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Belgium coach Marc Wilmots claims Lionel Messi favoured by referees after defeat to Argentina

Sunday, July 06, 2014 by Telegraph.co.uk

Belgium coach labels Argentina "ordinary" as winger Angel di Maria faces semi-final fitness battle after injury

Marc Wilmots, the Belgium coach, claimed that referees gave Lionel Messi preferential treatment and refused to book the Argentina striker when he committed a foul.

Although he declared he would not be a "cry baby" after Belgium's 1-0 World Cup quarter-final defeat, Wilmots accused Argentina of cynical time-wasting which also went unpunished.

"Messi is the star player, the player who gives them rhythm," Wilmots said.

"He never loses the ball. But he made three fouls and I noticed the referee never gave a foul against him. I don't want to be a cry baby, but I noticed the referee never gives fouls against Argentina. He [Messi] made three fouls and no yellow card.

We had one foul, and a yellow card."

Wilmots claimed Messi's approach was part of a wider tactic by Argentina. "You have seen the experience of the Argentinians," he said. "They can distort the rhythm. It can take them 30 seconds for a throw-in and the referee did nothing. They could break down their speed."

Despite reaching the last eight, Wilmots has been criticised for his team selection and tactics during this tournament with such a talented squad at his disposal. "How many shots did Argentina have? Seriously," Wilmots responded. "If we'd played this way, we'd have been destroyed by the Belgian press. We were not impressed by the Argentinians, they were just an ordinary team. We are disappointed to go home.

"I've rarely seen Argentina cramp up like they did. They had been stretched. If we'd equalised in the last few minutes, they would be dead. Finished.

"The world has seen that Belgium have an excellent team. We can be proud of our side. But our opponents didn't give us any space. This was a quarter-final in the World Cup, and the small details made the difference. Perhaps, also, experience a bit. A few of my players can improve, but let's not forget this was the first time they have appeared at a major championships."

Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella preferred to focus his attention on the efforts of his players, who he said had made some history after they reached the semi-finals for the first time since 1990. Sabella said: "After 24 years, this is a good tribute to this squad - they will go down in history as one of the best four teams in the world and we will see if they can go one step more."

Sabella also praised Messi's contribution in a midfield role. He added: "I felt he played a wonderful match. It's not only scoring goals, it's having possession, taking out three opponents and every move he makes is a sign of hope for us and endangers our opponents.

"That a player like Messi almost never loses the ball is water in the desert - he gives us that water in the desert. Today when the terrain was dry he gave us that breath of fresh air every time he had the ball."

One concern for Sabella was the fitness of Real Madrid winger Angel di Maria, who will undergo tests on a thigh problem after he limped out of the match.

He said: "Angel has a problem in his right thigh and on Sunday he will have some tests and we will see. He is one of the key figures for us."

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