Argentina midfielder Angel Di Maria has been ruled out of the World Cup semi-final against the Netherlands with a thigh injury while striker Sergio Aguero has been declared fit to play after recovering from a similar problem.
Di Maria limped off the field in the first half of Argentina’s quarter-final win over Belgium after straining a muscle in the back of his right thigh.
Team doctor Daniel Martinez on Sunday said tests showed it was a “first-degree” strain – the mildest kind but added that Di Maria wouldn’t be fit to play in Wednesday’s semi-final.
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Martinez said Aguero, who sustained a similar injury 10 days ago, had recovered in an “excellent” way.
Losing Di Maria is a big blow for Argentina as they prepares for their first World Cup semi-final since 1990. Besides Lionel Messi, he’s been the team’s most influential player in Brazil.
Di Maria scored the extra-time winner against Switzerland in the second round and set up Gonzalo Higuain’s winning goal in the first half against Belgium on Saturday.
“He’s a key player in this project,” Higuain said of Di Maria.
The last time Argentina reached the semi-final stage in the World Cup was 24 years ago in Italy, when they made it to the final but lost 1-0 to West Germany.
Coach Alejandro Sabella said being among the final four was the “minimum” that Argentina expected out of this World Cup after being eliminated in the quarter-finals in two consecutive tournaments.
Sabella made two key changes to the line-up against Belgium, fielding Manchester City defender Martin Demichelis for the first time in Brazil, and having Lucas Biglia replace Fernando Gago in the midfield.
“You always hope to play,” Demichelis said. “I was showing a lot of heart in practice and tried to get to the place where I would get called up.”
The moves bolstered Argentina’s defence, with Biglia and Javier Mascherano dropping back to help protect the early lead.
With left back Marcos Rojo returning from suspension Argentina’s defence should be in even better shape for the semi-final. However, the attack is bound to suffer without Di Maria.
Striker Aguero trained normally on Sunday and looked fully recovered from injury. The fast and powerful Aguero looks at least fit enough for a place on the substitutes’ bench and should make an appearance after missing two games.
Higuain, at least as well, has returned to form with a wonderful instinctive strike against Belgium that gave Argentina passage to the semi-finals.
Roared on by tens of thousands of fans who have crossed the border, Argentina are bidding for a third World Cup. To achieve it on the soil of rivals Brazil would be especially sweet.
The squad looked relaxed during Sunday’s training, laughing and joking with trainer Alejandro Sabella.
They are based at local team Atletico Mineiro’s training complex, where motivational banners in blue-and-white colours give them encouragement as fans huddle at the gates outside.
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