Belgium are preparing to face Argentina for the third time at a FIFA World Cup with coach Marc Wilmots championing the strength of a squad that has the Red Devils on the brink of equalling their best performance in the competition.
That was 28 years ago in Mexico when Guy Thys's side finished top of their group, eliminated the USSR in the round of 16 and defeated Spain on penalties before losing 2-0 in the semi-finals to their opposition on Saturday in Brasilia, Argentina.
While Diego Maradona scored twice that day – having been shackled in Barcelona when Belgium won 1-0 in the nations' 1982 group stage meeting – at the Estadio Azteca, the Albiceleste's run to the last eight in Brazil has been founded on the class of another famous No10, Lionel Messi.
The Argentina captain has claimed four of his team's seven goals and on Tuesday set up Ángel Di María for the clincher against Switzerland. In contrast, four of Belgium's six goals at the tournament have come from substitutes, illustrating the depth of talent at Wilmots's disposal.
"Argentina have Messi and, of course, he is an excellent player, but I have 23 in my squad who I think can make the difference," he said. "If you asked me if I'd rather have a strong squad than a team that depends on a star player like Messi or Neymar, then I’d choose the collective. We are not favourites against Argentina, but there is a lack of balance in their team. We will make sure we play well against a stronger opponent."
Kevin De Bruyne, who broke the deadlock against last-16 opponents the United States in the third minute of extra time and then teed up Romelu Lukaku to score, said: "We have no fear. We realise we will play against a super team and Messi is the world's best player, but I do not think we are anything less than them."
Wilmots was, however, keen to distance himself from the elation back home that greeted Belgium's success in Salvador. "I understand people were euphoric back home after the USA victory," he said. "I am happy with that, but it is not the first time I have thought differently to the Belgian people. I am different in that [respect]. I am not in a euphoric state yet because we have reached the quarter-finals. I am not here to party."
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