The first of two World Cup quarterfinal games came to an end today and will see Argentina advance to the semifinals after a 1-0 win over Belgium’s Red Devils. The decisive outcome of the game was an early one, however both teams gave a great effort for the entirety of the match. It has been 24 years since Argentina last saw the pitch at a World Cup semifinal game.
Argentina’s Alejandro Sabella made a few alterations to his starting lineup for today’s match against Belgium. In lieu of defender Marcos Rojo, who had to sit the match after a double booking against Switzerland, Sabella stuck with José Basanta and also started Martín Demichelis. The other addition to the starting lineup was midfielder Lucas Biglia, a second half (in added time) substitute against Switzerland.
The match got off to a strong start on both sides, with Belgium unwilling to sit too deep defensively. Argentina showed early signs of diversifying the offensive attack by stretching Belgium’s defense rather than compacting the Red Devils centrally. The shift in creativity paid off early, allowing for Argentina to net the only goal of the match and secure a 1-0 victory in the 8th minute of the game.
From the central midfield, Argentina sent the ball wide to Ángel di María, who then tried to give a through ball. The ball was deflected by a Red Devil defender and bounced to the feet of Gonzalo Higuaín, who managed an incredibly difficult one-touch strike that had no trouble finding the back of the net.
Higuaín’s goal was a brief glimpse of what can happen when Argentina allows for creativity on the attack. Though Lionel Messi has been a reliable performer this World Cup, the Argentine attack has often been reduced to the Barcelona player’s drives down the center of the pitch. The strategy has served Argentina well this tournament, however from a technical standpoint, it reduces the potential for innovation up top because of a lack of space.
The rest of the first half saw Belgium pick up the pressure. The Red Devils were able to create some dangerous chances in the offensive third, clearly heeding their coach’s advice not to sit deep and get stuck in a defensive posture. Unfortunately for the Devils, Argentina’s defense gave a remarkable display, and was able to force turnovers and win challenges and 50-50 balls.
In one such instance, Belgium gave a bad pass out of the back and Argentina was able to intercept the ball. Messi sent a beautiful through ball to di María in what looked to be the start of Argentina’s second goal, however di María’s shot was well defended by the Red Devils. Di María seemed to have landed awkwardly after taking the strike and went to the ground. Though he continued to play for a few minutes, he ultimately signaled for a substitution in the 33rd minute. Enzo Pérez came on the pitch in his place, and the status di María’s injury is still unknown at this point.
The true stars of the Argentine squad today were Higuaín and the back line. Although Belgium continued to apply pressure offensively, fatigue set in during the second half and the Argentine defense was able to deal with the Red Devils with ease. For a team that has had some defensive breakdowns during the World Cup, Argentina’s backline stayed diligent throughout the entire match.
The overall performance of Argentina—a welcomed creative flare offensively, teamed with a solid showing defensively—made it extremely difficult for Belgium to launch the same kind of attack that was seen against the U.S. The Red Devils managed a total of 38 shots against the Americans, but could barely pull off 10 shots against Argentina.
After the game, star player Higuaín said that the win has given the people of Argentina a reason to celebrate. “It’s a joy and fortune for all our people,” the player said. Argentina’s showing today was of a much better caliber than has been seen thus far in the tournament. If they can manage to keep it up, they stand a good chance at making it to the 2014 World Cup finals. Before that, they must take on the winner of the Netherlands-Costa Rica game in the semifinals to be held on July 9 at the Arena Corinthians in São Paulo.
Commentary by Courtney Anderson
Read more Guardian Liberty Voice coverage on the FIFA World Cup Quarterfinals
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