Though it might seem not obvious at first sight, the worlds of football and comic books have quite a few things in common, namely heroes and villains and the vital ingredients of suspense, excitement and improbable deeds.
And just like cartoon heroes, the invincibles of world football also have their weak spots. Lionel Messi is a case in point. The saviour of Argentina at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, La Pulga will come face to face with his very own Achilles heel this Saturday at the Estadio Nacional in Brasilia, where Belgium keeper Thibaut Courtois will be doing his level best to keep Messi goalless for the eighth time is as many meetings.
“I know very well how to play against him,” said the towering 22-year-old custodian, who was a big reason why Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid had a significant edge over Barcelona last season. Courtois certainly seems to have Messi’s number. The scorer of six goals in their first few meetings, La Pulga has lost his scoring touch whenever the big Belgian has stood in his path in the last 18 months.
Seven Spanish La Liga, UEFA Champions League and Spanish Super Cup games have gone by since the Argentinian ace last put one past Courtois on 16 December 2012. The closest Messi came to ending the hex was in the second leg of last season’s Super Cup, when he struck the bar with his nemesis beaten.
“The good thing about getting to know his game so well is that I don’t even have to watch videos of him anymore,” the keeper told ESPN, before adding: “There’s not much point in watching them anyway, because you just can’t predict what Messi is going to do. If he wants to find a gap when he’s firing off a shot, he’ll find one. The only thing I can do is keep my focus the whole time.”
Despite the hoodoo, there is an air of optimism in the Argentinian camp. Speaking to FIFA, former coach Carlos Bilardo, who guided La Albiceleste to victory over Belgium in their victorious campaign at Mexico 1986, said: “Messi is the best player in the world right now, I’m convinced about that. He’s going to have a big part to play, just as he has been doing.”
The scene is set, then, for another showdown between Messi, who has four goals and one assist to this name at Brazil 2014, and Courtois, whose record reads two goals conceded in Belgium’s four games.
Like any good comic book plot, the latest duel between the two promises to be gripping. All that remains to be seen is who will emerge the hero and who will be cast as the villain.