Picking a Combined Argentina vs. Belgium 2014 World Cup XI

Daniel EdwardsFeatured ColumnistJuly 3, 2014

Picking a Combined Argentina vs. Belgium 2014 World Cup XI

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    Victor R. Caivano/Associated Press

    With eight wins out of eight, Saturday sees two of the World Cup's perfect nations face off at the quarter-final stage. By the end of the match, one of those sides will maintain that 100 percent streak, while the other will be preparing to take the plane home. 

    Argentina and Belgium have talent to spare, and their last-eight clash will be a fascinating battle between two attack-minded teams. But which country goes into the match in the best form? 

    Taking the players who have performed the best in the World Cup so far, here is a combined starting line-up that brings together the finest Argentina and Belgium have to offer. Overall quality is not the defining factor here; what matters is their contribution to the teams' overall tournament progress. 

Goalkeeper

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    The choice for the No. 1 jersey is a straight decision between just two men. On one side, Belgium's Liga-winning goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. On the other, Monaco reserve, the much-maligned Sergio Romero of Argentina. 

    However, the position is not as clear-cut as many may have expected before the tournament began. Courtois has caused no surprises with his diligent keeping and impressive athleticism. But the real revelation has been Romero, who has come to his side's rescue on more than one occasion so far in the World Cup. 

    El Chiquito pushes hard for the spot, in spite of his propensity to keep fans' hearts in their mouths with an erratic move. But Courtois wins out after a hard fight and will be the combined team's goalkeeper. 

Defenders

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    Frank Augstein/Associated Press

    Aside from 45 ill-advised minutes with five at the back, Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella has been nothing if not consistent with his defensive choices. The same players have lined up for each game, although the suspension of Marcos Rojo will force a change when they take on Belgium. 

    Centre-back Federico Fernandez has been extremely unsteady for the nation so far, while Pablo Zabaleta has not hit the same form seen in Manchester. Rojo and strong stopper Ezequiel Garay, then, go forward to fill half of the back line on this combined team. 

    From the Belgium side, Zabaleta's club team-mate Vincent Kompany does get the nod, filling in alongside Garay in a strong-looking partnership. The back four is completed by an Atletico Madrid player: Tobias Alderweireld helped strengthen the defence when he entered for the Algeria match, and he has been an ever-present since missing the nation's debut. 

Midfield

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    Matt Dunham/Associated Press

    With just three places in the middle up for grabs, competition is fierce between the two star-studded countries. At least one of the places, however, is destined for just one talismanic figure. 

    Javier Mascherano has been immense so far at the World Cup, the best man in an Argentina shirt across the 90 minutes of each game. The tenacious midfielder has never stopped harrying and recovering in the middle and deserves recognition. 

    Mascherano's partner in the middle Fernando Gago has been uneven so far, and loses out to Kevin De Bruyne for the second spot. Angel Di Maria, meanwhile, turned himself into a heroic figure after salvaging victory against Switzerland, and despite being well below his best, sneaks onto the left side of midfield. 

Attack

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    Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

    Prior to the tournament, Argentina and Belgium promised more than most teams going forward. Although neither side has shown their full potential so far, with just 13 goals between them, one cannot help but feel that there is more to come on Saturday. 

    With four goals, the Albiceleste captain and saviour Lionel Messi is an obvious choice in a front three inspired by Sabella's choice for his team. The Barcelona star has been outstanding for his nation, driving them to victory on various occasions and in a manner that seems appropriate for Hollywood film scripts. 

    Outside La Pulga, however, there is slim pickings from the Albiceleste. Gonzalo Higuain has been poor throughout, while Sergio Aguero failed to fire before falling to injury against Nigeria. 

    Romelu Lukaku's heroics at the end of Belgium's marathon battle against the United States earns him the nod, while team-mate Dries Mertens was arguably the side's most consistent performer upfront in the group stage. 

The Combined Argentina-Belgium Starting XI

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    Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press

    Courtois

    Alderweireld Kompany Garay Rojo

    Mascherano De Bruyne Di Maria

    Lukaku Messi Mertens