Higuain fires Argentina past Belgium into World Cup semis

Argentina's Jose Basanta kicks the ball in front of Belgium's Eden Hazard during their World Cup...

Argentina's Jose Basanta kicks the ball in front of Belgium's Eden Hazard during their World Cup quarterfinal match at Brasilia National Stadium in Brasilia, July 5, 2014. (UESLEI MARCELINO/Reuters)

Morris Dalla Costa, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:47 PM ET

BRASILIA - That collective sigh of relief could be heard all the way to Buenos Aires.

On Saturday, Argentina played a little more like the squad everyone expected to see at the World Cup.

And for many South American and neutral supports, they are one step closer to fulfilling the Argentina-Brazil dream tournament final.

It’s the first time both Brazil and Argentina have made it to the semifinals in the same World Cup.

Both teams have substantial problems to overcome, but things finally started coming together for La Albiceleste in their 1-0 win over Belgium Saturday.

Argentina hadn’t been playing well at all this tournament, but had its most complete game of the World Cup albeit against a surprisingly lethargic Belgium side.

The South Americans may have turned a corner.

“I feel really pleased for this squad, who’ve lived up to our footballing history, for all the coaching staff, for our families,” said Argentine coach Alejandro Sabella. “In terms of the balance we showed and the football we played, it was our best match so far.”

Except for their leader Lionel Messi, the Argentines have been largely unimpressive so far this World Cup.

But Saturday, Messi could afford to be only very good, because many of his teammates actually picked up the slack.

It had to happen. There was no way Messi could continue to carry the weight of a team and a nation without either breaking down or being shut down.

Angel di Maria stepped up in the Round of 16 match against Switzerland.

On Saturday, Gonzalo Higuain showed up. He’d been a ghost so far this World Cup, but against Belgium he took physical form. He scored the only goal of the game and almost adding a second when he ripped a shot off the crossbar.

Higuain managed to one-time a bouncing ball on the turn, finding the corner of the net behind Belgian goalkeeper Thibault Courtois. It was a tough finish because di Maria’s pass took a slight deflection before coming to Higuain.

It was Higuain's first goal for his country since August 2013.

That in itself was cause for celebration.

If Higuain and di Maria can get going alongside Messi, Argentina will no longer draught horse but a race horse. One problem, however, is that di Maria had to leave Saturday’s game in the first half with a thigh injury. He will be examined by doctors Sunday.

If di Maria is unable to continue playing, his loss would be a big blow to Argentina.

Almost as impressive Saturday was Argentina’s wobbly defence holding together against a Red Devils team that was supposed to provide chills and thrills.

It turns out it was mostly chills.

Belgium, one of the pre-World Cup darkhorse selections, went out with a whimper. They didn’t have many ideas in the game. They looked out of sorts and totally controlled by Argentina. Belgium never showed the kind of desperation needed to move on.

What made the whole thing even more mystifying were comments made by coach Marc Wilmots after the game.

“Argentina didn’t wow us,” Wilmots said. “They looked quite an ordinary side to me but they used their experience well. They started as favourites, scored an early goal and then knew how to handle being in front, by stopping us getting any momentum going.”

One supposes if Argentina looked “quite an ordinary side,” his club was quite dreadful.

Argentina has had the luck of an easy passage so far in this World Cup, although they’ve hardly had an easy time.

As they head to the semifinals they’ll be living with weight of expectations. There is some argument now that Argentina is the new Spain.

Before Spain won the last two European championships and the 2010 World Cup, they were the team that always had the players but could never close the deal.

Argentina has won two World Cups in its history, but this is first time in 24 years it has made it to the semifinals and a mere step away from a dream final against arch-rival Brazil.


Videos

Photos