Saturday, July 5, 2014

Argentina through to semi-final beating Belgium 2-1 in 2014 Brazil World Cup

Argentina strolled into the semi-final courtesy of a pedestrian Belgian performance. While the Europeans had big names in their line-up but they played for their names rather than the flag. The biggest downfall was trying to penetrate the Argentinian defence through the middle and ignoring attacking through the wings to deliver crosses for Fellaini to head.

It took a deflected pass by Angel Di Maria to ricochet to Higuin who took a first time shot to the right hand side of Courtois. The Belgian defence had gained possession and tried to carry the ball through midfield. They were caught by a quick attack after an interception and the ball was played to the dynamic DiMaria. The goalkeeper was slightly unsighted as the surprise ball nestled to the left bottom corner.

The South Americans took a positive shape of barricading off their central position and then controlled the match professionally. The passed the ball efficiently and used it wisely from back to front, left to right. The offensive job revolved around the menacing Messi runs and the industrious Di Maria who injured his right thigh and retired.

Fellaini played behind Origi and his aerial usefulness was made void by lack of crosses from both wings. While Argentina did not make it easy by opening the wide area, the snail pace of the Belgians in transition made it easy for defending as they had time to regroup and organise their defensive shape.

The basic system made it easy for the central defence to deal with Belgium as the central midfielders covered the two solid men while giving freedom for the other two midfielders to execute their offensive duties without stress. As much as it looked easy for Argentina, Belgium stars were guilty for the sloppy show. Given their quality, they could have played the match at a high tempo with greater accuracy and efficiency. Mirallas, Hazard, Fellaini and De Bryun should be able to unlock any defensive door with either great tactical ability or brute force.

Mascherano had a field day spraying the passes and dominating the central position by simple accurate passing, releasing the other midfielders to engage in the finishing of the attacks. Argentina closed all passing lines and stayed ball-side as much as they could. They defended outside the penalty area. Belgium had one option, to shoot from distance and then work on the rebound. They failed to realise that despite taking one such shot that was badly dealt by Romano. A few more similar attempts could have made the former champions to shake up and probably get into a different defensive approach, possibly unlocking their rear-guard.

There was no variation in the Belgium tactics. Neither was there any rising of tempo nor versatility in the attacking pattern of the Europeans. They stayed on normal mode the entire minutes, only fluctuating slightly within the comfort zones of the Argentinians. The positive for the Belgians was their defending. They stayed solid and disciplined, winning all crucial duels and strangling the incisive runs of Messi. They doubled and tripled on him whenever possible inside the final third.

The actual goal was a result of loss of possession in midfield, too much space and time on the ball by Argentina. The Belgians were guilty of taking time to funnel in and staying compact around the D-zone. Di Maria was never pressurised as he attempted to pass wide to his right. The central defence momentarily lost concentration as they failed to stay tight on Higuin. While he took the shot early, there was no pressure within two metres of the striker. That is suicidal at that level of the game if there are players of that calibre.

Instead of charging towards Higuin, the defenders showed their backs to the striker as he took the fatal shot. Courtois’s view might have been obstructed, but he should have made an attempt despite seeing the shot late. He made a few telling saves to save the Belgians the blushes and embarrassing score-line.

Argentina joins hosts, Brazil and Germany in the semi-final, while Costa Rica or the Dutch will join the trio after the later fixture.