So much more has been expected of both Argentina and Belgium this summer. Both sides are blessed with, at least on paper, two of the most dangerous sides in the tournament, but neither has truly come good on their attacking promise. Argentina have at least had Lionel Messi to carry them, but Belgian’s talisman Eden Hazard has failed to live up to expectations. Argentina’s 1-0 win today in Brasilia see’s them progress to the semi-finals in the World Cup for the first time in 24-years, while Belgium have crashed out in rather disappointing fashion.
It was a much improved team performance from the South Americans, finally doing enough to stray away from their over-reliance on Messi. Belgium however, showing such promise from their performance in the match against the United States, reverted back to another labored and uninspired performance, one that was arguably their worst of the tournament. Much like France, they failed to rise to the occasion in the quarterfinals, and despite their bright future ahead of him, they fell well wide of the mark this summer in their ability to truly announce their arrival on the world stage.
Argentina (4-3-3): Romero; Basanta, Garay, Demichelis, Zabaleta; Biglia, Mascherano; Di Maria; Lavezzi, Higuain, Messi
Belgium (4-2-3-1): Courtois; Vertonghen, Kompany, van Buyten, Alderweireld; Witsel, Fellaini; Hazard, De Bruyne, Mirallas; Origi
In a match where Argentina had to start brightly, they did not disappoint. The South American side came out with all guns blazing in the opening minutes, surely due to the understanding that they had to attack Belgium in order to come out on top on the day – their early pressure would pay off inside the first eight minutes when Gonzalo Higuain would send his effort on the half-volley past Thibaut Courtois. He’s had a substandard tournament at best, but Higuain turned up for Argentina at a crucial moment, as quality players often do. It was the start Argentina dreamed about, but one that Belgium would dread – the Rode Duivels would no have to open up and chase the match.
Belgium would find their footing halfway through the first 45minutes, but would have to be satisfied with efforts on goal from outside the box – Argentina were in the process of putting on a very solid team display in defending, something that many were not expecting. Still and yet, Belgium were logging quite a few dead-ball situations, though they had yet to capitalize on them. It was worth noting, that for yet another match, everything going forward was running through Kevin De Bruyne and not Eden Hazard, who looked lazy and un-enthused yet again.
The half would come to an end and it still saw Argentina as the better of the two sides by some distance. Belgium rarely threatened in the final third, and when they did, had to settle for crossing from wide areas rather than through their creative players with the ball at their feet. Despite Di Maria being removed due to an injury. Argentina were still comfortable and finally looking the real article for the first time this summer.
Argentina began the second half as brightly as they ended the first, and they almost went 2-0 up less than ten minutes after the re-start when Higuain did brilliantly to burst into the box passing Vincent Kompany and Daniel van Buyten, but his blistering effort cannoned off Courtois’s bar. Such was their lackluster play on the day up till that point that it forced Marc Wilmots to show his cards early when he brought on both Romelu Lukaku and Dries Mertens for Divock Origi and Kevin Mirallas, who were both poor in their outing. With few attacking options left on the bench for Belgium, this was their big attempt to finally plant themselves in the match.
Wilmots made his third and final change in the 75th minute when Hazard was removed for Nacer Chadli. While Chadli has not impressed in his outings in Brazil, it has to be said that Hazard has been one of the most disappointing marquee players in the tournament. Never the less, it was actions stations for Belgium in the last fifteen minutes, as Argentina began to sit just a little deeper and look to catch them on the break.
Despite Belgium throwing everything and the kitchen sink in the final minutes of the match, Argentina would hold on for dear life and see themselves into the semi-finals. It was a very poor showing from Belgium this summer on the whole, and while Argentina have progressed, they too have not inspired nearly as much as anticipated.
Man of the Match
Lucas Biglia – Perhaps one of the most unheralded performances you’ll see, but Lucas Biglia was a force to be reckoned with in the midfield today for Argentina. His ability to pick a pass out was key, but it was his work ethic and ability to go from box to box that completely shut down Axel Witsel and Marouane Fellaini all afternoon. It was a much improved performance not only by him, but Argentina as a whole, but his efforts in helping his team win the midfield battle today against a disappointing but talented Belgian side that stood out for 90 minutes.