Belgium were noted as the dark horses to win the World Cup two years ago. However, once everyone including smart punters identified their potential they are no longer dark horses. Argentina can beat them and continue their campaign to win the World Cup for the third time.
Argentina were last world champions in 1986 when Diego Maradona made the biggest individual contribution to a World Cup winning team with five goals and four assists. Lionel Messi is not quite at that level but he has scored or had an assist in each of Argentina’s four matches. Argentina also won the World Cup as hosts in 1978.
However, the form of Messi has masked weaknesses in the squad and Argentina are not playing like potential world champions. If they play as they did against Switzerland Belgium can cause an upset. The keeper Sergio Romero made a number of mistakes in qualifying and the defence is a work in progress. However, at the best odds those that like betting on sport are backing Argentina.
Messi is the goalscorer, provider and captain but even he misses the contribution of the injured Sergio Aguero and that of Gonzalo Higuain who has been well below his best in the World Cup. Angel di Maria was abysmal against Switzerland but scored the winning goal and must improve against Belgium. If he plays like he did for Real Madrid at the end of last season di Maria will be a good ally for Messi.
Belgium have players performing on a regular basis at some of Europe’s top clubs. They have plenty of attacking options but conceded just four goals in their 10 qualifying matches, with keeper Thibaut Courtois making a major contribution. They had a kind draw in the first round conserving energy for the demands of the elimination rounds. Asian bookmakers make them underdogs against Argentina.
However, the current team has not beaten any of the world’s top teams. The potential match winner, Eden Hazard of Chelsea, has not played that well and he will have to be at his best for Belgium against Argentina. Messi can emerge as the player of the tournament but he knows to be considered one of the greats, He must win the World Cup and this could be his last chance.