Another World Cup quarter-final, and another early goal. And once again, it was the team that scored quickly that emerged with the win. Argentina advances, Belgium goes home.
It took Argentina less than ten minutes to take the lead. Lionel Messi kept hold of the ball even while three Belgium players did their best to muscle him off it. His fine footwork eventually resulted in a threaded pass to Ángel di María, who quickly attempted to find Gonzalo Higuaín in the middle of the area. The ball took a deflection off Axel Witsel to fall perfectly for Pipita, who volleyed it into the back of the net.
Higuaín very nearly doubled Argentina’s lead near the start of the second half, evading a challenge from Vincent Kompany through the simple task of nutmegging the defender. However, the woodwork decided to take Belgium’s side, with Higuaín’s shot ricocheting off the bar.
With thirty minutes left to play, it was clear Marc Wilmots needed to do something to keep Belgium’s chances alive. He elected to make a double switch, bringing on Romelu Lukaku and Dries Mertens for Divock Origi and Kevin Mirallas: a like-for-like-like-for-like change. However, he also used the opportunity to shift Marouane Fellaini further up the pitch, which nearly paid off immediately, but the Manchester United man’s header went just high.
Belgium’s new urgency and coherency was immediately evident. They nearly forced Ezequiel Garay into an own-goal off a cross from Kevin De Bruyne, but Sergio Romero was there to ensure Argentina stayed on top.
Yet Belgium still couldn’t find a break, so Wilmots made one final change – and it was a rather surprising one. Eden Hazard had failed to make much of an impression in the match, so he made way, with Nacer Chadli replacing.
Belgium threw plenty at Argentina’s goal, particularly in the final moments. Argentina needed some desperate defending to keep a strike from Lukaku from flying into the back of the net, and were fortunate that Axel Witsel, who pounced on the rebound put his shot over the bar. In the end, though, Argentina proved to be just too much for one of the favorites for the World Cup’s dark horse.
Argentina: Romero; Zabaleta, Demichelis, Garay, Basanta; Biglia, Mascherano, Di Maria (Perez 33); Lavezzi (Palacio 71), Messi, Higuain (Gago 81)
Goals: Higuain 8′
Belgium: Courtois; Alderweireld, Van Buyten, Kompany, Vertonghen; Witsel, Fellaini; De Bruyne, Mirallas (Mertens 59), Hazard (Chadli 75), Origi (Lukaku 59)