What's Buzzing:

Belgian defender, 36, key in plans to stop Messi

AP - Sports
Belgian defender, 36, key in plans to stop Messi

View gallery

Belgium's Daniel Van Buyten is challenged by United States' Jermaine Jones during the World Cup …

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.

There is more to it, though, than just mental stoicism, as the muscle tone in his face still shows. A few days ago, when other players stepped away from the training pitch, Van Buyten remained and kept stretching his body in all kinds of ways to keep it nimble so he can continue competing with much younger players.

''Somehow hard work always pays off,'' Van Buyten said.

Coach Marc Wilmots was watching Van Buyten's warm down routine and was not at all surprised. The pair were teammates the last time Belgium qualified for the World Cup in 2002.

''I watch everything: how he relaxes, what he eats, what he drinks, he even sleeps with a bottle of water,'' Wilmots said. ''Otherwise you cannot stay eight years at Bayern. And if Bayern watches him play here, they'd better think twice to release him.''

Bayern coach Pep Guardiola has been sending Van Buyten encouragement throughout the World Cup.

His performance in Brazil is especially sweet since this season because he was only considered good enough to get on the Bayern starting lineup for one-third of the Bundesliga games.

As strict as his pre-game preparations are, he does leave himself a little bit of room to celebrate when a celebration is due.

After every World Cup game he has won, he has asked for a glass of red wine.

''But just one glass,'' he said. ''And on top of that, alcohol is not good for the body.''


Follow Raf Casert on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/rcasert

Sign up for Yahoo Fantasy Hockey
View Comments (6)
  • Watford win marred by Gomes head injury

    Promoted Watford's 3-2 Premier League win at bottom club Aston Villa on Saturday was marred by a head injury sustained by Heurelho Gomes. The former Brazil and Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper was kicked in the head in the 61st minute and needed … More »

    Reuters - 2 hours 43 minutes ago
  • Tiago breaks leg during Atletico victory

    Tiago breaks leg during Atletico victory

    REUTERS - Veteran Atletico Madrid midfielder Tiago broke his right leg during Saturday's 1-0 home win over Espanyol in La Liga. "He suffered a non-displaced fracture to the middle third of the tibia," second-placed Atletico said in a statement. … More »

    Reuters - 2 hours 48 minutes ago
  • Howe elated with "crazy" late, late draw against Everton

    Howe elated with "crazy" late, late draw against Everton

    By Rob Hodgetts LONDON (Reuters) - Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe went from the depths of despair to the height of elation as his side battled back to snatch a thrilling 3-3 draw in the 98th minute against Premier League rivals Everton on Saturday. … More »

    Reuters - 2 hours 54 minutes ago
  • "Fantastic man" Vardy set for next fairytale chapter

    "Fantastic man" Vardy set for next fairytale chapter

    By Mike Collett LONDON (Reuters) - Jamie Vardy wrote a new chapter in his fairytale rise from the wilderness of non-League football to playing for England, when he became the first player to score in 11 consecutive Premier League matches on … More »

    Reuters - 2 hours 56 minutes ago
  • Record for goal-king Vardy as Leicester hold United

    Record for goal-king Vardy as Leicester hold United

    By Mike Collett LONDON (Reuters) - Jamie Vardy wrote his name into the record books on Saturday, becoming the first player to score in 11 successive Premier League matches as his Leicester City team drew 1-1 with Manchester United at the King Power … More »

    Reuters - 2 hours 56 minutes ago