Argentina and Belgium last met in the World Cup in 1986. Belgium, the top ranked team among the third place finishers in the group stage, had stormed into the semi-finals after handing defeats to the Soviet Union and Spain. Argentina, one of the favourites, had knocked out England in the quarterfinals. Two goals from Diego Maradona sealed the victory for the eventual champions Argentina.
After 28 years, both the teams are again face to face, fighting for a place in the semi-final.
Here is a look at the formations of the two sides –
There are doubts over Argenina’s formation. Sabella has so far used 3-5-2, 4-3-3, 4-3-1-2 and 4-2-3-1 (which at times looked like 4-4-1-1).
1. Marc Wilmots doesn’t have natural wingbacks in his squad – Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Thomas Vermaelen have mostly played as centre backs in club level. So they lack the characteristics of natural wingbacks. Playing Ezequiel Lavezzi and Angel Di Maria on the wings can help in dislodging Belgium’s defence.
2. Belgium counter attack very quickly. To check the runs of Maroune Fellaini and Kevin de Bruyne, Sabella will need two midfielders with defence and ball winning as their main duties – Fernando Gago and Javier Mascherano.
3. Considering these two factors, my guess is that Sabella might go with 4-2-3-1system with Lionel Messi playing just behind Gonzalo Higuain.
Gago and Maschernaho are quite capable of playing very deep. Gago helps in transition of play from defence to attack.
Sabella will be forced to make a change in the left back position. Rojo, who accumulated his second yellow card of the tournament, is set to miss this match. Jose Basanta, a left footed player, seems to be the likely replacement.
Argentina are relying too much on Messi. Against Switzerland, Messi could not make much impact as he was marked by Gokhan Inler and Behrami. Messi will surely get more space when Argentina plays Belgium tonight because of the attacking mentality of Belgium.
Higuain has not yet scored in this edition of the World Cup. But he has helped his teammates by dragging his markers to wide positions and thus creating space in the centre.
Marc Wilmots will stick to 4-2-3-1, because most of his players are accustomed to playing it. Wingbacks are the main concerns for Belgium. They should be careful to not get caught out by Argentina’s players on the flanks.
Eden Hazard on the right-wing and Dries Mertens on the left can pose some threats to Argentina’s defence. Zabaleta faces his nightmare, Eden Hazard, once again. Vertonghen overlapping Hazard higher up the pitch will surely unrest Zabaleta and might also draw Lavezzi back to help the Manchester City player. Basanta will be in for some troubles when he comes up against Mertens.
In the midfield region, Belgium will most probably go with Fellaini and Axel Witsel. Fellaini is a “suffoco” advanced destroyer, as Sam Tighe explains. He likes to stride up the pitch thus pushing de Bruyne wide and changing Belgium’s system to 4-3-3 (4-1-2-3) while attacking. Two deep midfielders of Argentina will encourage Fellaini in this by leaving out space. He also can track Messi when not in possession. He, in my opinion, can dismantle Argentina.
Upfront, Romelu Lukaku will be back in the starting XI after putting up a good show as Origi’s replacement in the extra time.
Argentina’s formation is still unsure. Given that Belgiuma are playing a 4-2-3-1, Sabella might be forced to adopt the same system. Hazard vs Zabaleta will prove to be decisive.
I usually love to see small teams progress. So I am backing Belgium to win this fixture – a vengeance for that semi-final defeat in 1986.