Ahead of their quarter-final clash with Argentina, Belgium defender Jan Vertonghen has hailed Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois as one of the best goalkeepers in the world.
Having signed from Genk in 2011, Courtois has spent the last three seasons on loan at Atletico Madrid due to the presence of veteran Petr Cech at Stamford Bridge, being voted La Liga’s top shot-stopper in each of the past two campaigns.
His performances proving crucial in the side’s 2013-14 title-winning season and run to the Champions League final, the 22-year-old also boasts a remarkably impressive record against Lionel Messi in recent times, having not shipped a goal against the Barcelona superstar in their past seven meetings.
That trend boding extremely well for Saturday’s matchup, Vertonghen is thus confident that his teammate can keep the run going and help guide Belgium to the World Cup’s final four in the process.
‘At his age, he’s already one of the best goalkeepers in the world,’ the Tottenham man said. ‘He has 15 more years to improve too and I hope he can still. 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.’
Manager Marc Wilmots also repeated that sentiment, having first made the 21-time capped Courtois his first-choice upon being appointed in 2012.
‘He’s been doing wonderful things. He’s very young, very calm, and he works so hard,’ he said. ‘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.’
With his increasingly glowing reputation, Atletico were previously hopeful of retaining Courtois’ services for another year but Blues boss Jose Mourinho has since quashed the idea of sending the youngster out on loan for a fourth consecutive season.
Given the promising keeper’s past comments about not wanting to return to the Premier League to warm the bench, it could well mean club legend Cech has to be shipped out, so as to accommodate his wishes.
Playing in their first major international tournament since 2002, Belgium’s 'Golden Generation' were considered by many to be the dark horses of this summer’s World Cup but, despite topping their group with maximum points, have largely flattered to deceive thus far.
Needing extra-time to overcome the USA 2-1 in the last 16, Argentina on paper would appear to pose the first real test the Diables Rouges have faced in Brazil, and they will need Courtois to be at his very best in order to thwart the South American side’s Messi-led attack.