• Belgium keeper boasts fine record against Argentina’s Messi
• Wilmots: We won’t depend on Eden Hazard in the quarter-final
Jan Vertonghen has praised the Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois as “one of the best in the world” with Belgium hoping the youngster maintains his recent faultless record against Lionel Messi to ease them into the country’s second World Cup semi-final.
Courtois, who has never represented Chelsea having spent the last three seasons on loan at Atlético Madrid, has confronted Messi and Barcelona 10 times during his time in Spain and has not shipped a goal to the Argentinian in the past seven of those contests.
The 22-year-old was outstanding in Atlético’s six unbeaten meetings with Barça last season – they lost the Spanish Super Cup on away goals after two stalemates – with the Madrid team claiming the Primera Liga and eliminating the Catalans in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
The goalkeeper, who has previously claimed the Europa League and European Super Cup in Spain but is expected to start next season at Chelsea, has gone on to excel in Brazil as Belgium progressed into the last eight, with his international career encompassing 21 games in which Holland have never lost.
“At his age, he’s already one of the best goalkeepers in the world,” said Vertonghen before Saturday’s quarter-final against Argentina.
The Tottenham Hotspur defender added: “He has 15 more years to improve, too, and I hope he can still improve. He works hard every training session and wants to work. That’s the right spirit. To be honest I don’t know how he can improve his game, but he will find a way. That’s good for us.”
Those sentiments were echoed by the Belgium manager, Marc Wilmots. “If you have a very good centre-forward who scores, and a goalkeeper who makes a lot of saves, you have everything you need to win a match,” he said. “He’s been doing wonderful things. He’s very young, very calm, and he works so hard.
“He does extra training after every match and has that good mindset. He works, studies opponents and fellow goalkeepers, and has a very good goalkeeping coach with whom he works very well. This is the key to good preparation, good work, and good management. He feels protected. I’m very happy Courtois is here for us, our defence, and for Belgium.”
Belgium hope they have a match winner of their own in Eden Hazard, Courtois’ club-mate at Stamford Bridge, with the forward having impressed in flashes over the course of the tournament.
“I don’t think he’s lacking very much,” Wilmots said. “If you see what Eden has been doing in the last 12 to 18 months, he’s been working on his defending. You have to make players who are brilliant individually also work for the team, and he does that now.
“He’s on the left with Jan, and we’ve improved a lot on that side. I spoke to him last night and I told him how he could improve, how he could be even more effective. I’ve followed him in Lille and Chelsea, he’s eager to learn and make progress with the team.
“I don’t want to depend on one individual player, but several players. This is our strong point. We have 23 good players and we don’t depend on anyone specifically.”