Argentina 1 (Higuain 8'), Belgium 0
There was a portion of this match when Argentina went nearly 40 minutes without a single shot attempt, yet it never really felt like Argentina was in trouble, either. It jumped out to an early lead thanks to Gonzalo Higuain's goal in the eighth minute, and after that Belgium never really had a great scoring opportunity, and the best ones it had it screwed up.
The result is Argentina reaching the semifinals of the World Cup for the first time since 1990 when it finished as the runner-up to West Germany in Italy. The victory doesn't come without a cost, though, as Angel Di Maria had to leave the match early with what appeared to be a calf injury, and Argentina was already without Sergio Aquero.
FULL TIME: Argentina is going to the semifinals for the first time since 1990, defeating Belgium 1-0.
90+4' - OH MY Belgium with another couple of strong chances, but it ends with Witsel's volley soaring over the bar.
90+4' - LIO MESSI ONE-ON-ONE WITH THE GOALIE and the goalie wins? Yep. Courtois just saved Belgium's bacon. Though it might not matter.
90+3' - Belgium still unable to really get anything going. Every pass or cross into the box is sent out by a defender.
90' - There will be five minutes of added time.
88' - Well it finds a Belgian player in the box, but the ball rolls helplessly to Romero.
88' - Corner coming for Belgium. Could be the last chance.
87' - Basanta with a conveniently timed cramp for Argentina.
86' - Belgium was just ruled offside for the sixth time today.
85' - And the corner is headed away rather easily. Oh Belgium. I'm not liking your chances right now.
85' - De Bruyne gets a shot off after a ball finds him outside the box but it's deflected out for a corner.
84' - Fellaini finds himself open in the box to receive a pass but the reason he was so open was because he was one of two Belgians offside.
83' - If Palacio were a few inches taller it might be 2-0 right now, but Zabaleta's cross is just over his head.
80' SUBSTITUTION - Argentina replaces goal-scorer Gonzalo Higuain with Fernando Gago, who has an awesome name.
80' - Argentina once again has taken control of possession. Belgium chasing the game now.
76' - Dries Merten's free kick from the right of the goal is poorly taken and out of play.
75 SUBSTITUTION - Belgium uses its last sub of the match to replace Eden Hazard with Chadli.
74' YELLOW CARD - Biglia gets a yellow for basically trying to play the role of a human wall as Vertoghen dribbles by. Free kick coming for Belgium.
73' - Lukaku heads a pass to Fellaini in the box but he's utterly surrounded by Argentine defenders. Nothing comes of it.
72' - The good news for Belgium is now that we're past the 70-minute mark it might think it's allowed to score a goal.
70' SUBSTITUTION - Ezequiel Lavezzi is subbed off for another striker in Rodrigo Palacio.
68' YELLOW CARD - Alderweireld is shown yellow for a dangerous tackle. Personally I'd have shown him a red just so I didn't have to try and spell his name again.
67' - The Belgian attack has shown a lot more life since bringing on Lukaku and Mertens. Some of it is due to the approach Argentina has adopted, but the reasons don't matter. What does is whether or not Belgium can finish these chances.
65' - Close call for Argentina. De Bruyne's cross is deflected by Garay before it reaches Lukaku, but the deflection is nearly an own goal. Romero is there to catch it, though.
60' - Belgium's best chance of the day. Vertonghen's cross finds the head of Fellaini in front of the net but it's over the crossbar. That's a blown chance to regret.
59' SUBSTITUTIONS - Lukaku and Mertens do come on, replacing Origi and Mirallas respectively. Neither had been contributing much today.
59' - Lavezzi down after being tackled by Vincent Kompany outside the box. Maybe a foul, maybe Lavezzi embellishing the pain a bit.
58' - Looks like Belgium is getting ready to bring on both Lukaku and Mertens to step up the offensive firepower.
55' -Belgium's break is a short one as it turns the ball over, leading to an Argentina break that ends when a laser from Higuain hits the crossbar and goes over. Very close to his second goal of the day.
54' - Courtois is forced to push Messi's cross out of bounds for a corner kick. The corner is then directly to Courtois who starts a Belgian break.
53' YELLOW CARD - A yellow for Eden Hazard for a silly tackle on Biglia. Free kick for Messi coming.
52' - Great move by Lavezzi to get space to the left of the box but his cross in front of the net whizzes by as nobody from Argentina is there.
50' - Seriously, a Belgium attack that seemed relentless against the United States in the last round looks mostly hopeless today.
49' - Belgium's first chance of the second half results in a blocked cross and then a turnover of possession as it loses the ball out of bounds.
47' - Dangerous free kick for Argentina already but Messi's kick doesn't find anybody and goes out for a goal kick.
46' - And the second half has begun.
1:02 p.m. ET: Both teams are on the field and getting ready to start the second half.
HALFTIME: We head to the locker room with Argentina holding on to it's 1-0 lead. Belgium's going to need to change some things up in the second half. Just aren't getting enough chances to be considered a real threat to pull even or go ahead here. And Argentina is looking dangerous. Feels like Messi will strike at some point.
45' - Two minutes of added time in this first half.
45' - Lavezzi finds Messi in the box with space, but Messi's first touch fails him and he can't get control of the pass.
42' - Another nice cross from Vertonghen but Mirallas' header is hard, straight and just wide.
40' - Messi's free kick goes just over the cross bar, and even if it was low enough it probably would have hit the post anyway. Still a scary moment for Belgium.
38' - Messi fouled just outside the penalty area. Was probably fouled three times before going down, but that's not stopping Belgium from being incredulous about it.
35' - At this point in Belgium's match against the United States, Tim Howard had already made roughly a billion saves. Today the Belgians only have three shots, only one on goal.
33' SUBSTITUTION - Di Maria is taken off and is replaced by Enzo Perez.
32' - Uh oh. Di Maria is down again and is walking off the pitch. Seems to be the same leg/thigh problem.
30' - My local ABC affiliate currently letting me know that Sea Rescue can be seen tomorrow at noon. So there's a load off my mind. As for Di Maria, still being treated, but looks as though he'll be fine.
28' - Di Maria finds himself on the break after a terrific pass from Messi, going one-on-one with Vincent Kompany, but Kompany recovers and makes a great defensive play to block his shot. Di Maria is now down with trainers looking at his leg. Don't know if he landed funny or what, but he'd be a big loss. (via)
26' - DeBruyne gets off another long shot but this one is on target and forces Romero to dive and punch it back out weakly. Origi nearly got to the rebound.
24' - In a quest to show us all how good he is, Eden Hazard spends 20 minutes dribbling outside the box without making a pass or attempting a shot and then loses possession. Way to go, man.
22' - Nice backheel flick attempt from Di Maria to Zabaleta making a run into the box but it's just a bit too far.
20' - The Belgian attack is certainly making itself more visible in the last few minutes, but nothing to make Romero sweat in net.
16' - Vertonghen unleashes a dangerous cross into the box but Garay heads it out of play for a Belgian corner. A Belgian corner is like a regular corner, but larger and with deeper squares for more syrup storage.
15' - De Bruyne then takes a corner for Belgium, and his corner was closer to the net than his shot just was, but it's way too long for anybody to get to it.
13' -De Bruyne takes a shot from long distance, and it almost matches the distance in how wide it was.
10' - Argentines literally dancing in their seats right now. The stadium already had an electric atmosphere before the goal, and now the place is just buzzing.
8' GOAL ARGENTINA - Higuain finds the ball coming to him in the box after taking a deflection, and he shows the ball his appreciation by putting it in the back of the net. Luck and skill involved on that one. (via)
7' PT GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL DE ARGENTINA!!!!! pic.twitter.com/UA6BvPhoS1— Selección Argentina (@Argentina) July 5, 2014
6' - Argentina is dominating the ball early (which means Belgium will score in the next three minutes).
4' - Very early, obviously, but I get the feeling from the first four minutes of this match that we're going to have some fun here today.
3' - Argentina gets the first chance as Messi finds Lavezzi all alone to the left but his cross is dealt with and cleared.
2' - Some early fireworks as Belgium's Witsel just shoves his marker to the ground.
1' - And we are underway. Argentina is in the Argentinian jerseys, while Belgium is in the Belgian uniform.
11:57 a.m. ET: These are some festive anthems. Pretty sure Argentina's was in an old Disney cartoon.
11:52 a.m. ET: Both Argentina and Belgium are now on the field. We're a couple national anthems away from getting the match started.
Hello there, dear reader, it is I, Tom Fornelli, here to watch Argentina and Belgium with you. I'll be live-blogging the entire game, and though we're still a ways away from kickoff, both teams have released their starting lineups.
Argentina (4-2-3-1): Romero, Zabaleta, DeMichelis, Garay, Basanta, Biglia, Mascherano, Di María, Messi, Lavezzi, Higuaín
Belgium (4-2-3-1): Courtois, Alderweireld, Van Buyten, Kompany, Vertonghen, Witsel, Fellaini, Mirallas, DeBruyne, Hazard, Origi
Match Preview: 1 vs. 11 worked vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina. It worked vs. Iran. It worked vs. Switzerland.
But after Belgium's 110-minute shelling of Tim Howard's goal, it seems safe to assume that asking Lionel Messi to beat a team of the Red Devils' quality singlehandedly isn't going to work nearly as well as it has thus far in this World Cup for Argentina. Messi may have cemented his status as the world's best player in leading his team to the quarterfinals, but to make the semifinals, he's going to need help.
On paper, he shouldn't have any problem getting it. Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria are regarded as two of the game's most lethal attackers, two members of a strike force -- along with Messi and Sergio Aguero -- many referred to entering the tournament as the "Fantastic Four." But Higuain has been the next-closest thing to invisible, and while Di Maria is fresh off scoring the game-winner vs. Switzerland, that goal was entirely manufactured by Messi and was necessary to redeem the Real Madrid star after more than 100 minutes of drab ineffectiveness. Oh, and Aguero missed the Switzerland match entirely and is questionable with injury.
Making Messi and Co.'s task even more difficult is that Belgium's defense has looked fairly airtight when not under a furious last-ditch American onslaught; until Julian Green's extra-time tally the Belgians had given up just one goal in more than 360 minutes of play, with superstar centerback Vincent Kompany looking every bit one of the world's best.
On the other end, Argentina have only one defensive star -- veteran box-to-box midfielder Javier Mascherano -- and can't be excited about facing the array of attacking stars wielded by the Belgians. Eden Hazard hasn't lived up to the hype generated by his fantastic club season with Chelsea, but he hasn't needed to; Kevin De Bruyne was masterful against the US as a central playmaker, 19-year-old Divock Origi has already flashed immense potential as a striker with both physical power and a deft touch, and Dries Mertens, Marouane Fallaini, and substitute striker Romelu Lukaku -- who might get the start over Origi after dominating extra time vs. the Americans -- have all had their moments.
After the group stage, it was the Belgians who had all the talent necessary to make the semifinals -- or beyond -- on paper, but hadn't put things together on the field. After watching the Red Devils dominate the US in every possible fashion other than on the scoreboard, though, while Argentina struggled so mightily to fashion real chances against a passive Swiss side, a glance at the respective team sheets now seems to favor the Belgians.
But of course, Belgium doesn't have Lionel Messi. If he can power even this out-of-form Argentina past a team of the Red Devils' quality, it will be his greatest-ever achievement in an Albiceleste jersey -- and it will have him one step away from the World Cup final his country has dreamed of for a generation.