By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Argentina are through to the semi-finals of the 2014 FIFA World Cup after a 1-0 win over Belgium at the Estádio Mané Garrincha this afternoon (July 5th). Lionel Messi put in an excellent performance but it was Gonzalo Higuain who scored the game’s only goal, after eight minutes, to send the two-time world champions on their way.
The South Americans have reached the final four for the first time since 1990, when they lost the World Cup final 1-0 to Germany. Belgium had chances, especially in the second half, but were hampered by the anonymous display from playmaker Eden Hazard.
Messi, Argentina’s No. 10, outshone his opposite number, and set up the early goal. Messi passed to Angel di Maria whose cross deflected off Belgian defender Jan Vertonghen.
The ball fell fortuitously for Higuain. The striker struck a beautiful volley into the right hand corner, giving Belgian stopper Thibaut Coutrois no chance at all.
Encouraged, Argentina played the finest football they have managed in in this World Cup so far. Still, Belgium refused to lie down, Kevin Mirallas heading a chance just over the bar.
Then it was the Argentinians who started the second half at the quicker tempo. On 55 minutes Higuain burst free of the defense, and, with just Courtois to beat, blazed his shot over the crossbar when it looked to all the world he would find the back of the net.
Belgium coach Mark Wilmots sent on more offensive power in the form of Romelu Lukaku. Hazard move from wide on the left into the middle to partner the No. 9, but continued to flatter to deceive, underlining his disappointing World Cup tournament.
The Europeans pushed right until the final whistle, leaving them vulnerable on the counter. Messi had a golden opportunity to wrap up victory for Argentina but Courtois spread himself to make a fantastic stop. Lukaku and Fellaini pressured for an equalizer but it wouldn’t come. Argentina, meanwhile, march on, and will play the winner of Holland versus Costa Rica, due to take place later today.
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