Argentina 1 Belgium 0
Argentina eased into the World Cup semi-finals as a disappointing Belgium side made a low-key exit from the tournament.
Gonzalo Higuain’s excellent early strike provided the foundation for Argentina to win 1-0 and make it to the last four for the first time since Diego Maradona’s day in 1990 when they finished runners-up.
Higuain for once outshone Lionel Messi, but Maradona’s spiritual heir also provided a constant threat that kept Marc Wilmot’s Belgium side on the back foot.
Messi started off playing deep, seeing plenty of the ball and creating some good positions for his team-mates.
One such move put Ezequiel Lavezzi clear on the right and only Vincent Kompany’s alert intervention prevented a goal.
It took less than eight minutes however for Argentina to take a huge step towards the semi-final and it was Messi, twisting and turning in midfield, who was the architect.
His incisive pass to Angel di Maria was diverted to Higuain, taking a nick off a defender which caused the ball to bounce up for the Napoli striker to swivel and thump a first-time shot low into the corner from 25 yards out.
Belgium attempted to make some headway but Argentina immediately dropped back into two banks of four whenever they lost possession, and when the Red Devils did get into good positions they failed to make use of it.
Jan Vertonghen put in a stunning cross but not a single red shirt tried to reached it and Argentina cleared it unchallenged.
De Bruyne nearly surprised Sergio Romero with a shot with a short back-lift and the rebound from the save only just eluded Origi.
A dream of a pass from Messi sliced through the Belgian ranks for Di Maria but Kompany did brilliantly to get back to block him – and the Real Madrid winger injured himself while taking the shot and had to be replaced by Enzo Perez.
Sublime pass from that wee fella for Argentina. You know, whatshisname... https://t.co/aATlBAsKMA— BreakingNews.ie (@breakingnewsie) July 5, 2014
Messi was crudely halted when close to dribbling through a pack of red shirts on the edge of the Belgium area, and then fizzed the free-kick over the top.
Belgium’s best chance of the first half came just before the break when another Vertonghen cross this time found De Bruyne but his diving header bounced wide.
The second half was strangely muted given what was at stake, with Argentina happy to keep things tight and Belgium failing to make much impression.
Higuain cut in and drilled in a low effort that deflected off Daniel van Buyten and past the near-post with Courtois stranded, then the Lazio striker sped into the Belgium half, nutmegged Kompany while at full speed, and fairly belted a shot that smacked the top of the bar.
Marouane Fellaini, who had spent most of the match being bypassed by Messi, failed to make up for it when another Vertonghen cross picked him out, the Manchester United player heading over.
Eden Hazard was equally disappointing, his main contribution being booked for going in high on Lucas Biglia – on another day it could have been red – and he was soon replaced by Nacer Chadli.
In a mirror image of Higuain’s deflected miss, De Bruyne had a slow shot deflected just wide.
In the closing minutes Wilmots went for broke by pushing his tallest players, Fellaini and Van Buyten, up front as extra strikers and Belgium threw the kitchen sink at Argentina but the South Americans held out against the aerial bombardment, with substitute Romelu Lukaku and Axel Witsel coming closest.
There was time too for Messi to break clear and sprint in on Courtois. The world waited for the inevitable goal but Messi’s attempted finish was brilliantly blocked by the Belgium keeper even if it mattered not to the final outcome.