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December 22, 2014
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Argentina must stay focus in defence against Belgium

Belgium''s Eden Hazard (l) jogs with teammates.

BRASILIA — So far none of Argentina’s opponents has been able to stop Lionel Messi. Perhaps Belgium has what it takes. But even if doesn’t, the Red Devils present a fresh challenge for Argentina at this World Cup.

For the first time in Brazil, Argentina faces an opponent with attacking potential that rivals its own.

“We will have to adapt, but what really interests me is to see how they will adapt to us,” Belgium coach Marc Wilmots said.

Argentina has struggled on its road to the quarterfinals, relying on single moments of Messi magic to break stalemates against mostly defence-oriented teams.

Today in Brasilia, it’s up against a young, sparkling team that’s considered a dark horse for the title. Even though it needed extra time to prevail against the United States, Belgium unleashed offensive qualities in that game that could present major problems for Argentina’s at times shaky defence.

Belgium fired 38 shots, half of them from midfielders Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard, and strikers Divock Origi and Romelo Lukaku. An impressive performance by US goalkeeper Tim Howard kept the score down.

Meanwhile, Argentina’s attack hasn’t been as fearsome as predicted. Centre forward Gonzalo Higuaín is scoreless after four games and his attacking partner Sergio Agüero will be benched as he recovered from an injury yesterday. Ezequiel Lavezzi is replacing the Manchester City striker but was largely ineffective against Switzerland.

Then there’s Messi. The little genius has delivered when Argentina needed him most, scoring in every group stage match and setting up Ángel Di María’s extra-time winner against Switzerland in the round of 16.

In a tight game, the Swiss shackled him successfully until his decisive run in the 118th minute.

If Messi is in extraordinary form, he will cause problems for Belgium, Wilmots conceded. “But if you ask me as a coach whether I prefer a good collective or one great player, I prefer the team.”

Argentina left back Sergio Rojo is suspended and will probably be replaced by José Basanta. In yesterday’s practice session, Sabella tried experienced defender Martín Demichelis in the first team instead of Federico Fernández, whose performances were not good enough.

Alejandro Sabella did not confirm the team, but it will probably be: Sergio Romero; Pablo Zabaleta, Fernández, Ezequiel Garay, Basanta; Javier Mascherano, Fernando Gago, Di María, Ezequiel Lavezzi; Messi and Higuaín.

Herald with agencies

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