World Cup 2014: Belgium urged to 'write history' against Argentina

By Ben SmithBBC Sport in Brasilia
Belgium's time to make history - Eden Hazard

Belgium coach Marc Wilmots has called on his players to make history on Saturday as they attempt to reach their first World Cup semi-final since 1986.

The Red Devils face Argentina in the quarter-finals in Brasilia (17:00 BST).

The last time Belgium reached the last four they lost to a team inspired by Diego Maradona, but Wilmots wants his side to play attacking football despite the threat posed by Lionel Messi.

"We can write history," Wilmots said. "We're going to play our own game."

Belgium's recent World Cup campaigns
1990Last 16
1994Last 16
1998Third in group
2002Last 16
2006Did not qualify
2010Did not qualify

He added: "We won't just defend. We play compact football and we don't leave a lot of space. We have to attack and defend together."

Wilmots said his players must not become fixated with the threat posed by Messi, despite the Barcelona forward scoring four and creating two of the seven goals Argentina have scored in the tournament.

Messi set up Angel Di Maria's extra-time winner in the last 16 against Switzerland, whose coach Ottmar Hitzfeld said it would be wrong to consider Argentina a one-man team.

"I think Ottmar Hitzfeld is right," added Wilmots. "People tend to focus on Messi, and rightly so, but I watched the Argentina-Switzerland match and the team is not just Lionel Messi. It's a whole."

Belgium/Argentina's potential path to the final
Quarter-finalArgentina/BelgiumSaturday, 5 July
Semi-finalNetherlands/Costa RicaWednesday, 9 July
FinalGermany/BrazilSunday, 13 July

Argentina manager Alejandro Sabella also denied his team are overly reliant on Messi, as they attempt to reach a first World Cup semi-final in 24 years.

"Four years ago Messi was criticised for not contributing enough, and now people say we depend too greatly upon him," he said. "Any team who has a player like Messi in their ranks - he's the best player in the world - will greatly depend upon him.

World Cup 2014: Belgium 2-1 USA (aet) highlights

"But there's a group of players who support Messi, who make him stronger. I believe the fact he's done what he has here is down to the work the team puts in.

"The winning goal against the Swiss the other day came about because a forward, Rodrigo Palacio, who was playing in midfield, closed down the space and helped us win the ball back. You have to work to create the spaces for players like Messi to thrive. If we hadn't had Palacio playing, we wouldn't have scored that goal."

Unfamiliar territory for the Belgians
Belgium have not reached the last eight of a World Cup since 1986, when they finished fourth in Mexico. The Red Devils were beaten 4-2 after extra time by France in the third-place play-off.

Striker Sergio Aguero trained at Estadio Nacional on Friday and will be on the bench against the Belgians.

Gonzalo Higuain is expected to retain his place, and Sabella said: "In the last match he ran more than anyone else, sacrificing himself for the good of the team. We all have confidence in him because he's a great player and he's doing his job for the team."

Sabella also attempted to temper expectations in his homeland.

World Cup 2014: Argentina 1-0 Switzerland (aet) highlights

"People in Argentina always believe we are more than we are," he added. "Sometimes that's good. At other times, it's bad.

"When I was growing up I always heard people saying we were the best team in the world, but we'd never been world champions at the time. And yet we were the best? It's part of our culture to think this way.

"It has been a long time since we were in the semi-final but we have confidence we can progress."

Sabella acknowledged "judgements are made on results".

He added: "If you win you are extraordinary, a phenomenon. If you lose, you're useless. The one who finishes first did everything right, the one who finishes second did everything wrong.

"So far we've won four tight matches. We are looking for an improvement in terms of performance, yes, but these tournaments are harder than ever."

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