Chelsea’s Belgian players couldn’t join their Brazilian and German colleagues in the World Cup semi-finals, succumbing to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Argentina.
Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois and Romelu Lukaku were all involved as Belgium attempted to match their best-ever World Cup performance by reaching the last four, but Argentina ended Belgium’s dreams, just as they did in their 1986 semi.
Eden Hazard started in his familiar left wing position while Thibault Courtois was in goal again for the Belgians. Romelu Lukaku was among the substitutes for the third game running, but was called upon in the second half as the Red Devils chased the game.
The first sight of goal came for Angel Di Maria, scorer of Argentina’s extra-time winner against Switzerland in the last round, cutting inside on to his left foot, but his low shot was blocked by Vincent Kompany.
Di Maria didn’t need much longer to help the South Americans to take the lead, though, his deflected pass falling fortunately for Gonzalo Higuian in the eighth minute. But there was nothing lucky about the finish as the striker took his shot early, leaving Courtois no time to react.
Having found his range with his an earlier effort, former Chelsea midfielder Kevin De Bruyne made sure he hit the target with his second attempt from outside the area, but goalkeeper Sergio Romero pushed the powerful shot away and Divock Origi couldn’t control the rebound.
Di Maria threatened again after collecting Lionel Messi’s through-ball, but Vincent Kompany blocked his low effort and that proved to be Di Maria’s last contribution to the game, as he injured himself taking the shot and had to replaced by Enzo Perez.
Both teams went close to adding to the score line before half-time, Messi’s free-kick flying narrowly over the bar and Kevin Mirallas going even closer, heading just wide from Jan Vertognhen’s cross.
The second half started with no changes of personnel for either side, although Hazard moved into a more central position for Belgium, with De Bruyne moving out wide in his place.
With Belgium fighting to exert their influence on the second half, Hazard was booked when he caught Lucas Biglia, but Courtois was on hand to tip the resulting free-kick wide. The Belgium goalkeeper could do nothing about Higuain’s effort a minute later, but the striker’s shot flew up off the crossbar and behind for a goal kick.
That warning urged Belgium manager Marc Wilmots into action, bringing on Lukaku and Dries Mertens for Divock Origi and Mirallas in the 60th minute. Those substitutions seemed to liven up Belgium’s play straight away, with Fellaini meeting Vertonghen’s cross and heading just over.
Belgium increased the pressure as the second half went on, with Romero doing well to smother De Bruyne’s deflected low cross and prevent an own goal by Ezequiel Garay, who was forced into a last-ditch lunge with Lukaku lurking six yards out.
Wilmots made his final substitution in the 75th minute, with Hazard making way for Nacer Chadli. That change didn’t help them create a clear-cut chance, with it taking 10 minutes for Belgium to have their next attempt on goal, De Bruyne again trying his luck from just outside the area, seeing his shot deflected wide of the near post.
Belgium threw men forward in the closing minutes, but it was actually Argentina who went closest to getting a late goal, Messi going free of the defence in injury-time, but Courtois pulled out a great save to deny the him one-on-one.
The last chance of the game saw the ball fall to Axel Witsel just outside the area, but he couldn’t get over the ball and sent the half-volley over the bar.