Attacking Belgium Could Be Perfect Quarter-Final Opponents for Argentina

Daniel EdwardsFeatured ColumnistJuly 2, 2014

CORRECTS NAME OF MARCOS ROJO TO GELSON FERNANDES - Switzerland's Gelson Fernandes, left, tries to stop Argentina's Lionel Messi during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Argentina and Switzerland at the Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Tuesday, July 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)
Victor R. Caivano/Associated Press

Relief was palpable in Buenos Aires and across Argentina as Angel di Maria finally put the Albiceleste through to the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup. The side had struggled desperately to break down a resolute Switzerland outfit, drilled to perfection in defence by the great Ottmar Hitzfeld. 

Local media personality Alejandro Fantino was as thrilled as anybody to see his beloved Argentina break through with three minutes left of injury time. Having become a social media sensation thanks to his previous commentary against Iran, the Radio La Red commentator once more filled the airwaves with a heartfelt tribute to the Albiceleste. 

Messi, Messi, Messi, Messi, GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL, di Maria, what did I tell you? This punk moves me. You play, you play, you feel, you feel. You do not play football, you are in a war di Maria, you are in a war! You come from a neighbourhood where you had to fight for it.
Messi plugged in, he plugged. What PlayStation did you come from, Messi? Argentina deserve this. We do not deserve to die here, in front of 50,000 Brazilians. We are not going to die here, Francis. Open up a beer brother! 

That passion for which Argentina is so famous, be it on the pitch, in the stands or in the commentary box, cannot hide the team's deficiencies.

For the third match in four at this World Cup, an ineffective attack struggled painfully against a back line that defended deep, suffocated the spaces around the box and marked the Albiceleste creators with two or even three men. 

It was the fourth straight encounter that the nation needed the inspiration of Messi, who somehow mustered the physical and mental fortitude to embark on a lung-busting 30-metre run two hours into the game (call him lazy now, I dare you), to unlock the game and send Argentina to victory. 

Even with the world's best player in form and after four consecutive victories, manager Alejandro Sabella knows that he needs more from his men if they are to go on and lift the trophy. 

But could the Belgium match prove a turning point? For the first time in this competition, Argentina will face a team who will not seek to battle them in their own half but instead come out and win the game on their own terms. 

The European side's stellar attack has not been in top form either at this competition. Against the United States, Belgium suffered a similar fate to the Albiceleste.

The deep defence of the USMNT and the heroics of Tim Howard kept them muted for almost the entire 90 minutes before tired legs proved vital and Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku swayed the game in their favour. 

"We suffered, and suffered," Messi panted after the last-16 match in his press conference, as reported by The Guardian.

Perhaps against Belgium, the suffering can cease. Belgium will meet the Albiceleste man for man in the midfield, not on the edge of their own penalty area. They will push forward with pace and with bodies. 

This will leave spaces in the defence which Argentina are adept at exploiting. It is how they were formed against South American nations whose first priority is to score goals, not keep them out.

Four goals against Chile in qualifying, two away to Colombia and three at home to Uruguay. The evidence suggests that if they attack from deep and with pace, there are plenty of goals in this Argentina team. 

The ageing Daniel Van Buyten will not relish marking Messi or Gonzalo Higuain, and Toby Alderweireld may still wake up in a cold sweat remembering how the tireless di Maria flashed past him in the Champions League final on the way to setting up Gareth Bale's winner.

In short, spaces the Argentines have been dreaming about for the entire tournament will finally open up in front of them. 

This is, of course, a double-edged sword. The nation's fragile defence will be tested like never before against the likes of De Bruyne, Lukaku and Eden Hazard.

Javier Mascherano, already a titan in this tournament, will have to be better than ever, while Jose Maria Basanta faces the test of a lifetime deputising for the suspended Marcos Rojo on the left. 

But, overall, Sabella's men have reason to be confident. For the first time, they face a team who will not shy away from battling Argentina on their own terms, just how they like it.

They may win or lose, but chances are, they will be taking part in a thrilling match in Brasilia this Saturday.