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World Cup 2014

Argentina 1 Belgium 0: Match highlights, key battle and what the result means

Published on Jul 6, 2014 3:02 AM
Argentina striker Gonzalo Higuain (right) hugs team-mate Angel Di Maria after scoring the only goal in the 1-0 World Cup quarter-final win over Belgium. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

This was the battle that pitted an extremely talented generation of Belgians against an Argentina team led by their most talented footballer of this generation.

Widely expected to produce lots of entertaining attacking football, this quarter-final in Brasilia turned out to a bore as an early goal settled the tie but Lionel Messi continues his World Cup quest while Belgium return home after a tame display.

Match highlights

- Argentina shot into an early lead when Angel Di Maria's pass was deflected into the path of Gonzalo Higuain in the eighth minute. The striker, who has not scored in this World Cup, finally broke his duck with a first-time volley into the bottom corner.

- But Di Maria limped off in the 33rd minute with a thigh injury and Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella will be sweating on the attacking midfielder's fitness ahead of Thursday's semi-final.

- Belgium mustered 10 shots on goal but hardly threatened 'keeper Sergio Romero.

Key battle

Lionel Messi vs Thibault Courtois

While goalkeepers around the world form self-help groups to share their woes when they concede another Lionel Messi goal, the Belgian stands tall amongst the gloved ones.

In his last seven meetings with Messi in La Liga, Champions League and Spanish Super Cup, the Argentina captain has never scored. It is clear that if Belgium is to progress, they need their custodian to be in unbeatable form.

To a certain extent, that turned out to be the case as Courtois lived up to his Tarantula nickname as he dashed off his line in stoppage time to block Messi's goalbound attempt. But there was nothing he could do when Higuain placed his volley to perfection for the winner.

Man of the Match

Although most of his team-mates clocked in 90 minutes of unremarkable work, Vincent Kompany could not be faulted for Belgium's defeat.

The captain was in commanding form as he read most of Argentina's attacks superbly and arriving in the nick of time to block. While his backline was shredded into pieces by Messi's through ball in the 33rd minute, Kompany made the mad dash back in the nick of time to block Di Maria's shot when a goal looked all but certain.

And late on, as the Red Devils searched in vain for an equaliser, the captain was all heart and soul as he tried to rally his troops.

What the result means

Without getting too stressed, Argentina strolled into Thursday's semi-final in Sao Paulo. Sabella must be relieved that Belgium did not put up the kind of mortal combat that was anticipated.

That meant Messi and gang played patches of this last eight encounter at walking pace and will be fresh to make a strong bid to reach the final for the first time since 1990. But the priority now is to check on the true extent of Di Maria's injury.

The Argentina squad is not loaded with talent and if the Real Madrid man is ruled out, Sabella will regret not selecting Carlos Tevez and Javier Pastore.

For Belgium, there is no escaping that it had been a massive disappointment. Man for man, they arguably have the more talented squad with players of the quality of Dries Mertens and Romelu Lukaku sitting on the bench while Argentina needed to depend on solid but unspectacular personnel like left-back Jose Maria Basanta and midfielder Lucas Biglia.

In the final count, it was the unheralded Argentinian squad members like Basanta and Biglia who came in and performed competently.

Questions will have to be asked of Eden Hazard, who is the star of the Belgian team. He was largely invisible in Brasilia and he was finally spotted when the fourth official raised his number to be substituted.

And coach Marc Wilmots will be grilled by the Belgian press over his tactics. With so much skill and firepower at his disposal, it was disappointing that all the team could muster was a barrage of long balls, which posed little problems for Argentina.