As the former Argentina international Jorge Valdano once observed: “One does try to avoid comparing Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona. The problem is that Messi doesn’t help.”
The comparisons will only increase ahead of Argentina’s World Cup quarter-final with Belgium on Saturday, for it was against the Belgians that two of Maradona’s most iconic moments occurred.
In a 1982 World Cup group-stage match in Barcelona, a photograph was taken of Maradona facing up to a throng of six Belgian defenders that has become one of the most well-known of him as a player.
The image was slightly misleading — the Belgian players were fanning out from a defensive wall, rather than massing in opposition to the squat, raven-haired Argentina number 10 — but it vividly evoked the terror the 21-year-old was liable to spread in opposition defences.
Argentina lost the game 1-0 and Maradona’s tournament ended in disgrace when he was sent off against Brazil. But in the 1986 competition another meeting with Belgium saw him produce one of his defining performances.
In a 2-0 semi-final win at Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca, he scored both goals, the second a vicious strike after a viperish dart through the heart of the Belgian defence that left four defenders floundering in his wake.
Maradona was said to have carried Argentina to glory in Mexico, scoring five goals and laying on five assists as his country claimed their second title, and 28 years on, Messi is doing the same in Brazil.