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Argentina edges Belgium, 1-0, to win World Cup quarterfinal

Argentina builds 1-0 halftime lead over Belgium in World Cup but loses Angel Di Maria

Belgium has cranked it up. One chance is dashed by a double-offside, another by a block of a searing shot aimed at goal. Then, an ineffective corner kick and another offside. Lukaku, unlike against the U.S., is silent.

Another corner kick that ends with an unthreatening shot on goal and a subsequent handball infraction by Belgium in the box make the 1-0 score seem carved in stone as the teams enter five minutes of stoppage time.

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This is nowhere near the Belgium team that pounded U.S. keeper Tim Howard with shots. Howard saw 26 during 120-plus minutes. For 1 1/4 hours today, only one try is on goal.

Belgium spends its final substitution by bringing off Eden Hazard, who disappointed in his attacking midfielder role. Argentina's structured back line and holding midfielders, along with Belgium's lack of touch on set pieces, is hampering the trailing team, which enters the final minutes down, 1-0, to Argentina.

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Early in the second half, Argentina is attacking as it it's the team ahead, not behind. Higuain nearly doubles his goals total with a long run on the dribble and a shot that bangs off the crossbar. It's an opportunity gone sour as goalkeeper Courtois wrongly went low in anticipation of the save.

Belgium, making little noise offensively, sends on two subs with a half-hour remaining. Romelu Lukaku tortured the U.S. in overtime of their momentous game and Dries Mertens was effective as well.

The lineup makeover leads promptly to a chance. Marouane Fellaini's header soars over the bar.

On the bright side for Belgium, the 70-minute mark is approaching. All of its tournament goals so far have been achieved after that time juncture.

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Halftime arrived with Argentina in the lead over Belgium but also in a state of genuine concern.

Angel Di Maria, who had taken some defensive attention away from Lionel Messi and freed himself for three shots while helping to create the Argentine goal, was lifted in the 33rd minute with a leg injury.

Twenty-five minutes earlier, Di Maria had driven the ball into the box, where it was deflected by a Belgian out to Gonzalo Higuain. The ball barreled into the net before ace goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois could sufficiently react.

In Di Maria's absence, Messi chose to exert himself even more than usual. Once, shimmying through a phalanx of defenders, he drew a foul and a free kick just outside the box, which is prime real estate for a potential Messi goal. He got Belgium off the hook with a blast well above the crossbar.

Barely a peep was heard offensively from Belgium. A header from Kevin Mirallas that traveled wide of the near post was notable in that it was the Belgians' first promising threat, coming in the 43rd minute.   

 

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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