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Key Battles That Will Shape Argentina's Clash with Belgium

Daniel EdwardsFeatured Columnist IIISeptember 22, 2016

Key Battles That Will Shape Argentina's Clash with Belgium

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    Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press

    Argentina and Belgium have both enjoyed steady, if unspectacular progress through the 2014 World Cup. The sides have each won all four games, while a winning margin of one goal for every game implies that their attacking talent has not quite been firing on all cylinders. 

    On Saturday, however, all could change. The teams coached by Alejandro Sabella and Marc Wilmots promise an open game full of excitement and goals, as they play for a place in the semi-finals. 

    The Albiceleste prevailed in the quarter-finals 28 years ago thanks to two incredible goals from Diego Maradona. Lionel Messi would love to repeat that feat against Belgian goalkeeping nemesis Thibaut Courtois. 

    That clash is just one of several mouthwatering personal duels that could mark the upcoming quarter-final encounter.

Mascherano vs. De Bruyne

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    Victor R. Caivano/Associated Press

    On Saturday, focus will invariably turn to Argentina and Belgium's stellar attacking talent.

    However, while the likes of Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard could well prove vital to each team's chances of progress, one of the most fascinating battles will take place in the middle of the field. 

    Barcelona's Javier Mascherano has been immense so far for the Albiceleste, marshalling the midfield and showing he has the distribution skills to get his team moving forward.

    Against Belgium, he faces a formidable opponent in the young Kevin De Bruyne, who will look to get on top of El Jefecito and keep his side in control in the middle. 

Fernandez vs. Lukaku

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    With three goals conceded in the opening four matches, the Argentina defence has so far held up to the pressures of the World Cup.

    Some parts, however, are performing better than others.

    Napoli's Federico Fernandez has been one of the most disappointing in the Albiceleste squad so far, looking slow and predictable at the back. 

    The former Estudiantes man will have to improve. The Belgium attack, led by Everton's Romelu Lukaku, represents an attacking challenge unlike any the nation has had to deal with so far in the World Cup. 

    Strong in the air and in the tackle, Fernandez's Achilles' heel comes with his back to goal, as swifter forwards cut behind him. He must stay attentive, or Lukaku will exploit that weakness all afternoon in Brasilia.

Di Maria vs. Alderweireld

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    It is likely that Belgium and Atletico Madrid right-back Toby Alderweireld wakes up every so often in a cold sweat, shaking and checking behind the curtains to see if everything is safe.

    Unfortunately for the young defensive prospect, the subject of his nightmares is all too real. 

    Angel di Maria somehow mustered up the stamina to outstrip the youngster on the left flank deep into extra time in the Champions League final, before crossing for Gareth Bale to convert.

    That goal put Madrid 2-1 ahead, and it was the beginning of the end for their city rivals. 

    Alderweireld must put that trauma behind him and mark Di Maria once more, and keeping him quiet will be key to Belgium's bid to make the semi-finals for the first time since 1986. 

Messi vs. Courtois

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    Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

    No introductions will be necessary for Lionel Messi and Thibaut Courtois on Saturday afternoon in Brasilia.

    The pair were involved in a series of fascinating clashes over the course of the Liga season, not least on the final day, when Atletico Madrid narrowly overcame Barcelona to claim the title. 

    The Belgium No. 1 could not keep out Alexis Sanchez's wonderful strike back in May, but had the last laugh, repelling a desperate Catalan side to protect a 1-1 draw for the Colchoneros. 

    Atletico were Barca's bogey team throughout the 2013/14 campaign. However, in international colours, will Messi finally work out how to beat the giant Belgian keeper between the posts? 

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