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Argentina show they are more than Messi Messi hails best match

BRASILIA, July 6, (Agencies): With 82 minutes of brilliant game management, Argentina dispelled the notion they are a one man team dependent wholly on captain Lionel Messi to win the World Cup.

The South Americans united in a canny display to outfox a talented but inexperienced Belgium side 1-0 on Saturday, with their gifted playmaker, the difference in all four previous wins in Brazil, a mere cog in the team wheel.

Once Gonzalo Higuain put Argentina in front in the eighth minute of the quarter-final, the South Americans and their feared forward line surprisingly opted to shut up shop.

They held the ball, steered away from attacks, ensured a defensive platform was always in place and employed the odd bit of infuriating time wasting to throw the Belgians out of sink.

Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero only made one save, a parry from a Kevin De Bruyne effort from distance midway through the first half.

It was a paltry return from a Belgium side packed full of creative talents and which forced United States goalkeeper Tim Howard to make a record 16 saves in their last 16 win played at high intensity and swinging from end to end.

Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella clearly did not want a repeat of that performance.

He made three changes, one enforced, bringing into the midfield Lucas Biglia, who screened the backline brilliantly alongside Javier Mascherano in a match that rarely got out of second gear.

The sharp passing of the two able ball players nullified the Belgians on the rare occasion when the European side attempted to close the ball down quickly.

Higuain led the attack but few were willing to join him. Minutes before the halftime break, Messi was waving at his reluctant team mates to make a run forward as he attempted to launch a break. None bothered.

Despite Argentina's guarded approach, the cautious Belgians persisted with a back four, and Axel Witsel protecting them, clearly worried about the carnage Messi could wreak given the chance, a prospect discussed exhaustively prior to the game.

A swift trio of attacks at the start of the second period by Argentina almost resulted in a second goal before they returned to time-killing ways more akin to Italian sides of old.

No chances were taken.

Throw ins almost always went long and down the line, while left back Jose Maria Basanta rarely ventured past halfway and right back Pablo Zabaleta reached the byline only twice.

The frustrated Belgians could do nothing.

Long balls to the towering attacking midfielder Marouane Fellaini and defender-turned-late-emergency-striker Daniel Van Buyten proved fruitless with Ezequiel Garay and Martin Demichelis, the other Sabella switch, coping comfortably.

After great rivals Brazil were guilty of using rough tactics to disrupt a talented Colombia side in Friday's quarter-final win, Argentina showed there was another, more rule-abiding way to stop an opponent.

The teamwork was almost lost when Messi was sent through on goal in stoppage time with the headline writers ready to sing his praises once again but, perhaps thankfully, his shot was saved and the work of the collective remained the key.

"We've seen the experience of Argentina, they can distort rhythm, it takes 30 seconds to take a throw in, the referee does nothing so they can break our rhythm and speed," Belgium coach Marc Wilmots said. "We were not impressed by the Argentines, absolutely not, it's just an ordinary team."

Meanwhile, Argentina superstar Lionel Messi said that his side had produced their best match of the World Cup in beating Belgium 1-0 in the quarter-finals on Saturday.

And goalscorer Gonzalez Higuain said getting off the mark with the winning goal had been a "beautiful" moment.

"We produced a very complete match. We weren't able to create that many chances, but they didn't make that many clear chances either," said Messi.

Asked if it was Argentina's most accomplished display of the tournament, the Barcelona forward told reporters: "I think it was."

Argentina have now won their first five matches at a World Cup for the first time, even though they laboured in the group phase and were criticised for a lacklustre display in their 1-0 victory over Switzerland in the last 16.

It is 24 years since Argentina last reached the semi-finals of a World Cup and Messi said the team took great pride in the feat.

"This is amazing," he said. "We knew it was going to be difficult.

"Argentina have gone a long time without doing this, and it was us who crossed the frontier."

Higuain's superb volley in the eighth minute of the game was enough to get Argentina through and took the Napoli striker out of a World Cup drought with his first goal of this tournament.

"Luckily it came in this match," said Higuain. "Strikers live for goals and it was a beautiful thing that it happened today."

Higuain was a substitute in Argentina's first group game against Bosnia-Hercegovina and then started every match, even though questions were asked about his lack of goals.

"I was calm, I did my work and I waited for it to arrive," he added.

"I kept faith in my qualities and the coach and the staff were behind me. That is what matters to me. All strikers want to score. That is my job."

Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella saluted Higuain's display, having shown the 26-year-old patience during his recovery from a late-season ankle injury.

"He had a difficult end to the season with Napoli," Sabella said.

"He missed part of our preparations and a few training sessions. He was the one from whom I was expecting the most.

"He ran a lot, he helped his team-mates a lot, and he scored a very important goal. That's what you expect from strikers."

Sabella also lavished praise on Messi, his captain, describing him as "the water in the desert".

"Messi had a very good game," said the former Estudiantes coach.

"He's not only useful for scoring, but also for guarding possession and distracting defenders. Each of his movements is intelligent.

"He puts the opposition in danger as soon as he has the ball or makes a move. It's not just his goals that please me. He never loses the ball and he creates lots of space.

"He's the water in the desert. He finds solutions when we think there aren't any."





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