rate the former Manchester United youngster at around £60 million and after a string of strong performances in Brazil, including a goal against Nigeria, his price tag is unlikely to drop anytime soon.
7/11 CM: Sami Khedira
(Real Madrid - Arsenal, Chelsea) Another option for Chelsea is German defensive-midfielder Sami Khedira, who Mourinho rates highly from his time in the Spanish capital. Arsenal are also looking for a holding midfield player as they struggle to deal injuries to the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Abou Diaby. Khedira has had to settle for substitute appearances when representing Germany of late, but has looked composed on the ball when given his chance at the World Cup finals.
8/11 AMR: Alexis Sanchez
(Barcelona – Liverpool, Arsenal) Speculation has linked the Chilean attacker with a move to Liverpool this summer in a player-plus-cash deal for Luis Suarez. Over the last few days, however, Arsenal seem to have moved into pole position with the player preferring a move to London if he was forced to leave Barcelona. It is thought that Barcelona want a quick sale for Sanchez with new manager Luis Enrique keen to reinvest money from player sales to bolster his aging squad, and Sanchez could be one of those sacrificed.
9/11 AMC: Arturo Vidal
(Juventus – Manchester United, Arsenal) One of the outstanding performers at the World Cup with an excellent domestic record behind him and an growing line of suitors including Real Madrid, Manchester United and Arsenal. The Chilean international has been valued at around £50 million by his club Juventus and it is understood United are willing to offer £48 million for the all-action midfielder. With Manchester United looking to rebuild their side around a strong midfield, Vidal could be the man for Louis van Gaal.
10/11 AML: Angel Di Maria
(Real Madrid – Manchester City, Arsenal, Manchester United) The Argentine midfielder reportedly sees his future away from the Bernabeua and a host of English clubs have quickly moved to attain his services. Real Madrid's £40 million asking price may even deter the likes of of Manchester City, whose spending has been capped for breaching Financial Fair Play regulations, but Arsenal are in the market for a marquee signing and Manchester United seem willing to go to any lengths to rebuild their squad this summer.
11/11 ST: Enner Valencia
(Pachuca – West Ham, Newcastle, Everton, Leicester City, Arsenal) Enner Valencia, a surprise package at the World Cup for Ecuador, has come from the obscurity of Mexican football to bag himself three group stage goals in impressive fashion. The 25-year-old has attracted attention all over Europe and now a host of clubs are fighting it out for his signature. Newcastle appeared to be favourites to sign hin, but today West Ham have emerged as surprise contenders to sign the striker who boss Sam Allerdyce hopes with spearhead a new generation of attacking football at the club.
Angel Di Maria
Undoubtedly one of the best players in Europe this season, Di Maria is part of the Argentina engine room, his pace and quality in midfield is a real plus for the side. His quick distribution to Messi will be of vital importance, if Argentina can allow for some rapid build-up play and Di Maria can find Messi in space on the counter attack it will be very difficult for the Red Devils. As we saw against Switzerland too, when needs must Di Maria can be the man to finish off an important attack.
Marcos Rojo may have been unknown to many before this World Cup but he has certainly made a big impression in Brazil. The 24 year old left-back plays for Sporting Lisbon in Portugal, but his recent performances have seen him heavily linked with a summer transfer to Liverpool. Rojo has done on the left for Argentina what his team-mate Pablo Zabaleta is renowned for doing on the right. He has bombed forward at will, linking up with the Argentine attackers, and adding another dimension to Argentina’s play, so much so that they have crossed the ball into the box more than any other team during this World Cup. Rojo also headed home the winner in a 3-2 group stage win against Nigeria.
Undoubtedly Belgium’s most dangerous attacking threat, Eden Hazard really needs to step up at this World Cup. He has bags of ability but none of it has been on show. Hazard has the pace to hurt Argentina, their defence is by no means the best in the world, and he is capable of both getting in behind the back four, and of beating full-backs in one-on-one scenarios. In those positions, he can supply his team-mates in the middle, or even cut in himself, as we see him do so often for Chelsea. Hazard really does have star quality, but he needs to show it against Argentina in order to try and help the Belgians progress.
Divock Origi is another fantastic young Belgian footballer, except unlike his team-mates, Origi isn’t as well known. That will soon change, though, as Origi has been building a reputation for himself in Brazil. He came as a squad player but in the eyes of coach Marc Wilmots he may have already eclipsed Romelu Lukaku, as Wilmots opted to start with Origi as his lone striker for the last-16 clash with the USA. Origi is tall, quick and powerful, he is a confident player who hasn’t been afraid to shoot at goal from anywhere. He can hurt Argentina in a number of ways and if Belgium’s midfield can perform he will certainly get the service to do so.
For Belgium to progress, Courtois will need to play well, very well. In fact, if Lionel Messi has a great game then Courtois needs to perform better than he ever has before; and Messi is in that sort of mood. However, the Argentine has not scored in seven matches against the 6ft 6in keeper. The gangly Belgian keeper has really been on form for Atletico Madrid, and looks set to return to his parent club, Chelsea, next season. If he can be the shot stopper Atletico fans know him as against Argentina, then Belgium may progress, and Courtois may return to Chelsea, a happier man.