Argentina vs. Belgium: Key Takeaways for Both Sides After Quarterfinal Clash

Steven Cook@@stevencookinFeatured Columnist IVJuly 6, 2014

Argentina has moved on to the 2014 World Cup semifinals, and Belgium is heading home after Saturday's epic quarterfinal affair, but those aren't the only takeaways from the 1-0 Argentine victory.

Although everything simply comes down to winning and losing, perspective is needed to see where each team stands—whether it's the one that will continue its quest for supremacy or the one writhing after a tough defeat.

With plenty of youth on each of these rosters, how they respond to this match is infinitely more important than what unfolded over the 90 minutes in Brasilia, Brazil.

Let's break down the biggest takeaways for each team after Saturday's match.



Messi Has Help, but Only a Little

It only took one play for Argentina to top Belgium in Saturday's elimination match, and with that said, conventional wisdom points to Lionel Messi being on the receiving end of said play.

Gonzalo Higuain's eighth-minute goal that was all Argentina needed may not have come off Messi's foot. But the prized forward helped create the chance that led to his side advancing to the semis.

The one play was a perfect indication of where Argentina stand. There really is enough around Messi to succeed, but it has only shown up in a few instances. Otherwise, it relies on the defense to hold on to a slim lead or to play without a lead altogether.

The injury bug hasn't helped Messi's cause, taking Sergio Aguero out of the mix after emerging as Messi's right-hand man. Next to catch it was Angel di Maria.

Di Maria left in the 29th minute of the Belgium match with a non-contact injury and could be out for the semifinal, per The Associated Press (via Fox Sports).

That's a real nightmare scenario for the Argentines. Throughout much of their play in Brazil, di Maria has been Messi's best option on the attack and even finished a Messi pass to put Argentina past Switzerland in the knockout stage.

If Higuain can show his world-class ability with chances given like he did against Belgium, Messi could have enough alongside him to get by. But against the Netherlands, one of the best defenses and perhaps the best offense left, Argentina will need to do more than get by.


Defense Can Be Counted On

Belgium certainly wasn't at its best in the quarterfinal matchup, but there's no denying that Argentina's stout defense played a big role in that.

The back four of Pablo Zabaleta, Ezequiel Garay, Martin Demichelis and Jose Basanta gave the Belgian attackers fits all match long.

Inserting Basanta into the lineup proved especially valuable—the former reserve made a big impact.

Simply put, Argentina's win was all about the defense and not Messi for a change, as AP Sports noted:

There's no telling if the Argentines can keep this up. Certainly, moving from a struggling Belgian side to a clicking Dutch side will be a step up in competition.

Just as well, the Argentine defense had its fair share of critics heading into the tournament.

But it has shown throughout the knockout stage that it is a force to be reckoned with. Throughout 180 minutes against Switzerland and Belgium, it did not concede a single goal.

If it keeps that up, Argentina should be on to the final.



Young Core Not Quite There

On paper, Belgium has all of the talent in the world. That, above all else, is why many expected it to be the dark horse of the entire tournament and threaten to win it all.

But it became obvious throughout its campaign that the pieces just weren't coming together quite like Marc Wilmots had imagined.

Belgium's struggles became apparent early on, struggling to score goals in the group stage until late in matches. That trend continued through the knockout stage, taking until extra time to score against the USA.

Of course, things didn't get any better against the Argentines, when Belgium was held scoreless for the first time in Brazil. And it wasn't pretty, either.

Belgium had its chances to attack with a one-goal deficit for the final 82 minutes, but nothing seemed seriously threatening to the Argentina defense. It sat back, quickly cut out anything that trickled in and waited out until the 90th minute.

With Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and a heap of young talent, there's no doubting that Belgium will be even more of a force come 2018 in Russia. But if the players don't figure out how to play alongside one another to their full potential, Belgium will flame out again.


Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois an Undoubted Star

Much of Belgium's future seemed in doubt when the players trotted off the pitch in Brasilia, but one thing is certain—Thibaut Courtois is the man of the future in goal.

Showing his potential throughout a club campaign in Atletico Madrid on loan from Chelsea last season, Courtois made no doubt of his abilities in the quarterfinals.

Courtois may have been burned on Higuain's eighth-minute winner, but he really had no chance against the outside-the-box rip. After that, though, he proved impenetrable.

Even when Messi broke free late in the match, Courtois raced forward to deny the world's best player of a goalscoring opportunity that Messi never misses.

It marked just another successful 90 minutes against the Barcelona great, per ESPN Stats & Information:

That denying of Messi was Courtois' only official save of the afternoon, but with seven Argentina shots on goal, he was busy throughout the match cutting out chances.

As ESPN's Paul Carr noted, it was the first time in a while Courtois has been on a losing Belgium side:

There's no telling what is next for Courtois. Chelsea still owns his rights and could be compelled to insert him in the starting 11 over Petr Cech given his play as of late.

No matter where Courtois plays next season, Belgium will rest easy knowing he'll be in goal for its future fixtures.


Follow Steven Cook on Twitter.


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