BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Daniel Van Buyten has been written off as too old and too slow many more times than Lionel Messi has been crowned the best player in the world.
Yet at 36, he stands at the heart of the Belgian defense ready to blunt Argentina's forwards in the World Cup quarterfinals — and after an outstanding four matches so far, the strategy is not as absurd as it sounds.
Amplifying the age factor, Van Buyten says "I'm almost 37. I am at the World Cup. All goes well." That is before meeting Messi.
When most of the attention has been on captain Vincent Kompany, it has been his partner in central defense — "Big Dan" — who has been impressive in ways that few expected.
While younger players wilted in the extra-time thriller against the United States on Tuesday, the big, powerful defender stood tall for 120 minutes in the evening heat of Salvador to help ensure the 2-1 victory.
He was just as dependable during the group stage, when he was instrumental in safeguarding three one-goal victories.
What he lost in sheer speed with age, he has made up for in vision and anticipation.
It's a long way removed from the 2010 UEFA Champions League final between Inter Milan and his Bayern Munich.
With a devastating performance, Inter's Argentine Diego Milito had run Van Buyten ragged and scored both goals. Of course, the general thinking went that it was surely Van Buyten's swansong, at 32. Yet on Saturday, there Van Buyten will be listening to the Belgian anthem, with Milito merely a memory for Van Buyten, and the Argentina team.
"There are always tougher parts in a career, and the way to get through that is self-confidence," Van Buyten said.
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