Argentina recorded a narrow 1-0 victory over Belgium at Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha on Sunday morning to progress to set up a 2014 World Cup semi-final showdown with The Netherlands.
Argentina were eliminated at the quarter-finals stage of the past two World Cups and had not qualified for the semi-finals since 1990, but produced a professional defensive performance to keep their hopes of winning a third World Cup title alive.
Lionel Messi had been responsible for the majority of the goals scored by Argentina in their World Cup campaign to date, but the Barcelona superstar did not play a part in the only goal of their quarter-final victory; with Gonzalo Higuain taking advantage of a deflection from Belgium defender Jan Vertonghen to give his side an early lead.
Higuain had not scored a goal in his past six international appearances and had been criticised for his performances during the 2014 World Cup to date, but was delighted to get his World Cup goal scoring tally underway and he remains confident that his side are capable of winning the tournament.
“I knew the goal was going to come and it came at an important time,” Higuain said after the game.
“We were able to reach a semi-final which we haven’t achieved for many years and now we need to play well and try and reach the final.
“We gave our all, it’s a World Cup and it doesn’t happen every day.
“There are two matches left to achieve this beautiful dream.”
Belgium had not suffered a defeat on their way to the 2014 World Cup quarter-finals, but had not played a particularly attractive style of football and they generally lacked a real scoring threat in front of goal.
Their performance against Argentina was a clear snapshot of their World Cup campaign; with the side able to control possession for lengthy periods, but unable to create any meaningful chances on goal.
While most neutral observers believe that Argentina were deserving of their victory over Belgium, Belgium coach Marc Wilmots was highly critical of the performance of Argentina and argued that the South American side had the rub of the green with referee
“If I had played this way (like Argentina) I would have been destroyed by the Belgian press,’’ Wilmots said.
“We were not impressed by the Argentina, absolutely not, it’s just an ordinary team.
“We’ve seen the experience of Argentina, they can break up the rhythm of the game, they take 30 seconds to do a throw in and the referee does nothing.
“They can break down the speed of the game and I was wondering who was favourite, who was making the game?
“I don’t want to be cry baby, but I’m noticing whenever there is a little foul, it’s always in favour of Argentina,’’ he said.
“Messi made three fouls and no yellow cards, this is the difference.
“I think that Messi is the star, the player giving the rhythm and he never loses the ball, but he made a couple of tackles and fouls but the referee never game them against him.”
Argentina will take on the Netherlands in their semi-final clash at Arena de Sao Paulo on Thursday morning and are narrow favourites with Ladbrokes.com.au to progress to the final of the 2014 World Cup.