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World Cup Blog: FIFA’s dream final takes a step closer

Argentina's Gonzalo Higuain Argentina's Gonzalo Higuain

Saturday, July 5, 2014
7:03 PM

Argentina 1 Belgium 0

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Argentina team group (Top Row L-R) Marcos Rojo, Federico Fernandez, Ezequiel Garay, Sergio Romero, Javier Mascherano, Fernando Gago (Bottom Row L-R) Angel Di Maria, Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Pablo Zabaleta, Sergio AgueroArgentina team group (Top Row L-R) Marcos Rojo, Federico Fernandez, Ezequiel Garay, Sergio Romero, Javier Mascherano, Fernando Gago (Bottom Row L-R) Angel Di Maria, Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Pablo Zabaleta, Sergio Aguero

If FIFA had their way then it will be Brazil facing Argentina in an all South American World Cup Final next weekend.

They would love to see Lionel Messi take on Neymar in the Maracana at the climax of what has already been a magnificent tournament of attacking football, goals galore and comeback victories.

Those hopes were dented somewhat when Neymar crashed to the deck during Brazil’s quarter-final victory over Colombia and is seemingly out of any potential final – though don’t put your mortgage on that.

For Messi though, his hopes of playing in the World Cup Final were hugely boosted by Argentina’s victory over a Belgium side packed with talent, but lacking the experience of this stage of a big competition.

Argentina's Lionel MessiArgentina's Lionel Messi

The Belgians did not even qualify for the last two World Cups, but so much is expected of their latest golden generation and the hope was that they would at least emulate the 1986 semi-final they reached when Diego Maradona ended their dreams.

Argentina themselves had not gone further than the last eight since 1990 when they were the beaten finalists and for such a proud footballing nation that is considered a failure.

For armchair sports fans things don’t get much better than days like this.

The Tour de France began bizarrely in Yorkshire this morning, the Ladies final at Wimbledon was on this afternoon, the MCC v Rest of the World at Lord’s and now two matches from the World Cup.

Belgium players line up before the gameBelgium players line up before the game

There was also some people driving around Northamptonshire somewhere, though I think I would rather go and look at the traffic on the M25.

Lewis Hamilton et al . . . zzz zzz!

Both these teams had won all their matches so far, but the other thing they had in common was that despite winning, neither had impressed, with the South Americans relying on Messi and Belgium relying on late goals from substitutes to get past their opposition.

When this match began, all eyes were on the little magician Messi who has already scored four goals in as many games during this competition.

Unfortunately for Belgium that meant that there were too many marking the number 10, allowing the ball to fall for Gonzalo Higuain to shoot crisply on the turn after just eight minutes to fire Argentina in front.

Higuain hit the bar later in the half when he should have scored, but in truth, Argentina looked like they were playing well within themselves and Belgium seemed to lack the belief and the tactics to undo their illustrious opponents.

After the break, Belgium looked to take control and as Argentina sat back they largely managed it. But aside from Marouane Fellaini’s header which flew over the top when he really should have hit the target, there was not much of a late flurry from the Europeans to get excited about.

This Argentina team is certainly nothing to write home about. Mind you, neither are the Brazilians and if they have to do without Neymar for the rest of the competition it will make them even more vulnerable. An Argentina without Messi would be equally susceptible.

Like England’s so-called golden generation, the Belgium stars underachieved here in reaching only the quarter-finals.

They were young and inexperienced, but they simply showed too much respect for Messi and the Argentinians who had failed to really impress in the competition thus far. When they finally realised just how ordinary the South Americans were, they could not muster the energy in the Brazilia heat to do anything about it.

Argentina are unbeaten in 25 games when Messi has been in blue and white for them and if he stays fit then many would expect them to march on and take the trophy.

But while Brazil and Argentina have marched on without convincing, the Germans are still lurking and if their match goes to form, then Holland will be the last team in the final four.

One of the joys of this World Cup has been its unpredictability. But at the crucial end of the competition, the favourites are beginning to converge and predicting who is going to win it, is still a very dangerous business.

But for FIFA, things are going very smoothly. No real controversy, plenty of goals and even that dream final between Brazil and Argentina a real possibility.

Anyway, back to the armchair for tomorrow and it is the Tour of Yorkshire Stage Two, the men’s singles at Wimbledon and even that snoozefest at Silverstone. What’s the weather like outside?

No football until Tuesday.

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