‘Ordinary’ Argentina? Thanks to Higuain, on to semi-finals all the same
BRASILIA // Marc Wilmots, the Belgian coach, called Argentina “an ordinary team” as his side went down 1-0 to the South Americans last night and missed out on a semi-final spot.
A ruthless early strike by Gonzalo Higuain was enough to eliminate Belgium, who had arrived as dark horses and left having earned a reputation as sluggish starters.
In five matches, they never scored before the 70th minute. On Saturday, again, they failed to threaten until the final stages, by which time Argentina had switched personnel and were able to put bodies behind the ball to stifle any trouble.
Wilmots refused to criticise his side’s performance and focused on Argentina’s time-wasting tactics, accusing them of “taking 30 seconds to take a throw-in” and “distorting our rhythm”.
“We have one opportunity, we lose the ball and they kick it in,” Wilmots said. “It’s a small mistake, but there you go, I am very proud of the boys. They were the youngest team in the last eight, so Belgium has good prospects for the future.
“We had one or two chances and you have to make a goal at this level. But we were not impressed by Argentina – absolutely not. They are just an ordinary team.”
Argentina secured one of the final four berths of the World Cup for the first time since 1990. It is also the first time both they and Brazil have made the semi-finals in the same tournament.
“I am extremely happy for the boys and for all the people in Argentina because for the first time in 24 years we are among the best four teams in the world,” said Alejandro Sabella, the Argentine coach. “Now we will see if they can achieve more.”
The solitary goal came after just eight minutes courtesy of sublime work by Lionel Messi, the Argentine captain, who drew in three players before feeding Angel Di Maria.
When Di Maria’s attempted lob pass bounced off the foot of Jan Vertonghen and into the path of Higuain, the Napoli forward showed no lack of confidence by volleying powerfully past Thibault Courtois. It was his first goal in 528 minutes of international football.
“I was cool, calm and collected,” Higuain said. “I have been working hard for it, I felt confident and fortunately I was able to score. Every striker wants a goal, and what is more beautiful than doing it now? But this is only one match. We have two more in order to make the dream come true.”
As direct and dangerous as Argentine looked early on, Belgium looked bereft of ideas. They had relative success on the left flank but only managed one attempt at goal in the first half: a Kevin Mirallas header that fizzed wide.
When Di Maria was withdrawn after half an hour with pain in his right thigh, Belgium should have capitalised. Instead, they waited.
“We must reserve our joy because we have lost one key player, Angel,” said Sabella, who revealed that Di Maria would have a scan today. “He is a key figure for us because he is one of the world’s great virtuosos. He has great character and helps mark players defensively as well, so we hope he can recover.”
Sabella’s “ordinary team” are two steps from a first World Cup trophy since 1986.
Wilmots’ side, in contrast, will switch focus to the 2016 European Championships. “I am already looking ahead,” Wilmots said. “We have to learn how to lose gracefully.”
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Published: July 6, 2014 04:00 AM