ARGENTINA 1-0 BELGIUM
SATURDAY 5TH JULY – SALVADOR
Argentina advance to the semi-final of the 2014 FIFA World Cup after overcoming Belgium by a single goal in Brasilia. Lionel Messi oversaw an experienced performance from his teammates who kept Belgium shut out with both countries facing their biggest challenge of the tournament so far.
Against a backdrop of a blue and white wall of noise, it took just two minutes for Lionel Messi’s first touches of the ball to create a chance for Argentina. The Barcelona man threaded the ball through to Ezequiel Lavezzi, who despite being in acres of spaces, failed to make the most of a good position with a poor cross.
It was clear that Argentina would be peppering Belgium’s defence throughout and after just eight minutes they capitalised on a promising attacking start by taking the lead. Angel di Maria, who has struggled to make an impact on the tournament, passed to Gonzalo Higuain and he made no mistake with a first-time shot into the corner leaving Courtois with no chance, becoming only the second Napoli player to score in a World Cup knockout match after the legendary Diego Maradona in 1986.
The constant Argentine threat meant that Belgium would have to take their chances to have any chance of advancing to the semi-final, but Kevin De Bruyne flashed a shot well wide at his first sight of goal.
As the first-half went on both nations enjoyed some attacking possession and after 25 minutes Belgium forced the Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero into his first save. The threatening De Bruyne this time hit a long-range shot on target, which was parried away to safety by Romero.
At the other end, another piece of Messi magic presented Di Maria with the chance to run at the Belgium defence. However the Real Madrid midfielder saw his effort blocked by Vincent Kompany. The Red Devils were becoming increasingly reliant on their captain to shun away the danger once Argentina had penetrated through the midfield.
Argentina were forced into an early change just after half an hour when the impressive Di Maria went off injured and was replaced by Enzo Perez.
Messi shwed delightful feet to win a free-kick on the edge of the Belgium box and had a chance to test Courtois from the resulting set piece. The world’s greatest player has not scored against Courtois for seven consecutive matches and came close to ending that run but his driven shot flew over.
Five minutes prior to the break Belgium nearly drew level. Jan Vertonghen spotted a rare piece of attacking movement from Kevin Mirallas and crossed the ball perfectly and the Everton man headed narrowly wide with Romero beaten.
However Argentina took a deserved lead into half-time and considering Alejandro Sabella’s men haven’t lost any international match while leading at the break for almost seven years, Belgium had their work cut out.
The first action of the second period almost culminated in Argentina doubling their lead. The ball fell to Higuain following a strong Maroune Fellaini challenge and the striker cut inside and unleashed a low shot on target that was deflected narrowly wide.
Minutes later Courtois was called into action to tip Messi’s dangerous free-kick over the bar but Argentina came closer just moments after.
Higuain raced through on goal and was poised to score his second goal of the game and of the tournament, but drilled hit shot against the crossbar. Belgium were lucky to escape and needed to up their game or face certain elimination. Marc Wilmots responded by throwing on Dries Mertens in place of Mirallas and Lukaku, who enjoyed a fruitful spell in the Red Devils’ 2-1 win over USA in the last 16, replaced Divock Origi.
On the hour, the Belgium coach could have been forgiven for thinking his side were level. Vertonghen once again supplied a delightful cross into the box and Maroune Fellaini was running in, but instead of his header dropping in as it did against Algeria, the ball narrowly cleared the bar.
Belgium had finally gained somewhat of a foothold in the tie and tested the Argentinian defence once more. This time De Bruyne’s cross was just about dealt with however, deflecting off Ezequiel Garay and into Romero’s arms with Lukaku poised to tap home.
Romero flapped at another De Bruyne cross as Belgium stepped up the intensity of their forward play and Wilmots made a final substitution. Nacer Chadli replaced the disappointing Eden Hazard with 15 minutes left.
Conversely, Argentina seemed content to contain Belgium and hold onto their one-goal lead with Fernando Gago taking the goalscorer Gonzalo Higuain’s place. With all of Belgium’s six World Cup goals coming late on after 70 minutes, this seemed a sensible move.
As a result of Argentina sitting deeper and a change in Belgium’s attacking focus, chances were falling the way of the Red Devils. Maroune Fellaini was flagged offside in a very tight decision denying him the chance to volley at goal, before De Bruyne’s driven goal-bound effort was blocked by Garay. Substitute Nacer Chadli could have tested Romero from close range but failed to make a telling connection with Mertens’ corner.
Deep into added time, Lionel Messi looked certain to wrap the game up for Argentina only for Thibaut Courtois to deny him a fifth World Cup goal.
That save could have proved a catalyst for Belgium to equalise very late on when Romelu Lukaku cut the ball back only for Argentina to clear the ball.
La Albiceleste held on and advance to their fifth FIFA World Cup semi-final, where they face a mouthwatering showdwon with the winners of tonight’s quarter-final between The Netherlands and Costa Rica in Sao Paulo on Wednesday.
ARGENTINA: Romero, Garay, Mascherano, Demichelis, Zabaleta, Basanta, Biglia, Di Maria (Perez 33), Higuaín (Gago 81), Messi, Lavezzi (Palacio 71).
GOALS: Higuaín 8.
BOOKINGS: Biglia 75.
BELGIUM: Courtois, Alderweireld, Kompany, Van Buyten, Vertonghen, Witsel, De Bruyne, Fellaini, Hazard (Chadli 75), Mirallas (Mertens 60), Origi (Lukaku 59).
BOOKINGS: Hazard 53, Alderweireld 68.
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