Argentina 1-0 Belgium
Often the fate of teams in the knock out rounds of the World Cup is decided as much by attitude as it is by technical ability. There are the countries that believe that they can win the World Cup and those who believe making the knock out round is good enough. Even though they stuttered from time to time against Belgium Argentina looked, for the first time at this World Cup, like a team that believed it could lift the trophy in a week’s time.
Belgium on the other hand looked like a side playing the first game of a pre-season tour. Even though Argentina could not build on the early lead provided by Gonzalo Higuain, the gap between the two teams was greater than one goal and if Belgium had equalized it would have been an injustice.
Argentina manager Alex Sabella made three changes to his starting line up and all seemed to click. The back four was more decisive and secure with Martin Demichelis in for Fernandez and Basanta replaced the suspended Rojo. Basanta played very well – he kept things very simple and he was very effective.
Lucas Biglia took the place of Fernando Gago and he brought better balance to a midfield that had prior to this game spent much of the time trying to occupy the same spaces and looking to play the same passes.
Belgium’s only change was Kevin Mirallas in for Dries Mertens. However, Argentina’s win came at great cost. The dynamic and mobile Angel Di Maria was injured and he will miss the final two matches of the competition. Sabella has no one who can fill the Di Maria role so a tactical rethink will be needed.
• Gonzalo Higuain came to life with a goal and another shot that thundered off the cross bar after he had run 70 yards with the ball. He even managed to nutmeg Vincent Kompany in the lead up to the shot. There was a visible improvement in Higuain’s body language after the goal and Argentina can only hope that he continues in this sort of form.
• There is no doubt that this Belgium team has some exceptional talent but it also comes with short comings. The lack of specialized full backs has been widely discussed and the absence of Christian Bentecke through injury has been a major determent to their performances at this World Cup. It has also become very obvious that the midfield is made up of great athletes but it lacks craft and vision. What Marc Wilmots would give for a young Enzo Scifo?
• Not withstanding generally mediocre form in a Belgian jersey Eden Hazard came into this tournament on a number of “players to watch” lists. He will leave on a number of “Disappointments of the 2014 World Cup” lists.
• The lack of discipline by Belgium showed in the number of times that a promising attack ground to a halt as the referee’s assistant raised a flag to indicate offside. Six times Belgium was caught and only once for Argentina. In five matches, Argentina have only been flagged offside four times.
• Romelu Lukaku came on as a substitute against the USA and set up a goal and scored another. But for this game he was back on the bench and even when he entered the game he was largely ineffective. There are parts of Lukaku’s game that are excellent. He runs channels, he turns defenders and he has a terrific left foot. But he finds it difficult when playing against deep sitting defences. He has not developed the touch to play other players in or the movement to create that important yard of space in a crowded penalty area. He is still a young player but unless he develops as a more rounded striker he may remain nothing more than a “super-sub.”
• Javier Mascherano has enjoyed a very solid tournament slotting in to a more accustomed role as a midfield defensive shield rather than at the centre back position he often occupies for Barcelona. In a Barcelona uniform he always seems to be playing on the edge – never quite sure when to step forward and when to step back. Watching him in an Argentina uniform he is assured and confident. Plugging passing channels, starting attacks and generally keeping things tidy between the lines.