Brasilia, Jul 5 (PTI): Striker Gonzalo Higuain scored when it mattered as his opportunistic strike helped Argentina beat Belgium 1-0 to enter the World Cup semi-final after 24 long years ending their ‘quarter-final jinx’ that affected them during the last two editions.
The last time when the ‘Albicelestes’ reached semi-final was ‘Italia 90’ where the Diego Maradona-led team lost the final 0-1 to West Germany.
In recent editions, Argentina have lost twice in the quarterfinals in 2006 and 2010 to Germany. This will be skipper Lionel Messi’s first World Cup semi-final having had to bite the dust in the last two editions.
Having been off-colour during the group stages, Higuain finally showed his class as he was quick to react to a pass from Angel De Maria finishing off with a powerful angular volley from the top of the box beating a fully stretched Thibaur Courtois. The match was into its eighth minute.
The early strike did help Argentina a lot as they were in firm control during the first half an hour as the European ‘Red Devils’ made some efforts in the final quarter of the first half.
Argentina could have gone ahead in the 13th minute when forward Ezequiel Lavezzi took a crack at goal but was saved by the Belgium defence.
The European outfit got a chance to equalize in the 26th minute when a Kevin De Bruyne shot was punched away by Sergio Romero but Divock Origi couldn’t reach to hit the rebound.
While Messi didn’t find his fifth goal in the first half but he did keep the Belgium defence busy earning a direct free-kick during the fag end of the first half. His inswinging free-kick was however way over the crossbar.
Messi could have scored in the third minute of the stoppage time when his solo run into an empty Belgian defence saw Courtois anticipating perfectly to foil his attempt and keeping his scoresheet clean against the talismanic Argentine in club and international football.
The closest Belgians came to equalizing was in the 42nd minute when Jan Vertonghen kept a perfect cross overlapping from the left flank and Kevin Mirallas arched perfectly for a header but it was just off the mark.
The difference for Argentian today was Higuain’s mobility upfront which definitely took some pressure off Messi while De Maria was also active with his supplies in the 33 minutes that he was on the park before an injury led to him being replaced by Enzo Perez.
Higuain was unlucky as he could have scored one of the most spectacular goals of the current edition in the 55th minute when he sprinted down the middle getting the ball between Vincent Kompany’s legs before unleashing a powerful rightfooter which kissed the horizontal before going out.
His presence for 80 minutes was full of purpose as he looked like spelling danger for opposition whenever he had the ball in his possession. Fittingly, he got a standing ovation when he was replaced by Fernando Gago in the 80th minute.
For Belgium, their main problem in the opposition attack third was poor show by their premier player and Chelsea playmaker Eden Hazard.
Hazard couldn’t provide proper assists for Marouane Fellaini. The introduction of Romeru Lukaku did bring in some purpose but the Argentine back-four led by Pablo Zabaletta had a good day in office. He was well support from Ezequiel Garay, Jose Maria Basanto and Martin Demichelis.
However Belgium’s golden generation of players could be proud of what they achieved in this edition having failed to qualify for the tournament in 2006 and 2010.