Football

Tarantula out to smother the flea

If Argentina's Lionel Messi has anything to worry about at this World Cup it should be a goalkeeper known as "The Tarantula" he has failed to score against in their last seven clashes.

Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and Messi will have the latest of their epic battles when their countries meet in the World Cup quarter-finals in Salvador tonight.

It is almost a David and Goliath tale. The question is, which is which?

The 1.99 -metre-tall Courtois towers over his 1.69m rival Messi.

The Argentinian winner of four Ballon d'Or awards is a giant among attackers though, scoring four times already at this World Cup.

Courtois is known as "The Tarantula" because foes believe he has eight arms to keep all angles covered. And he has done it with style.

Still only 22, Courtois racked up his 100th career clean sheet against Russia in their Group H match last week. He played a key role in Atletico Madrid's Spanish title-winning campaign this season, which is why his parent club Chelsea say they want him back for 2014-15.

It is the matches between Messi's Barcelona and Courtois' Atletico that makes their rivalry so special.

In their first meeting in September, 2011, Messi humiliated Courtois with a stunning hat-trick in a 5-0 win at Barcelona's Nou Camp. The following February, a quick free-kick flummoxed the Belgian to secure victory in the return Spanish championship game. In December 2012, there was another Messi brace in a 4-1 win.

Since then there have been seven games in the Champions League, La Liga and the Spanish Super Cup where Courtois and fate have denied the Argentinian, leading Atletico to the Spanish title and Champions League final at Barca's expense.

In two games, Messi went off injured. He slammed a penalty against the crossbar in another and in May this year got the ball past Courtois but was ruled offside.

Courtois remains confident of keeping up his spider's web protection.

"As soon as (Messi) finds a way to shoot, he will shoot, so the only thing you can do as a goalkeeper is concentrate at all times," Courtois told ESPN television in an interview this week.- AFP.

World Cup