Argentina overcomes an important hurdle

By Paul Kennedy

Urged on by thousands of Argentines who made their way to Brasilia, Lionel Messi and Co., disposed of Belgium, 1-0, on Saturday afternoon to move into the semifinals of the World Cup.

For the first time in five games, Messi did not have a goal or assist, but it did not matter as La Albiceleste rarely looked threatened until late in the game. Argentina was composed and confident, something it did not look like earlier in the tournament, showing every sign of being a title-contender.

Here's why Argentina should be feeling good ...

No one-man show. This time Argentina won without Messi having to pull out a rabbit out of his bag of magic tricks late in the game. Not that he played no role in the game's lone goal, scored in the eighth minute. He did a nifty little dance in the middle of the field, turned and played a nice ball to Angel Di Maria, whose pass deflected off Jan Vertonghen's right foot into the path of Gonzalo Higuain, whose side-volley gave giant Belgian keeper Thibaut Courtois no chance.

Argentina needed someone other than Messi to come through as he has now gone eight straight games without scoring against Courtois, whom he faced in Barcelona-Atletico Madrid battles in Spain and the Champions League.

Messi had a chance to extend Argentine's lead late in the game on a breakaway, but Courtois stoned him. Score that another one for the Tarantula over the Flea.

Higuain emerges. Higuain's goal was his first in five games at the 2014 World Cup after scoring four in four games four years ago. The 26-year-old Napoli striker, whose older brother Federico Higuain plays for the Columbus Crew, had his best game of the tournament and it could not have come at a more important moment.

Sergio Aguero has been hampered with a hamstring problem, and Di Maria had to leave the Belgium game in the first half with a thigh injury and was replaced by Enzo Perez.

Winning changes. Belgium peppered Tim Howard's goal for 27 shots on goal in the Red Devils' 2-1 overtime win over the USA on Tuesday. In retrospect, it shows how good the USA made Belgium look, as the Red Devils managed all of four shots on goal against Argentina.

Credit should go to Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella for the three defensive changes he made to his lineup against Belgium. Jose Basanta at left back for Marcos Rojo was necessitated by Rojo's suspension, but the insertions of Martin Demichelis at center back and Lucas Biglia -- who had played seven seasons with Anderlecht in Belgium -- in midfield were both winning changes.

Riding tide of support. Argentina's win moved it into the semifinals for the first time since 1990.

It couldn't to it in 1994 after losing Diego Maradona, kicked out for failing a drug test, it lost on Dennis Bergkamp's memorable goal in 1998 in France, it failed to even get out of the first round in 2002 and lost to Germany in the last two quarterfinals.

As the smiling Messi and his teammates celebrated with their fans, the overriding sense was that the Argentines are starting to enjoy themselves, something you can't say about their archrival Brazil, struggling with the enormous pressure of trying to win at home.

That image of a smiling Messi could take Argentina all the way to the title.
5 comments about "Argentina overcomes an important hurdle".
  1. Nancy Carr-swaim, July 5, 2014 at 7:09 p.m.

    Argentina looked more confident in today's game but has its work cut out facing Netherlands who is relentless in its attack as well.

  2. Santiago 1314, July 5, 2014 at 9:54 p.m.

    I hate to say: "I Told You So, But I Told You So"... Weakest World Cup EVER!!!..Exciting, But "Poco" Good Futbol.. . USA is better than Costa Rica,... if we had gotten by Belgium, we could have beaten Argentina(who were NOTHING )...Holland would be tough because of Robben... But "El Hombre Vidrio"(The Glass Man) is due to Break, with all the Contact he is Creating.. (He finally ran out of Steam in the 118th minute, He was Amazing )...As I said before.. Change the shirts on 9 of the 10 field players and you wouldn't notice the Difference... If Klinsmann had brought a Sub for Jozy, Then Dempsey would have had the chance to be our Messi, Robben, Neymar... Supplied with passes from a Deeper lying Bradley.... It might be a Stretch, but at least it would have been a Chance, not a Compitulation... Thanks for NOTHING JK, But I think we should keep you as Figure Head Coach, for Recruiting and Media, just let someone else pick the Team and Coach at Game Time.. How about Dominic Kinner, for "Assistant " His teams are always in great shape, and he has produced more players for the National Team than anyone else..?? Just a Thought!?!?!?!

  3. I w Nowozeniuk, July 6, 2014 at 12:25 p.m.

    Santiago, wake up bro, the Ticos played a lot better than the U.S. and the ifs matter nothing; efficacy and seizing the moment're pure 'what if' logic lacks common sense, i.e., Dempsey did a Houdini act against Belgium...u miss the biggest point, 'what if' Wondo scores on the sitter in OT...'what if' the players executed better and showed more patience. WHAT IF?

  4. I w Nowozeniuk, July 6, 2014 at 1:12 p.m.

    Argentina is still struggling; too many giveaways from the back, nerves, and poor decision making. This squad is a shell of their past team qualities. Messi alone cannot bring them to the promised land. Lavezzi and Higuaine have been inconsistent. Sabello made a huge mistake in not taking Tavez; similar to Prandelli not taking Giuseppe Rossi who at 80% is much more than Balotelli and Cassano combined.

  5. Santiago 1314, July 7, 2014 at 12:32 a.m.

    @I w** I thought you had some "Common Sense".. YOU missed the BIGGEST POINT. The "IFs" DO matter, "IF" you are Spending MILLIONS of Dollars on Games and Training Camps and paying a Coach MILLIONS of Dollars, and he Drops People off the Team because of "Control" Issues (Boyd, Donovan, E. Johnson)...Then we get Wondo, instead of Eddie or Landon sitting on the 6, for an easy Tap In.. Wondo is the Apitamy of "The Peter Principle"(He rose to the Level of his Incompetency ) Not really his Fault, why do you think he was so easily Traded by Dynamo, We saw him miss those chances, Year, after Year, After YEAR!!!... TICOS did do Better than USA, Never said they didn't... Shows what a Coach, who takes His Inferior Talent, and BELIEVES THAT HE CAN WIN, Can instill, In His Players... With the Poor Quality(Mundane, Average )of players in this World Cup, Even Costa Rica, could have Won It.. What "IF"JK had not taken the "Spunk" out of Dempsey, by Isolating him to the Lone Ranger Forward, (Something Dempsey is not suited to Physically or Psychologically)...JK F@cked up his Mindset and Dempsey went "Houdini " as you so aptly Described it... But again, those of us who have watched Clint, since he was 12, could have told you how to Shut Him Down...Don't let him see the ball, and he will Pout and Shut Down, and Become Disinterested... Shame, that it was our Own MILLION dollar Coach that did it to him... Waste of a Truly Gifted Talent.. All because JK didn't bring a SUB for Jozy, Probably because he was afraid that Jozy(another Pouter) Would have had his "Feeling" Hurt... THE "IFs" Do Matter, "IF" you could have snuck in The Backdoor, and Won a World Cup, devoid of Quality... Costa Rica almost did it with a "HIGH SCHOOL" Offside Trap... But JK couldn't even anticipate that Lukaku was going to run over Besler...2 days before the game, I was posting in here that Brooks, should start over Besler... So I think my Common Sense, is more like 6th sense...

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