MOGI DAS CRUZES, Brazil (AP) — This is as close to 'rent-a-crowd' that the World Cup will come. And it won't cost Belgium anything.
Expected to be outnumbered by tens of thousands of Argentina fans at Saturday's quarterfinal at the 70,000-capacity Estadio Nacional in Brasilia, Belgium coach Marc Wilmots gently stoked a regional rivalry to suit his ends.
"The Brazilians expect only one thing and that is that we beat the Argentinians," Wilmots said on Thursday, referring to a long and sometimes bitter rivalry between the neighboring football giants.
And after ploughing head-first into the fiery debate, he quickly added: "But I am not getting into that issue." Brazil's rivalry with Argentina goes beyond sports, with each side boasting about their country at every opportunity. Belgian fans traveled in their thousands to group games, adding patches of bright red in the grandstands. But since planning for the knockout stages is fraught with uncertainty, far fewer were at the second round game against the United States in Salvador, and fewer still are expected on Saturday.
"We are proud to see our colors in the stadium. But if they are 2 or 2000, it is not a problem. We are used to hostile environments," Wilmots said.
"The more Belgian backers the merrier, but we will also get a lot of Brazilian backing," he said.
Players have already received a boost by seeing the wild scenes of support back home, where the backing for the Red Devils is unprecedented.
In its group stage matches, Argentina felt like it was playing at home, with tens of thousands of traveling Argentines wearing the team's colors — painting the stands in light-blue and white.