While Argentina have failed to produce a truly dazzling performance at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, their display against Belgium in the quarter-finals confirms they are a side with genuine title credentials.
It is not always teams who shine in the early rounds of the competition that go on to become champions, but rather those who grow into the tournament and hit their straps in the latter stages.
Argentina fit that description perfectly. The Albiceleste's 1-0 win over Belgium was the most dominant display of the World Cup so far, and there is the feeling that they still have plenty left in the tank heading into the semi-final.
Gonzalo Higuain scored the winner against the Europeans after eight minutes, and he is one player who repaid manager Alejandro Sabella's faith in him after a series of underwhelming displays.
Star man Lionel Messi has proven the match-winner for Argentina throughout the World Cup, guiding the side to laboured wins over Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria and Switzerland.
Squawka Football (@Squawka) July 5, 2014
Sabella's supporting cast needed to stand up if the team was to make its way through the pointy end of the competition, however, and stand up they did against Belgium. Messi once again proved his champion credentials, but the likes of Higuain, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Javier Mascherano chipped in with strong contributions to ensure the Belgians were overwhelmed in Brasilia.
Aside from Higuain's sharp finish off his laces, he also created several more scoring opportunities for himself in what was a lively game for the No. 9.
Argentina showed they have depth in their squad as well. Lucas Biglia was solid as Fernando Gago's replacement in midfield, while Enzo Perez came on for the injured Angel di Maria. The defence was also shuffled, with Jose Maria Basanta coming in for the suspended Marcos Rojo at left-back and Martin Demichelis starting ahead of the out-of-form Federico Fernandez.
Sergio Aguero, who is recovering from a hamstring strain himself, remained on the bench, but he should be recovered in time for the semi-finals, if needed.
Argentina in World Cup semifinals for the first time since 1990. Brazil's first time since 2002. Welcome back.— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) July 5, 2014
Di Maria's knock in the 33rd minute was the one major concern to come out of the game for Sabella.
The pragmatic coach maintained that this was Argentina's best match of the World Cup to this point, as reported by Goal.com:
"This was our best game, we were balanced and we played well. It is a great joy for the squad and I am happy for the people, my family and everyone that has supported me."
While sides such as Colombia and France, who stormed to impressive victories in the group stages, have now departed the tournament, the teams remaining will be extremely wary of an Argentina outfit that appears to be working its way up through the gears as the competition progresses.
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