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FIFA World Cup: Gonzalo Higuain Strikes as Argentina Defeat Belgium

The Napoli striker found a perfect time to spring to life after a disappointing first 4 games. Alejandro Sabella's men defended as a unit and kept their early 1-0 lead all the way to the full time whistle.

Matthias Hangst

Who will step up to help Lionel Messi? That was the biggest question facing an Argentina side with World Cup aspirations. Today, with half of the so-called "Fantastic Four" injured, it was the remaining star, Gonzalo Higuain, who gets all the plaudits.

Not since Diego Maradona's peak years has Argentina marched into a semifinal, but they are through now, led by the man many claim is his rightful heir to the throne.

Sergio Aguero missed out due to injury, and Angel Di Maria had to come off in the first half due to an injury as well. However, by that point, Argentina were already winning.

Messi found Di Maria, whose attempted throughball was blocked. The deflection luckily set up Higuain, who unleashed a powerful strike beyond Thibaut Courtois.

Minutes later, again, Messi played a ludicrously good through pass to Di Maria, but the winger's shot was blocked. In that action, he appeared to hurt his thigh. That will remain a big worry for Argentina in the remaining two games.

Needing a goal, Belgium gambled on their height advantage, looking to loop balls into the Albiceleste penalty box. Argentina had chances to counter, but without Aguero and Di Maria, looked a lot less threatening.

Alejandro Sabella's defense lacks big names, and most of his midfield - Enzo Perez, Lucas Biglia, Fernando Gago - is also decidedly un-sexy. His chosen goalie is a backup in the French league. Yet, through organization, commitment... equal parts mental concentration and determined fight - they calmly kept Belgium's big strikers out.

They were forced to one or two hurried clearances, but in the end, Belgium barely had a shot on goal. They were often beaten to the aerial ball, but cleaned up nicely, always first to the rebound. They also set up good offside traps, often performing daring recovery tackles only to find out it wasn't needed in the first place, as the Belgian player was off.

In injury time, Argentina had a chance to win it when Messi sprung free towards the Belgian goal, but Courtois delivered another super save.

Still, the Albiceleste hung on, and for once, it didn't seem like they needed Messi to do quite everything.

Lacking star power in defense, Sabella's biggest contribution to this Argentina team is defensive organization. With reasonably talented players believing in a great plan, you don't need stars in defense. They proved that today.

There's still plenty of worry for Messi's side. It is to be seen if Di Maria or Aguero will be fit enough to play - and if they do, how effective will they be?

They were pinned back too much by Belgium, though they dealt with the threat in a very professional manner. They lacked the guile on the ball to connect defense and midfield. They resorted to playing long balls to Higuain or Palacio, not the greatest of hold-up players.

Messi, in fact, often came back to midfield to receive a pass from a defender, having to connect defense to midfield - forget midfield to attack.

It wasn't a vintage performance, though arguably it was an improvement over any of the games so far. Argentina are not playing champagne football, but they may still yet hold the cup.

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