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.
It really is amazing what a goal can do for a striker’s state of mind.
3. Kompany’s casualness cost Belgium dear
Vincent Kompany had by all accounts a good game. He made some vital blocks and interceptions and marshaled his backline well. Unfortunately for him one lapse in concentration provided the catalyst for Argentina’s winning goal. Kompany’s saunter into midfield followed by a loose ball led to Argentina transitioning the play quickly. Ángel di María’s attempted pass to Higuaín took a lucky deflection off the unfortunate Jan Vertonghen and the Napoli striker did the rest.
Though Belgium did have most of the game to score an equalizer Kompany might look back on his casualness with a degree of regret as that sparked the quick sequence of events which led to Higuaín’s goal. It just goes to show how even the smallest error can be punished at the highest level.
4. Blunt Belgium
For all the attacking talent on display Belgium can only point to a Kevin De Bruyne shot, Kevin Mirallas’ and Marouane Fellaini’s headers, an almost calamitous Ezequiel Garay error and a late goalmouth scramble as their only real chances to score. Early on Fellaini and De Bruyne took it in turns to push up and provide support to Divock Origi but that only seemed to disrupt the rhythm of the Belgian’s attack.
For much of the game Belgium had difficulty penetrating a disciplined Argentinean defense. Kevin De Bruyne threatened to spark but Belgium appeared to be at their most dangerous when Jan Vertonghen was on the ball on the left flank. His delivery created all sorts of problems for the Argentine backline and it’s curious as to why they didn’t utilize that weapon more often. It would have forced a rethink in Argentina’s defensive tactics if not anything else.
As it turned out Belgium disposed of subtlety and went for the direct approach throwing Romelu Lukaku, Maroune Fellaini and even Daniel Van Buyten up front. A Vertonghen cross nearly yielded dividends in the 63rd minute as it was met by Marouane Fellaini who really should have hit the target.
In the end Belgium didn’t ask the Argentine defense enough questions but…
5. Disciplined Argentina extinguished the Red Devils’ fire
As blunt as Belgium was a large part of that was down to the superb defensive organization of the Argentineans. Predominantly playing a 4-3-3 the Albiceleste was extremely tight with the defense holding a rigid line that constantly caught the Belgians offside and supported by a diligent, hardworking midfield.
As soon as Argentina took the lead Alejandro Sabella’s side challenged the Belgians to break them down. Staying tight and compact they didn’t provide the space for the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin Mirallas and Divock Origi to thrive. Javier Mascherano and Lucas Biglia mopped up in front of the defense and allowed Argentina to launch counters with Messi, di María and Higuaín looking dangerous as they swept forward.
For Argentina’s sake they will hope that Ángel di María’s injury isn’t too serious, as he looked sharp and dangerous before he went off. The Albiceleste will not want to lose his trickery and pace for the semifinals.