The World Cup may have lost one of its brightest stars to injury Friday when Neymar broke his vertebra, but soccer fans still get to watch the brilliance of Lionel Messi after his Argentina side knocked off Belgium 1-0.
Elsewhere, Netherlands won in nerve-wracking fashion in penalty shootouts against underdog Costa Rica after playing 120 minutes of scoreless soccer.
Argentina and Netherlands joined Germany and Brazil in the semifinals. Here is a look at Saturday’s results and an update on the Golden Boot race.
|Team 1||Result||Team 2|
|Netherlands||0(4) - 0(3)||Costa Rica|
|Robin van Persie||Netherlands||3|
|Clint Dempsey||United States||2|
|Wilfried Bony||Ivory Coast||2|
|Bryan Ruiz||Costa Rica||2|
|Angel Di Maria||Argentina||1|
|Kevin De Bruyne||Belgium||1|
|Julian Green||United States||1|
|Avdija Vrsajevic||Bosnia and Herzegovina||1|
|Lee Keun-Ho||South Korea||1|
|Joel Campbell||Costa Rica||1|
|Oscar Duarte||Costa Rica||1|
|Marcos Urena||Costa Rica||1|
|Stefan de Vrij||Netherlands||1|
|Vedad Ibisevic||Bosnia and Herzegovina||1|
|John Anthony Brooks||United States||1|
|Edin Dzeko||Bosnia and Herzegovina||1|
|Miralem Pjanic||Bosnia and Herzegovina||1|
|Son Heung Min||South Korea||1|
|Koo Jacheol||South Korea||1|
|Jermaine Jones||United States||1|
|Giovani dos Santos||Mexico||1|
Saturday Goal Scorers Highlighted
Argentina 1, Belgium 0
In what has been something of a theme throughout this World Cup, Argentina wasted little time getting on the scoreboard in Saturday’s match.
Gonzalo Higuain happened to be in the right place at the right time after a deflection, and he buried the initial goal in the back of the net with a strike from the top of the penalty box. It was just the type of start Argentina was looking for after their nerve-wracking defensive slugfest against Switzerland.
Argentina controlled the pace for the rest of the first half and pushed back any Belgium advances. However, ESPN Stats & Info noted that the 1-0 deficit was right where Belgium wanted the game to be if their recent history was any indication:
Argentina almost buried a decisive second goal off the foot of Higuain early in the second half, but as Squawka Football pointed out, the sidelines were more entertaining than the actual game in the aftermath:
The fact that the Argentina attack throughout much of the contest was more than just Messi underscored the comments manager Alejandro Sabella made before the match, via Dominic Fifield of The Guardian:
Four years ago Messi was criticised for not contributing enough, and now people say we depend too greatly upon him. It’s not easy. Any team who has a player like Messi in their ranks – he’s the best player in the world – will greatly depend upon him, as a player. But there’s a group of players who support Messi, who make him stronger and make him feel well. I believe that the fact he’s done what he has here is down to the work the team puts in.
Belgium certainly threatened in the final few minutes and made the Argentina supporters a bit uncomfortable, but the victor's defense was simply too stout. There was even a moment in stoppage time for Messi on a breakaway where he was all on his own, but the superstar was turned away.
Now that Argentina is two victories away from hoisting the World Cup trophy, their health has to be taken into consideration. Angel Di Maria left the match Saturday, as Bleacher Report UK noted, and that could be a problem going forward without him as a potential goal-scorer.
Di Maria has been a critical component in Argentina’s crossing attack throughout the World Cup, and he is part of a solid combination with Messi. Argentina may need more individual brilliance from Messi or contributions from the likes of Higuain if they hope to win this tournament.
Max Bretos of ESPN pointed out that Argentina simply didn't look the same offensively after the injury:
Where is Messi? The touches are disappearing. Is this the DiMaria effect? #ARGvsBEL— Max Bretos (@mbretosESPN) July 5, 2014
Of course, not allowing a goal, like the squad did Saturday, would do the trick on the way to the World Cup title as well.
Netherlands Beats Costa Rica In Penalty Shootouts
The Cinderella story of the World Cup came to a grinding and heartbreaking halt Saturday at the hands of the orange-clad Netherlands squad. Netherlands survived a stiff defensive test from Costa Rica in penalty shootouts in one of the most dramatic matches of the entire World Cup.
Goalkeeper Keylor Navas kept the underdog Costa Rica in the match throughout the first half and constantly turned away the Netherlands attack. Bleacher Report UK highlighted one of many formidable saves:
The game was scoreless deep into the second half, but Arjen Robben was doing his best to get Netherlands on the board, as Squawka Football pointed out:
Still, Navas continued to be a stone wall, but he got a little help from the post with only a few minutes remaining in regulation, as Bleacher Report UK noted:
That was the first of many golden opportunities for Netherlands down the stretch, but somehow, someway, they failed to find the back of the net in regulation and the game went to overtime scoreless. Costa Rica was clearly playing with their backs against the wall, but Robben and company failed to take advantage.
ESPN Stats & Info noted that the extra time wasn’t exactly a promising development for Netherlands:
It was rather clear that Costa Rica was playing for penalty kicks throughout overtime (and much of the second half to be honest) even though they had a couple opportunities late. Netherlands put a scare into the Costa Rica defense when they hit the crossbar at 118 minutes, but the game went to penalty shootouts without a single goal.
That is where Netherlands ultimately prevailed.
Incredibly, Netherlands switched their goalkeepers heading into the shootout and went with Tim Krul instead of Jasper Cillessen. It paid the ultimate dividends when Krul saved two of the five shots, which was more than enough to carry his team to victory.
Netherlands will certainly need a few days off to catch their breath before the semifinals.
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