Argentina are through to the semi-finals of a FIFA World Cup for the first time since 1990, Gonzalo HiguaÃn settling an open contest against Belgium in Brasilia.
Twenty-eight years after the Albiceleste eliminated Belgium in the semi-finals of Mexico '86, Argentina got the better of the Red Devils again in the knockout stage,Â HiguaÃn scoring the only goal eight minutes in. The two-time winners will play either the Netherlands or Costa Rica, who meet later, on Wednesday in Sao Paulo.
The South American side were ahead with their first effort on target. Lionel Messi was inevitably involved, adroitly twisting away from a couple of challenges and finding Ãngel Di MarÃa, whose intended pass was deflected into the path of HiguaÃn. The SSC Napoli forward's finish from the edge of the penalty box was instinctive, affording Thibaut Courtois no chance.
A hitherto muted Belgium attack bared their teeth when Kevin De Bruyne, shooting from outside the area, elicited a save from Sergio Romero. It was Alejandro Sabella's side who were largely in control, however, threatening again when a wonderful pass from Messi set Di MarÃa scampering away.
The Real Madrid CF winger's strike was blocked by Vincent Kompany and five minutes later he limped off with a leg injury seeming sustained in executing the shot.
Kevin Mirallas headed wide Jan Vertonghen's left-wing cross on the cusp of half-time, after which HiguaÃn ran through and, after nutmegging Vincent Kompany, clipped the top of the crossbar with only Courtois to beat.
With 30 minutes remaining Marc Wilmots summoned Romelu Lukaku, a scorer as a substitute against the United States on Tuesday, and Dries Mertens from the bench and the former soon forced Romero to gather his toe-poked effort at the near post.
Marouane Fellaini was pushed further forward in search of an equaliser, the towering midfielder heading over another accurate Vertonghen delivery, but Belgium's unrelenting late pressure did not result in a leveller. Courtois stopped Messi, through on goal, putting the outcome beyond doubt in added time.