Salvador: For Eden Hazard, Belgium’s challenge against Argentina on Saturday is straightforward. They must simply stop history repeating itself in order to make history.
Twenty-eight years ago in Mexico City, a Diego Maradona-inspired Argentina overcame the Belgians in a World Cup semi-final, with the captain scoring twice to take his team into the final.
In Brasilia this weekend, Lionel Messi stands between Marc Wilmots’s team and a place in the last four for the first time since Enzo Scifo, Jean-Marie Pfaff and Jan Ceulemans secured iconic status in Belgian football history by progressing to within 90 minutes of a World Cup final.
Then, as now, Belgium must shackle the world’s greatest footballer to secure victory.
And with Hazard leading Belgium’s new golden generation, the Chelsea midfielder admits that stopping Messi in Saturday’s quarter final will be crucial if Les Diables Rouges are to join the heroes of 1986 in the history books.
“We know the best player in the world is in this team, but we are not afraid of him,” Hazard said. “We can win. Argentina have done well and they have one big player who can make the difference in every game. If we can stop him, we have a chance, but it will not be easy.
“For me, he is the best in the world. I don’t know how we can stop him, but we will watch videos and we will try to win.
“They have Angel di Maria as well, but Messi is the difference. I haven’t played against him before and I will think about it the night before. But once I am on the pitch, I don’t care who I play against. I do what I do, but I try to do my best.”
Having arrived in Brazil with the burden of being billed as the tournament dark horses, a team backed by many observers to surprise the established powers, Belgium have struggled to impress, with Hazard yet to replicate his club form on the World Cup stage.