Late in Argentina's World Cup quarterfinal against Belgium, Lionel Messi had a one-v-one opportunity against the goalkeeper. With four goals already to his credit at this tournament, this seemed to be a certain fifth. But he wasn't facing just any goalkeeper. He was up against his personal Kryptonite – the 22-year-old 6-foot-6-inch Goliath who had kept him from scoring in their previous seven meetings, Thibaut Courtois.
As he's grown accustomed to doing, the Belgian wonder blocked Messi's shot to keep the score at 1-0 in Argentina's favor. Belgium couldn't find a goal of its own before the final whistle, but Courtois once again reminded Messi who has the upper hand in their relationship.
Courtois, who had never lost in 21 matches as Belgium's keeper before this game, has become known as the only man who can stop Messi at the club level. He helped Atletico Madrid to an unlikely La Liga title last season, just edging out Messi's Barcelona by thee points, while also beating Barca in the Champions League quarterfinals on the way to a date with Real Madrid in the final. It has now been eight matches and counting since Messi last scored on Courtois. Eight! Considering Messi's average of just over a goal per game over the last three years, that's equivalent to eight lifetimes.
It wasn't always like this, though. Before Courtois put Messi on lockdown, the Argentine scored six times against Courtois. But ever since Messi's last two in December 2012 (when Courtois was still just 20 years old), it's been save after save whenever they meet.
“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.”
The one goal Argentina was able to score on Courtois came from a quick and perfectly executed Gonzalo Higuain shot off of a deflected pass. And that's just about the only way you can score against him. With the near impossible combination of perfection and good fortune.
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After the match, while the Argentinians celebrated their first time in the World Cup semifinals since 1990 and Belgium mourned its elimination, Courtois and Messi shook hands and hugged. Familiar foes and two of the world's best in their respective positions. Every great player needs a worthy adversary to truly demonstrate how good they are and Messi and Courtois have that in each other.
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