• Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Higuain blasts Argentina into semis

To take Netherlands Wednesday

Gonzalo Higuain's stunning strike sent Argentina into the semi-finals of the World Cup at the expense of Belgium, as Alejandro Sabella's men ran out 1-0 winners in Brasilia, Goal dot com reports.

Much has been made of Argentina's reliance on mercurial captain Lionel Messi during the tournament in Brazil, but they proved they are no one-man team with an impressive display in Brasilia on Saturday.

Argentina's forward and captain Lionel Messi (C) vies for the ball during their World Cup quarter-final match against Belgium at the Mane Garrincha National Stadium in Brasilia on July 5, 2014. Photo: Getty Images
Argentina's forward and captain Lionel Messi (C) vies for the ball during their World Cup quarter-final match against Belgium at the Mane Garrincha National Stadium in Brasilia on July 5, 2014. Photo: Getty Images

 

Messi once again led by example as he equalled Diego Maradona's tally of 91 caps for his country, but it was Higuain who proved to be Argentina's match-winner with a fine early strike.

The Real Madrid striker also hit the crossbar in the second half as the South American nation produced arguably their best performance of the competition to secure a last-four spot against either the Netherlands or Costa Rica.

Argentina beat Belgium in the semi-finals in 1986 in the last meeting between the two sides, then went on to be crowned world champions, and on this evidence they are capable of repeating that feat for the first time since those finals in Mexico.

The Albiceleste came in for criticism following their disjointed display against Switzerland in the last 16, but started on the front foot and were rewarded when Higuain put them in front with a fine finish on eight minutes.

Unsurprisingly, Messi was involved, carrying the ball forward from the middle of the park and picking out Angel Di Maria, whose pass deflected invitingly for Higuain to swivel and dispatch a fierce effort into the far corner of the net.

Argentina's forward Gonzalo Higuain (L) shoots to score during a quarter-final football match between Argentina and Belgium at the Mane Garrincha National Stadium in Brasilia during the 2014 FIFA World Cup on July 5, 2014. Photo: Getty Images
Argentina's forward Gonzalo Higuain (L) shoots to score during a quarter-final football match between Argentina and Belgium at the Mane Garrincha National Stadium in Brasilia during the 2014 FIFA World Cup on July 5, 2014. Photo: Getty Images

 

Di Maria was then thwarted by a Kompany block after Messi had picked him out with a sublime pass and the Real Madrid winger injured himself in the process, with Enzo Perez introduced in his place.

Messi was at the heart of everything and blasted a free-kick just over the crossbar after being upended on the edge of the penalty area 39 minutes in.

Argentina were brimming with confidence, but they were almost caught out four minutes before the break, when Mirallas' powerful header flew narrowly wide after he was picked out by an inviting Jan Vertonghen cross.

Higuain was a real handful for the Belgium defence and almost doubled his side's lead with a stunning solo goal nine minutes into the second half.

The striker embarked on a bursting run, in which he skipped past Kompany all too easily before unleashing a venomous right-footed shot that struck the top of the crossbar.

Chances were few and far between up the other end, but Marouane Fellaini should have tested Sergio Romero when he headed off target after Vertonghen whipped in another dangerous cross.

Belgium threw men forward in an attempt to force extra time and saw a late deflected Kevin de Bruyne shot flash just wide.

Messi then spurned a chance to finish Belgium off three minutes into time added on when he raced clear, but Thibaut Courtois stood tall to thwart him.

Axel Witsel sliced a late volley over the bar from the edge of the box, leaving Argentina to hold on to seal their place in the semi-finals, where they will face the winner of the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica.

FULL TIME


Belgium's midfielder Kevin De Bruyne (L) vies with Argentina's midfielder Lucas Biglia during their World Cup quarter-final match at the Mane Garrincha National Stadium in Brasilia on July 5, 2014. Photo: Getty Images
Belgium's midfielder Kevin De Bruyne (L) vies with Argentina's midfielder Lucas Biglia during their World Cup quarter-final match at the Mane Garrincha National Stadium in Brasilia on July 5, 2014. Photo: Getty Images

From the moment Argentina went ahead through Gonzalo Higuain's excellent strike in the eighth minute, you wanted Belgium to push and make a game of it. However, their attacking moves failed time and again in the final third, and the pre-tournament dark horses just weren't up to the task.

90' + 5' There goes the final whistle, and Argentina have qualified for their first semi-final since 1990. A deserved victory.

90' + 5' Axel Witsel screws a volley over the crossbar as Belgium get a late chance, but it's nowhere near finding the target.

90' + 4' MESSI THROUGH ONE-ON-ONE WITH COURTOIS! But it's the goalkeeper who comes out on top, denying the Barcelona star as he tries a delicate chip.

90' + 2' Nothing is working for Belgium in their desperate hunt for an equaliser and it looks increasingly likely that this is the end of the line for them in this tournament.

90' There will be five minutes of added time at the end of this half.

90' Perez and Zabaleta are involved in a nasty collision and the former is currently receiving treatment. Belgium won't welcome this stoppage.

89' Fellaini wins a late corner as Basanta dives in to block the midfielders cross. Chadli gets the eventual effort at goal, but it's tame and bounces into the arms of a grateful Romero.

88' Lukaku is penalised for a push in the penalty area, but he doesn't appear to have done anything wrong. Luck was not on Belgium's side there.

86' The corner comes to nothing as Lukaku is eventually flagged offside - another chance falling by the wayside.

85' De Bruyne charges onto a loose ball and drills it goalwards. However, his effort is deflected wide for a corner. A rare chance for Belgium to put Romero under pressure.

83' Gago's first contribution is a delightful cross from the right that narrowly misses the head of fellow substitute Palacio. Argentina currently looking more likely to score than Belgium.

Gonzalo Higuain of Argentina shoots and hits the cross bar as Axel Witsel (L) and Daniel Van Buyten of Belgium defend during their World Cup quarter-final match at the Mane Garrincha National Stadium in Brasilia on July 5, 2014. Photo: Getty Images
Gonzalo Higuain of Argentina shoots and hits the cross bar as Axel Witsel (L) and Daniel Van Buyten of Belgium defend during their World Cup quarter-final match at the Mane Garrincha National Stadium in Brasilia on July 5, 2014. Photo: Getty Images

81' Substitution: Gonzalo Higuaín OUT, Fernando Gago IN

81' And here comes Gago, on in place of Higuain, who has likely scored the goal that will send Argentina into the semi-finals. And what a goal it was.

79' Argentina are readying their final substitution, with Fernando Gago set to be thrown into the action.

77' We're getting to the point in the match where Belgium will really have to push for an equaliser and throw everything at Argentina. Time is quickly running out for the European side.

75' Substitution: Eden Hazard OUT, Nacer Chadli IN

75' Yellow Card: Lucas Biglia

75' Biglia steps into Vertonghen's path to serve as some form of road block, conceding a free-kick and earning a yellow card. In the meantime, Belgium bring Nacer Chadli on for Hazard.

75' Lukaku and Fellaini combine on the edge of the Argentina penalty area, but they fail to find the quality ball that would unlock the opposition defence. Time and again, attacking moves have broken down in the final third for Belgium.

73' Alderwiererld sends a long throw into the penalty area, but Fellaini is penalised for being too physical in the penalty area. Looked to be a harsh decision against the Manchester United midfielder.

71' Substitution: Ezequiel Lavezzi OUT, Rodrigo Palacio IN

Belgium's goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois (2nd Rg, reen) deflects the ball during their World Cup quarter-final match with Argentina at the Mane Garrincha National Stadium in Brasilia on July 5, 2014. Photo: Getty Images
Belgium's goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois (2nd Rg, reen) deflects the ball during their World Cup quarter-final match with Argentina at the Mane Garrincha National Stadium in Brasilia on July 5, 2014. Photo: Getty Images

71' Argentina make their second substitution of the match, as Rodrigo Palacio comes on in place of Lavezzi.

69' Alderweireld goes in recklessly on Biglia and picks up a yellow card which will rule him out of the next match. Belgium have got some way to go to earn a next match as things stand, though.

68' Yellow Card: Toby Alderweireld

67' The fans are in full voice again. It sounds like the Argentina fans making most of the noise, met by a chorus of boos by the locals in the stadium.

65' That said, De Bruyne whips in a cross from the right and Garay almost pokes into his own net. Romero is on on hand to spare his blushes.

64' 20 minutes into the second half and Belgium certainly look livelier, but chances to pull level remain few and far between.

61' Belgium are almost level almost instantly after making the changes, but Fellaini's header from a Vertonghen cross flies just over the crossbar.

60' Substitution: Kevin Mirallas OUT, Dries Mertens IN

60' Mirallas does not look happy to have been replaced, but something needed to change. You could argue that Hazard and De Bruyne have been just as disappointing, but Mirallas was the unfortunate one chosen to make way.

59' Substitution: Divock Origi OUT, Romelu Lukaku IN

Argentina's forward and captain Lionel Messi shoots a free kick during their World Cup quarter-final match against Belgium at the Mane Garrincha National Stadium in Brasilia on July 5, 2014. Photo: Getty Images
Argentina's forward and captain Lionel Messi shoots a free kick during their World Cup quarter-final match against Belgium at the Mane Garrincha National Stadium in Brasilia on July 5, 2014. Photo: Getty Images

59' Indeed, here come the changes, and it's Mertens for Mirallas and Lukaku for Origi. Belgium will be hoping they can provide the required spark.

57' Belgium look set to make some changes, with Lukaku and Dries Mertens looking likely to be those introduced.

55' HIGUAIN GOES CLOSE! The striker goes on a blistering run, knocks the ball through the legs of Kompany before seeing his effort bounce off the top of the crossbar. Agonisingly close to doubling the advantage.

54' Eden Hazard, who has been extremely disappointing in this match, takes out his frustration on Lucas Biglia, leaving his foot in the challenge and earning a yellow card.

53' Yellow Card: Eden Hazard

52' Higuain creeps into the Belgian penalty area from the left and, when he pulls the trigger, his effort deflects off Daniel van Buyten and wjust wide of the target. The knock off the defender completely wrong-footed Courtois.

49' Messi aims a free-kick in the direction of an advancing Basanta from around 30 yards, but it bounces harmlessly wide for a Belgian goal-kick.

47' As we've seen in some other matches at this tournament, fans with seats that are in the direct glare of the sunlight are slow in coming out for the second half. Scores of empty seats on the far side of the pitch.

46' Argentina get us back under way. Lukaku was warming up fairly vigorously during the break. I think we can expect to see him sooner rather than later.

FIRST HALF

Marouane Fellaini of Belgium controls the ball against Ezequiel Garay of Argentina during their World Cup quarter-final match at the Mane Garrincha National Stadium in Brasilia on July 5, 2014. Photo: Getty Images
Marouane Fellaini of Belgium controls the ball against Ezequiel Garay of Argentina during their World Cup quarter-final match at the Mane Garrincha National Stadium in Brasilia on July 5, 2014. Photo: Getty Images

45' + 2' The half ends in a fairly subdued fashion with neither side pushing for a goal during stoppage time, but it's Argentina who lead at the break.

45' There will be two minutes of added time at the end of the first half.

44' Belgium are finishing this half strongly. Can they pull level before the break? Unlikely, but they're showing promising signs that they can make a real go of this in the second 45 minutes.

42' Vertonghen whips in a cross from the left, Mirallas meets it with his head, but the ball is directed just wide of the left-hand upright from eight yards out. I make that Belgium's best chance of the match so far.

40' Belgium's nine-man wall is cleared, but Messi's set-piece also fizzes just over the crossbar.

39' Messi goes down on the edge of the penalty are under the challenge of Fellaini. This could be too close to the goal if anything, at around 19 yards out. Could prove difficult to get this one up and over the wall.

37' The match is going through something of a lull. Argentina haven't really kicked on after the early goal, while Belgium continue to struggle to put their opposition under any kind of pressure.

35' Belgium are enjoying plenty of the ball at the moment, but it's all in the middle of the park. Origi has had limited chances to make any kind of impression on this match.

33' Substitution: Ángel Di María OUT, Enzo Nicolás Pérez IN

33' Di Maria doesn't need the stretcher, but he leaves the field and will be replaced by Benfica's Enzo Perez.

Belgium's midfielder Kevin De Bruyne (L) vies with Argentina's forward Lionel Messi (R) during their World Cup quarter-final match at the Mane Garrincha National Stadium in Brasilia on July 5, 2014. Photo: Getty Images
Belgium's midfielder Kevin De Bruyne (L) vies with Argentina's forward Lionel Messi (R) during their World Cup quarter-final match at the Mane Garrincha National Stadium in Brasilia on July 5, 2014. Photo: Getty Images

32' Basanta breaks down the left, but his whipped cross is intercepted before it can find the head of Higuain. Di Maria is down again, though. This will be of some concern to Sabella and Argentina.

30' Di Maria looks to have picked up a knock during that period of play. He looks to be fine, but the rest of the players are making the most of the opportunity to take on some fluids.

29 'Di Maria finds himself in space just outside the penalty area, he tries to cut inside Kompany, but the Belgian defender does just enough to block the eventual effort.

28' Belgium's pressing wins them a throw-in deep in Argentina territory, but Garay clears the ball to safety.

26' Belgium are keeping a fairly high line at the moment, and De Bruyne pulls the trigger from distance only to see Romero punch his effort away. The rebound almost falls to Origi, but just evades the striker.

24' That said, Argentina have hardly looked a threat since going in front. However, with a one-goal advantage, they may be happy just to keep the ball and not take too many risks going forward.

22' While Belgium have had their share of possession in the opening 20 minutes, they've failed to test Romero in the Argentine goal so far. That will need to change sooner rather than later.

20' Eden Hazard hits the deck as he tried to burrow his way through the Argentine defence. He gets nothing from the referee and, for me, he went down a little easily. Correct decision.

18' After the first corner is ruled out for some tussling in the area, the re-take winds up going behind for a Sergio Romero goal-kick. A wasted opportunity for Belgium to threaten the Argentina goalkeeper.

17' Jan Vertonghen sends in a teasing cross from the left, but it's headed behind by Ezequiel Garay. Belgium have a corner.

Argentina's midfielder Javier Mascherano (L) vies with Belgium's midfielder Kevin De Bruyne during their quarter-final match in Brasilia during the 2014 FIFA World Cup on July 5, 2014. Photo: Getty Images
Argentina's midfielder Javier Mascherano (L) vies with Belgium's midfielder Kevin De Bruyne during their quarter-final match in Brasilia during the 2014 FIFA World Cup on July 5, 2014. Photo: Getty Images

15' Kevin De Bruyne surges forward, but his left-footed effort sails well wide of the left-hand post. Wilmots will need more quality from his charges if they are to turn this scoreline around.

13' Argentina are on the attack again, but Lavezzi's strike from the edge of the penalty area is blocked, and Belgium can breathe easy - at least for the time being.

11' It was an instinctive finish from Higuain, and an ideal start to the match for Argentina. How will Belgium respond to going behind so early on?

8' Goal Gonzalo Higuaín

GOAL FOR ARGENTINA! The South Americans have the early advantage! Di Maria's pass deflects to the feet of Higuain, and the striker produces a finish out of the top drawer to find the bottom left-hand corner from the edge of the penalty area.

6' Mirallas goes down under the challenge of Javier Mascherano. He's looking for a free-kick, but the referee ignores his pleas and the replays suggest it was the correct call.

4' Argentina embark on their first attack of the match, but Ezequiel Lavezzi's eventual pull-back is punted clear by Vincent Kompany before it can reach Gonzalo Higuain in the six-yard box.

2' Belgium are stroking the ball around among themselves at the moment, to the delight of both their own fans and the Brazilians in attendance.

1' Belgium get us under way in Brasilia after a change of matchball, with both sides sporting their familiar home strips.


A general view outside the stadium prior to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Quarter Final match between Argentina and Belgium at Estadio Nacional on July 5, 2014 in Brasilia, Brazil. Photo: Getty Images
A general view outside the stadium prior to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Quarter Final match between Argentina and Belgium at Estadio Nacional on July 5, 2014 in Brasilia, Brazil. Photo: Getty Images

Not since 1986 have Belgium found themselves at this stage of a World Cup. The Europeans eventually lost to Argentina in the semi-finals on that occasion, Diego Maradona netting twice in a 2-0 victory.

However, the Argentina captain has failed to score in his last seven appearances when facing Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois in Barcelona's meetings with Atletico Madrid, and will be desperate to put the record straight.

Angel di Maria was particularly poor before netting an extra-time winner for Alejandro Sabella's men, but Lionel Messi remains the catalyst in their World Cup charge.

Both sides were left to rely on extra-time to reach the last-eight and, as favourites, Argentina will be looking to turn in a much improved performance today.

Marc Wilmots continues to favour Divock Origi over Romelu Lukaku up top and makes just one change from the 2-1 victory over the United States in the last round.

Argentina make two changes at the back, with Jose Maria Basanta and Martin Demichelis coming in for Federico Fernandez and the suspended Marcos Rojo, while Sergio Aguero makes the bench despite carrying a thigh injury.

Belgium subs: Mignolet, Bossut, Vermaelen, Lukaku, Mertens, Defour, Lombaerts, Dembele, Januzaj, Chadli, Ciman.

Belgium (4-2-3-1): Courtois; Alderweireld, Van Buyten, Kompany, Vertonghen; Witsel, Fellaini; Mirallas, De Bruyne, Hazard; Origi.

Argentina subs: Orion, Andujar, Campagnaro, Gago, Perez, Rodriguez, A. Fernandez, F. Fernandez, Palacio, Alvarez and Aguero.

Argentina (4-2-3-1): Romero; Zabaleta, Demichelis, Garay, Basanta; Biglia, Mascherano; Lavezzi, Messi, Di Maria and Higuain.

COMMENTARY: Goal dot com

Published: 12:01 am Sunday, July 06, 2014

Last modified: 10:11 pm Sunday, July 06, 2014

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