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Dublin: 18 °C Saturday 8 August, 2020


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WHO WILL BE the third team to qualify for the semi-finals? Yesterday, things were a little dull but can we get back to normal with a goal-fest? It’s the meeting of an under-inspiring South American outfit and a nifty European side. And it conjures up memories of a pretty famous encounter in 1986. 

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Good afternoon to you all. How are we feeling today? Still a little perplexed at last night’s refereeing decisions? Still vexed at Neymar being forced to miss the rest of the tournament? Or more annoyed that the Garth Brooks’ situation still hasn’t been resolved? Here’s hoping this game can bring some temporary relief and lift the dark clouds. Let’s get down to business because the teams are in…

Argentina XI: Romero, Garay, Zabaleta, Biglia, Di Maria, Higuain, Messi (c), Mascherano, Demichelis, Lavezzi, Basanta.

Belgium XI: Courtois, Alderweireld, Kompany (c), Vertonghen, Witsel, De Bruyne, Fellaini, Hazard, Mirallas, Van Buyten, Origi.

So, quite a few updates here. Three changes for Sabella’s side. In comes Martin Dimichelis at centre-back in place of Federico Fernandez. Jose Basenta slots in for the suspended Marcos Rojo while Fernando Gago is replaced by Lucas Bilgia in midfield.

Meanwhile, just a single alteration for Marc Wilmots’ team. Kevin Miralles, who impressed after coming on in against the US, starts here and Dries Mertens drops to the bench. Romelu Lukaku, despite setting up one and scoring the other against the Americans, still can’t get into the side. 19 year-old Divock Origi retains his place.

This is a nice touch. And I’m sure FIFA will be all over it. Argentina fans with a banner outlining their support for the injured Brazilian star. It’s a simple but effective message: ‘Strength, Neymar.’

Brazil WCup Soccer Argentina Belgium Source: Rodrigo Abd/AP/Press Association Images

A couple of stats for you.

The teams have played each other 4 times with Argentina winning on three occasions. But, as much as the 1986 World Cup encounter has been fondly recalled in the last few days, Belgium beat them four years previously at the ’82 tournament. Erwin Vandenbergh with the game-winner.

Source: FIFATV/YouTube

Lots of pressure on Messi, as usual. But he’ll come up against a bit of a foe here. Thibaut Courtois has foiled him on numerous occasions recently. A big positive for Belgium, surely?

We discussed this in the office. The look at the camera and the folding of the arms is reminiscent of the opening credits to a litany of 90s TV shows. Now, that’s a video that needs to be made…Maybe this put to Beverly Hills 90210′s theme music?

Source: FIFATV/YouTube

And we’re off!

3 mins – CLOSE! Messi is in acres of space through the middle and spreads it wide left to Lavezzi who looks to cross for Higuain but Kompany is there to clear. Far too much room for Messi in a dangerous position.

8 mins – GOAL! Higuain!

Germany made a great start. Brazil made a great start. And now Argentina have done likewise. A touch of good fortune as the ball breaks for Higuain only after a deflection carries it into his path. But instinctively he turns and arrows a right-footed drive to the far corner. Superb.

13 mins - Belgium have found it tough to find a foothold here. De Bruyne tries his luck from distance but it skews off his left boot and goes well wide. Interesting to see if they can involve Hazard and Miralles and get them isolated against the Argentine full-backs.

17 mins - Vertonghen has displayed his attacking instincts on plenty of occasions at this tournament (at Ajax, he used to go on marauding runs from centre-back all the time) and he burns past Di Maria here, sends in a great cross and it’s put out for a corner. Let’s see if that tactic continues.

That lovely strike will do wonders for the Real Madrid man’s confidence. He’d been struggling hugely in front of goal.

Di Maria was AWFUL against Switzerland but he’s started very brightly here. Involved in the goal, almost played through Higuain with a neat flick moments ago and then there was this…

26 mins – CLOSE! De Bruyne tries his luck from distance and though it’s pretty central, Romero elects to parry. The keeper was really suspect against the Swiss, making a couple of basic errors. Not a bad strategy to test him as much as possible, even from miles out.

32 mins – SUBSTITUTION! Perez (on) – Di Maria (off)

A big blow early on here for the Argentines. It looks like Di Maria has strained a hamstring and he hobbles off. He’s taken his place on the bench and hasn’t gone straight down the tunnel so it’s probably just a minor complaint. Sabella not taking any risks though and a resolute midfielder, Perez, replaces him.

Before heading off, Di Maria had a half-chance when Messi played him in. Kompany was there to block but the through-ball was gorgeous. Have a look.

38 mins – This has taken on a very similar pattern to the two previous quarter-final games. A quick opening goal and then a tough battle for the remainder of the half. Belgium are still very much in this but haven’t been able to engineer anything. Possession has been good but Argentina have crafted more openings.

40 mins – CLOSE! Messi wins a free-kick right on the edge of the area after some amazing dribbling skills and a clumsy Fellaini tackle. He tries to whip it to Courtois’s top corner but it’s too high.

42 mins – CLOSE! Here’s Vertonghen on the left again. It’s another great delivery and Miralles gets across his man to send the low header to the bottom corner…but it’s a few inches wide. Good effort and that’s better from the Belgians.

And that’s HALF-TIME. Unimpressive from the Belgians but Argentina have been pretty solid. The early goal was key but as the half wore on, they found it difficult to break through. Di Maria was a constant menace before injury forced him off and Belgium can take some motivation from that – Argentina don’t offer as much of a threat without him. Vertonghen is their best outlet and he’s been responsible for two great crosses. Hazard has been anonymous while Miralles has had to continuously come inside to get involved. Up to now, Wilmots has made some great switches. In the US game, things opened up once Hazard came inside and De Bruyne went wide. Obviously, the introduction of Lukaku worked a treat too. But he won’t panic just yet.

By the way, everything has come to a standstill in Brazil because Neymar has just been wheeled onto a helicopter.

And WE’RE BACK! Second-half underway.

51 mins – CLOSE! Messi delightfully sends it wide left for Higuain as Belgian players appeal for offside. He cuts inside and the shot takes a deflection, narrowly bouncing past a wrong-footed Courtois and just wide of the near post.

52 mins – CLOSE! Lavezzi does really well on the left and whips in a superb ball that flashes across the six-yard area. Higuain just can’t stretch far enough to tap it in.

55 mins – VERY CLOSE! Belgium are in a great attacking position and it’s sent cross-field to Hazard. He can’t control and Argentina attack from deep. Higuain races straight for goal, seems to push straight past Kompany and sends a well-struck shot past Courtois…only for it to clip the crossbar. Agonisingly close but he really should’ve scored. Major let-off for Belgium who are still in the dressing room.


Lukaku (on) – Origi (off) and Mertens (on) – Miralles (off)

Double change for the Belgians. An hour gone and they need to re-jig things. Let’s see if Lukaku can wield as much influence as he did against the Americans.

61 mins – CLOSE! Fellaini has received lots of criticism for his lack of involvement in this. But he gets on the end of another superb cross from Vertonghen but can’t find the net from close-range. It’s too high. But they need to do more of this. Go direct and ruffle the Argentines a bit.

65 mins - Wilmots has pushed Fellaini further forward now and there’s more energy up top from Belgium as Argentina have just sat back. De Bruyne is wide right now and he sends in a low cross towards the near post – takes a touch off an Argentine boot and Romero needs to get down to make the save.

This, quite possibly, is the greatest moment of the World Cup.

This is the Higuain chance, by the way. Could prove a costly miss.

70 mins – SUBSTITUTION! Palacio (on) – Lavezzi (off)

Lavezzi picked up a knock after a collision with Kompany just a few minutes ago so that may have factored into Sabella’s decision but it’s about keeping hold of what they have too.

75 mins – SUBSTITUTION! Chadli (on) – Hazard (off)

Yes, you heard me. Hazard has been really, really poor throughout this tournament and though it seems a big call to make, it’s a sensible decision. Chadli can’t really do much worse than the Chelsea man.

Mentioned it earlier but the three quarter-finals so far have been oddly similar. Tight first-half with teams separated by early goal, second half scrappy and largely unimpressive as trailing team finds it quite difficult to make a breakthrough.

85 mins - This is just an odd finale from the Belgians. Yes, Argentina have been solid but they need to push harder. De Bruyne sees a shot deflected just wide and we await the corner…

89 mins – CLOSE! Belgium are just thumping long balls into the area, having sent all their big, physical players forward. From a corner, it drops to the far post as Vertonghen and Mertens try to force it across goal. But they’re crowded out and Romero gleefully grabs it at his near post.

And we’re into injury-time here. There will be 5 more minutes…

94 mins – CLOSE! Inevitably Belgium are exposed on the counter-attack and Messi is sent on his way. He’s all on his own and looks to clip it past Courtois but the keeper does brilliantly and calls his bluff, smothering it when the attacker really should’ve scored.

And that’s FULL-TIME! Argentina deserve it. Belgium were disappointing and though they were always in the game, they found it immensely difficult to create openings. In the end, they just thumped it long and it was hardly the most attractive of ploys. They lacked some nous and individual quality – which, given their squad, is surprising. But, it’s a young side and they’ve done well to get this far.

Argentina may fret over Di Maria’s injury. As soon as he went off, they seemed a less impressive force going forward and didn’t create as many chances. Holland, should they get past Costa Rica of course, won’t be overawed.

Thanks for staying with us. More reaction and analysis to come.

About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan