Clash against Belgium sharpens Messi-Maradona focus as Argentina seek 1986 encore
Brasilia: As the former Argentina international Jorge Valdano once observed: “One does try to avoid comparing Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona. The problem is that Messi doesn’t help.”
Messi powers past a couple of defenders in their Round of 16 game against Switzerland. Getty Images/AFP.
The comparisons will only increase ahead of Argentina’s World Cup quarter-final with Belgium tomorrow, for it was against the Belgians that two of Maradona’s most iconic moments occurred.
In a 1982 World Cup group-stage match in Barcelona, a photograph was taken of Maradona facing up to a throng of six Belgian defenders that has become one of the most well-known of him as a player.
Maradona vies with Belgian defenders during the World Cup semis on June 25, 1986 in Mexico. Getty Images/AFP.
The image was slightly misleading -- the Belgian players were fanning out from a defensive wall, rather than massing in opposition to the squat, raven-haired Argentina number 10 -- but it vividly evoked the terror the 21-year-old was liable to spread in opposition defences.
Argentina lost the game 1-0 and Maradona’s tournament ended in disgrace when he was sent off against Brazil. But in the 1986 competition another meeting with Belgium saw him produce one of his defining performances.
Back with a bang
In a 2-0 semi-final win at Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca, he scored both goals, the second a vicious strike after a viperish dart through the heart of the Belgian defence that left four defenders floundering in his wake.
Maradona was said to have carried Argentina to glory in Mexico, scoring five goals and laying on five assists as his country claimed their second title, and 28 years on, Messi is doing the same in Brazil. Having scored four goals in the group phase, Messi’s creative side came to the fore in Tuesday’s last-16 win over Switzerland in Sao Paulo.
While his team-mates toiled around him, Messi was a ceaseless hub of invention, and with penalties looming, it was his burrowing run and pass that allowed Angel di Maria to stroke home the 118th-minute winner.
In total, Messi carved out eight chances against Switzerland, which is more than any Argentine player -- Maradona included -- has ever created in a single World Cup finals game.
Messi faces swarms of defenders wherever he turns, but by luring them towards him and then releasing the ball, he can be decisive even when his route to goal is blocked.
. Maradona played a direct part in 10 of Argentina’s 14 goals at the World Cup in 1986 which they won. Four games into the 2014 competition, Messi has scored or assisted six of the seven goals they’ve scored so far
. Like Maradona, Messi is a short, left-footed number 10 whose key attribute is his dribbling
. Both players won the Under-20 World Cup, both made their senior debuts against Hungary, and both were handed the captaincy -- Maradona by Carlos Bilardo, Messi by Alejandro Sabella -- by coaches determined to build their teams around them
. Belgium goalkeeper Jean-Marie Pfaff kept Maradona at bay in the 1982 WC, whereas Messi is yet to beat current goalie Thibaut Courtois