You don't always need a truckload of goals to have fun at the World Cup.
Day 24 of the 2014 version provided fans of the global game with two low-scoring, yet ultimately thrilling matches that sent two global powerhouses through to the semifinals.
An early goal from Gonzalo Higuain was all Argentina needed to defeat Belgium 1-0 and move on to the semifinals of the World Cup for the first time since 1990.
Higuain utilized an incredible turn and strike from the edge of the penalty box to fire the ball into the net in the eighth minute of play. Eden Hazard and his Belgian teammates could never quite get their offense going, generating little threat and bowing out of the tournament with plenty to consider going forward.
In the day's second match, the Netherlands ended Costa Rica's Cinderella run in a tense, thrilling game decided by penalty kicks. Neither team could find the back of the net after 120 minutes of play, but the Oranje's experience won out as they defeated Los Ticos 4-3 on penalties.
Here are the day's scores, the remaining tournament fixtures and an updated bracket for the 2014 World Cup.
|2014 World Cup—Day 24 Scores|
|Quarterfinal||Argentina vs. Belgium||ARG 1-0 BEL|
|Quarterfinal||Netherlands vs. Costa Rica||NED 0-0 CRC (NED win on penalties, 4-3)|
|2014 World Cup—Remaining Fixtures|
|July 8||4 p.m.||Brazil vs. Germany||Semifinals||ESPN|
|July 9||4 p.m.||Argentina vs. Netherlands||Semifinals||ESPN|
|July 12||4 p.m.||TBD vs. TBD||Third-place match||ESPN|
|July 13||3 p.m.||TBD vs. TBD||Final||ABC|
Impact Players from Day 24
Gonzalo Higuain, Argentina
Argentina needed someone to come alive other than Lionel Messi to continue its World Cup run. Higuain took it upon himself to recapture some of the form he so often flashed at Real Madrid and used it to apply pressure on Belgium.
The technically gifted striker came into the match with a six-game scoring drought for his country. It took him just eight minutes to find the back of the net again with a superb, instinctive finish, via ESPN FC:
The goal gave him the mental boost that he needed, as he showed much greater involvement in all areas of the pitch. His movement tied up hulking Belgian center back Vincent Kompany on multiple occasions, allowing Messi and company greater space to maneuver around the penalty area.
The Metro's Sam Kelly noted the goal did wonders for Higuain's confidence:
Higuain left the match after 81 minutes with three shots, a goal, an 83 percent pass accuracy and plenty for Argentina fans to look forward to in the semifinal against the Netherlands.
Ezequiel Garay, Argentina
La Albiceleste's back line was considered the main weakness for this side heading into the World Cup. Ezequiel Garay, Martin Demichelis and Pablo Zabaleta don't inspire the same sense of awe as names such as Messi and Higuain.
With two straight shutouts in the knockout round, the unit that was to be Argentina's downfall now looks like a strength.
OptaJohan reported Garay was a statistical monster on Day 24:
Belgium had very little going forward in the match just one game after launching a vast array of shots against the United States. Credit Garay for stymieing the Belgian attack in this one, cleaning up his teammates' mistakes and putting great pressure on Kevin de Bruyne and the lightning-quick Divock Origi.
ESPN's Dermot Corrigan thinks Garay might be one of the best center backs in the tournament thus far:
If Garay can continue to hold down the back line for Argentina, a little Messi magic each game might be all they need to take home the title.
Arjen Robben, Netherlands
There were quite a few strong performances from the Netherlands-Costa Rica match. Wesley Sneijder sent in multiple dangerous crosses and was unlucky to hit the crossbar on a free kick. Costa Rica goalie Keylor Navas made multiple saves and put in a commanding shift in the penalty area.
However, no player was more consistent and threatening in attack than Arjen Robben.
The Bayern Munich standout stood out for his ability to beat Los Ticos' defenders on the dribble on multiple occasions. FourFourTwo's Hitesh Ratna thought a one-man attack would suit the Dutch just fine, so long as Robben was the sole provider:
He did a little bit of everything during the match: drawing fouls, taking multiple corner kicks, laying off carefully weighted passes to his teammates and sending in a blistering shot or two. Wall Street Journal editor Sam Walker thought he was capable of providing help beyond the soccer pitch:
He finished the match with five shots, four key passes, eight successful dribbles and was fouled an astonishing eight times, as per WhoScored.com. He also nailed his penalty kick with startling ease.
If Robben keeps it up, he may yet secure an elusive World Cup title for his soccer-obsessed nation.