Wednesday 22 October 2014

We must be more than 'Sporting Messi' says Diego Maradona

Jason Burt, Sao Paulo

Published 04/07/2014 | 08:06

Argentina's forward and captain Lionel Messi and Argentina's midfielder Angel Di Maria celebrate after scoring the 1-0 during of a Round of 16 football match between Argentina and Switzerland at Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo during the 2014 FIFA World Cup. AFP PHOTO / NELSON ALMEIDA
Argentina's forward and captain Lionel Messi and Argentina's midfielder Angel Di Maria celebrate after scoring the 1-0 during of a Round of 16 football match between Argentina and Switzerland at Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo during the 2014 FIFA World Cup. AFP PHOTO / NELSON ALMEIDA

Diego Maradona has warned Argentina that they need to overcome their dangerous over-reliance on Lionel Messi before their quarter-final against Belgium on Saturday.

“We still haven’t got started,” Maradona told Venezuelan television. “They need to get it into their heads that we can’t be ‘Sporting Messi’. Maybe he can score a great goal but if it doesn’t come off for the kid, we can’t jump on him tomorrow as if it’s an Argentine disaster.”

“Messi is very alone, the team doesn’t have a change of rhythm, movement in its strikers. I feel something very strong inside, like bitterness, rage, frustration, because Argentina can play much, much better, the coach has to impose this.”

Belgium coach Marc Wilmots has conceded that Argentina are favourites but added on the Messi debate that there is a “lack of balance in their team”.

Maradona destroyed Belgium on the way to winning the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, scoring both goals in the 2-0 semi-final victory. The then Belgian goalkeeper Jean-Marie Pfaff declared before the game that he would shut out Maradona just as he had done four years earlier.

Current Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois – who is expected to return to Chelsea next season after three years on loan to Atletico Madrid – may have tempted fate when he said “I know him well” from his time in La Liga where he managed to stop Messi from scoring against him in their last seven meetings.

Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella remains determined to build the team around Messi but he is considering up to four changes for Friday’s game including bringing back 33-year-old Manchester City defender Martin Demichelis – to face his club team-mate and Belgium captain Vincent Kompany – at the expense of Federico Fernandez.

Demichelis was a surprise inclusion in Sabella’s squad for Brazil having lost his place in late 2011 and having been exiled for the past 2½ years. Much maligned during the start of his City career he nevertheless became a key player in their successful Premier League title challenge.

His City team-mate Sergio Agüero has returned to light training – he has been carrying a thigh injury throughout the World Cup – but is unlikely to be risked while Sabella is considering a recall for Maxi Rodriguez with Angel di Maria switching to the left flank at the expense of Ezquiel Lavezzi although Gonzalo Higuaín is under threat.

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