Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella has advised his players to beware the manifold strengths of a "powerful" Belgium team when the two sides meet in the FIFA World Cup quarter-finals on Saturday.
Heavily dependent on star man Lionel Messi, Argentina have laboured in Brazil so far, but victory over Marc Wilmot's Belgium in Brasilia would see them reach the semi-finals for the first time since 1990.
Belgium cannot match Argentina’s World Cup pedigree, having made the last four only once - in 1986, when they lost to Diego Maradona and company, the eventual winners. But they boast a squad packed with famous names from the Premier League and La Liga.
"Belgium have a very good team," said Sabella. "They have a sort of 'Golden Generation', as occasionally happens. I remember the World Cup in 1982, when they also had a golden generation and they beat Argentina 1-0 in the group phase.
"Now, they have a lot of players who play in the English and Spanish leagues. They're a powerful team. We'll have to be careful when we don't have the ball and try to make things happen when we do. They're a team made up of great individuals who work very well as a team."
Best in the world
Sabella emphasised the strength of a defence that has conceded only two goals in the tournament to date. “They have one of the best goalkeepers in the world," he said of Thibaut Courtois. "The right-back (Toby Alderweireld) plays for Atletico Madrid, one centre-back plays for Manchester City (Vincent Kompany), one for Bayern Munich (Daniel Van Buyten), and the left-back plays for Tottenham Hotspur (Jan Vertonghen). I don't need to say anymore."
Sergio Aguero gave Argentina a boost on Friday by returning to training after a muscular problem, but Sabella suggested that the best the Manchester City striker can hope for is a place on the bench. Ezequiel Lavezzi is therefore likely to continue on the Argentine left alongside Messi and Gonzalo Higuain, who is still waiting for his first goal at the tournament.
With Marcos Rojo suspended, Jose Maria Basanta from Mexican side Monterrey is expected to come into the team at left-back. Belgium coach Wilmots revealed in his pre-game press conference that he has fitness concerns over Alderweireld, Vertonghen and Mousa Dembele, but he said: "We hope everybody will be fit and available to play."
Saturday's game carries echoes of the last World Cup encounter between the teams in Mexico City in 1986, which Argentina won 2-0 thanks to a glorious Maradona brace. Then, as now, Argentina were dependent on the brilliance of one prodigiously gifted player, whereas Belgium's success was built upon the emergence of a talented new generation of players.
Wilmots, however, says that there is too much at stake for his players to waste their time contemplating parallels from yesteryear. "In 1986, I was very young and I followed the Red Devils," said the former Belgium midfielder, who played at three World Cups.
"After three matches that weren't all that good, we won against the Soviet Union and Spain. It was a great joy, obviously. "We remember Diego Maradona, thanks to whom Argentina won. Of course we have bad memories of that, but it's a long way away. This belongs to the past, so let's talk about the future," he said.