Belgium’s Golden Generation failed to shine as a professional and disciplined Argentina eked out a relatively comfortable 1-0 win.
Something had to give as the Belgians had previously never lost with Thibaut Courtois in goal in 21 consecutive games whilst Argentina have not been defeated in the previous 24 matches Lionel Messi has taken part in. Eventually it was Courtois and Belgium who surrendered their record as Argentina marched into the semifinals.
This was Argentina’s best performance of the World Cup to date and they’re still on course to realize the fear of every fan of Brazil. Winning the World Cup on Brazilian soil.
1. Messi quietly efficient, Hazard just quiet
From the third minute Lionel Messi made his presence felt on the game as he started a lovely attack that nearly led to an early Argentinean goal. Unlike Switzerland, Belgium opted to play on the front foot and gave the little magician space to operate in. This allowed Messi to dictate the pace of the game and he did so playing clever passes, none more so than the ball to Ángel di María which split the Belgian defense in the 29th minute. Messi’s ability to read the game was demonstrated as he made all the right choices passing it off intelligently, taking his man on when the time was right, knowing when to slow the game and when to up the tempo. Messi had the chance to put the icing on the cake late on but was denied by Courtois however Argentina’s captain would have been satisfied with his performance.
Eden Hazard by contrast was very quiet and though he saw the ball he didn’t have it in areas to cause concern for Sergio Romero in the Argentinean net. In truth the Belgian frontline didn’t create many meaningful chances bar the Kevin De Bruyne drive in the 25th minute, Kevin Mirallas’ header in the 42nd and Marouane Fellaini’s in the 63rd. That said Hazard is the stand out player for the Belgians and he’s the one who can grab the game by the scruff of its neck. His substitution in the 75th minute summed up the Chelsea star’s tournament, underwhelming.
2. Gonzalo’s Golden Goal
It’s been a while, a long while in fact since Gonzalo Higaín struck for Argentina. His stunning strike in the 8th minute was his first goal in six games for the Albiceleste. The finish looked as if it was hit by a striker who was bang in form though. He took advantage of a deflected di María pass to smash a volley into Thibaut Courtois’ net. It was a goal that he and Argentina needed as it took the pressure off Lionel Messi.
The strike itself saw the confidence flow back into the Napoli forward’s game. He chased down seemingly lost causes to create scoring chances for himself, held the ball up well and made a barnstorming run in the 54th minute nutmegging Vincent Kompany in the process only to be denied a goal by the bar. Indeed Higuaín didn’t give Kompany a moment of peace.