World Cup 2014: Winners and Losers from Day 24
Day 24 of the 2014 FIFA World Cup saw the semi-final matchups finalised and showcased a pair of cagey quarter-finals.
In Brasilia, Lionel Messi and Angel Di Maria combined to set up Gonzalo Higuain’s winner against Belgium.
In Salvador, the Netherlands required penalties to eliminate a tricky Costa Rica side that gave them quite a scare.
Following are the biggest winners and losers from another intriguing day of World Cup play.
Winner: Gonzalo Higuain, Who Ended an Extended Goal Drought
Argentina were always going to need someone other than Lionel Messi to step up at the 2014 World Cup. Against Belgium on Saturday, that man was Gonzalo Higuain.
In the eighth minute, the Napoli striker ended a 528-minute goalscoring drought with a single swing of his right foot after a good piece of buildup.
Messi, who was once again operating from a deep position, made a delightful pirouette before sending the ball to Angel Di Maria down the right, and the Real Madrid midfielder played through the ball that Higuain turned into a goal.
“I was calm and relaxed,” the 26-year-old said after the match, according to Goal. “I knew the goal would come and I was just doing my best for the team.”
Loser: Eden Hazard, Who Failed to Make an Impact in Brazil
Eden Hazard was always going to be key to any success Belgium enjoyed at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, so it’s hardly surprisingly that another anonymous display from the Chelsea playmaker saw the Red Devils ousted at the quarter-final stage.
Against Argentina in Saturday’s early match, Hazard was rarely involved—touching the ball just 45 times and completing less than three-quarters of his passes before being substituted in the 75th minute (all statistics courtesy WhoScored.com).
Overall, the 23-year-old failed to find the back of the net in Brazil and was a major disappointment.
Winner: Lionel Messi, Who Is Making This 'His' World Cup
For all he has done at club level—and it’s a lot—there has always been the sense that Lionel Messi requires a World Cup title in order to be compared to all-time football greats such as Pele and Diego Maradona.
We may be seeing it happen before our very eyes.
Ever since Argentina’s first World Cup match against Bosnia and Herzegovina, Messi has been at the centre of everything. He has had a sense for the dramatic, and when he’s not found the back of the net himself, he’s set up a teammate to score.
Against Belgium, his movement in the centre of the park led to Gonzalo Higuain’s winner. After the final whistle, Albiceleste manager Alejandro Sabella was full of praise for his captain.
“Messi played a wonderful match,” Sabella remarked, as per Goal. “Every move he makes is a sign of hope for us. What he does is always decisive; it’s beyond scoring goals.”
Loser: Romelu Lukaku, Who Once Again Underperformed for Belgium
But after failing to impress in the Red Devils’ opener against Algeria, the 21-year-old suddenly became a bit player in manager Marc Wilmots’ setup.
Yes, he made an impact from the bench against the United States in the round of 16. In hindsight, however, that performance was the anomaly, not the norm.
Against Argentina in Saturday’s early semi-final, Lukaku made another appearance as a substitute and failed to make a meaningful impact during his time on the pitch. In just over half an hour, he touched the ball only nine times and took a single shot at target.
Winner: Louis Van Gaal, Who Made a Gutsy Substitution
Over the next few days he’ll tell us all about it, but if there’s anything Louis van Gaal isn’t, it’s modest.
In the 120th minute against Costa Rica in Salvador, the Netherlands manager made a bold substitution—withdrawing goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen in favour of Tim Krul with an eye to the impending penalty shootout.
It proved to be a masterstroke.
While each of the Dutch penalty takers converted their attempts from 12 yards, Krul denied both Bryan Ruiz and Michael Umana as the Netherlands progressed to the semi-finals.
Loser: Angel Di Maria, Who Is Out of the World Cup Through Injury
On Friday, it was Neymar; on Saturday, it was Angel Di Maria.
After just over half an hour against Belgium in Brasilia, Di Maria was withdrawn with an apparent thigh injury. Further examination revealed a tear, which will sideline the Real Madrid midfielder for the remainder of the World Cup, according to the Daily Mirror.
Argentina, who are already without the services of sidelined striker Sergio Aguero, will be relying even more on Lionel Messi when they face the Netherlands on Wednesday.
Winner: The Semi-Finals, Featuring Both Brazil and Argentina for the First Time
Never before have both Brazil and Argentina participated in the same World Cup semi-final round.
But that’s about to change, as Brazil will look to punch their ticket to the final on Tuesday when they face Germany, with Argentina going up against the Netherlands a day later.
If only we could have the prospect of a Neymar-Lionel Messi matchup in the final.
Loser: Brazil, Who Seem to Have Run out of Luck
Brazil will be without Neymar for the remainder of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and his likely replacement—Willian—is suffering from a back injury.
According to The Score, the Chelsea forward picked up the knock in Saturday training. While he may recover in time for Tuesday’s World Cup semi-final against Germany, his fitness is just another headache Brazil manager Luiz Felipe Scolari doesn’t need.
Meanwhile, left-back Marcelo is grieving the death of his grandfather, as per The Associated Press, although he has remained with the team.