BRASILIA – An eighth-minute half-volley from Napoli forward Gonzalo Higuain proved to be enough to take Argentina through to the semi-finals of Brazil 2014 at the expense of Belgium side who failed to fire in Brasilia.
The Napoli striker capitalised on an error from Belgium skipper Vincent Kompany to put La Albiceleste ahead with their first shot on target. The Belgium captain lost possession at the halfway line and Lionel Messi capitalised, finding Angel Di Maria on the right. The Real Madrid man then gained a slice of luck as his attempted pass to Pablo Zabaleta deflected off Jan Vertonghen and into the path of Gonzalo Higuain, who shot home first time.
The remainder of the first half was an open affair, played at an extremely high tempo as Argentina’s front three of Higuain, Messi and Di Maria constantly looked to counter against an opposition looking to force an equaliser. However, the South Americans flow was interrupted when Di Maria went off with a thigh injury after firing a shot towards goal.
The change made Sabella’s side ever more reliant on Messi and the Barcelona star almost provided Argentina’s second when he blazed a free-kick just over the bar after being fouled by Marouane Fellaini on the edge of the box. Belgium’s best chance of the half came just before the break when Vertonghen’s inswinging cross from the left was headed narrowly wide by Kevin Mirallas.
The South Americans created the first opportunity of the second half when Higuain kept the ball in play and hit a low drive towards goal. The ball ricocheted off the heel of Daniel van Buyten and out for a corner. Higuain should then have made it two when he forced Kompany into another error, allowing him a clear run on goal. The Real Madrid man just had Courtois to beat, but clipped the crossbar with his effort.
Wilmots made a double substitution on the hour mark with Romelu Lukaku and Mertens replacing Divock Origi and Mirallas. Yet it was two of their original starting 11 who combined to go close. Fellaini outjumped Basanta in the box and headed Vertonghen’s superb cross narrowly wide.
Argentina were given a scare when Ezequeil Garay almost diverted Kevin De Bryune’s low ball into his own net, but Sergio Romero was alert to the danger. A committed defensive display, plus the efforts of defensive midfielders Lucas Biglia and Javier Mascherano limited Les Diables Rouges to a handful of half-chances as their hopes of emulating the team’s showing at Mexico 1986 ebbed away.
Indeed it was a quick break from Messi which almost produced the game’s second goal in added time, but Courtois stood his ground superbly to keep his record of clean sheets intact against the Barcelona man. And so Argentina reached the semi-finals, with another single goal win enough just as it had been in their four previous encounters at Brazil 2014. They will now face the winners of Netherlands-Costa Rica in Sao Paulo on Wednesday.