Argentina 0-1 Germany (a.e.t.)

Germany are the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ champions, lifting the Trophy for the fourth time in their history after overcoming Argentina 1-0 courtesy of an extra-time goal by Mario Gotze at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro.

The substitute settled a tie that was in the balance from the first minute until the last with a finish of startling composure given the circumstances, pressure and surroundings. His strike proved the difference, with Argentina unable to respond in what little time remained, adding another star to the Europeans’ crest following their triumphs in 1954, 1974 and 1990.

A naturally frenetic beginning to the encounter brought an early sight of goal for Gonzalo Higuain. The genesis of the chance was actually a Germany free-kick, with rapid pressure from Ezequiel Lavezzi on the loose ball ultimately forcing an opportunity for his team-mate, who sought the far left corner with a low drive from an acute angle but dragged the effort wide.

Initial Nationalmannschaft dominance in possession petered out before the quarter-hour and, in succession, Lionel Messi, Pablo Zabaleta and Philipp Lahm were left bemoaning a lack of reachable targets inside the danger zone as they carefully picked out crosses from wide.

Neither participant in the finest opening of the first 20 minutes had anybody to blame but himself. Toni Kroos miscalculated a header back to his goalkeeper, merely finding Higuain unmarked and uncatchable. The Argentina forward seemed a certain scorer as he bounded towards Manuel Neuer but contrived to instead hook a right-foot shot off target to the left.

With 30 minutes on the clock, the Albiceleste No9 did put the ball into the net, but luck continued to desert the South Americans as the officials rightly adjudged him offside. After collecting a pass in freedom on the right flank, Lavezzi had swept a vicious centre along the corridor of the Germany penalty box to Higuain, who expertly guided home first time with a side-foot. But the flag was correctly raised and it remained goalless.

A moment later, Andre Schurrle was introduced by Joachim Low in place of the injured Christoph Kramer, who himself had been named in the starting XI at the last moment following an issue in the warm-up for Sami Khedira. The Chelsea attacker was involved almost immediately, controlling a Thomas Muller delivery and quickly blasting at goal only for Sergio Romero to pull off a save.

Though Germany largely contained Messi in the first half, the Barcelona superstar caused alarm before the break when he galloped along the right touchline and to the near post before being crowded out by a combination of defence and goalkeeper. At the other end, composed hold-up play by Miroslav Klose teed up Kroos for a shot that was simple for Romero.

There was still time in an absorbing period for defender Benedikt Howedes to thunder a header from Kroos’ precise corner against Argentina’s right post, with Muller ruled offside as he attempted to acrobatically send in a rebound from close range.

When the two sides returned after the break, Alejandro Sabella had decided on a change, with Sergio Aguero replacing Lavezzi in an advanced position. They started the brighter too and, as previously with Higuain, Messi dispatched a shot off his strongest foot wide of the far post from a narrow angle, having been found by a cute Lucas Biglia pass.

Trademark movement from the World Cup’s all-time top scorer, Klose, married with a lofted Lahm cross but the striker’s header was little trouble to Romero. With each passing minute, the match became increasingly stretched, with neither team yielding in their attacking ambitions.

Enzo Perez was somewhat fortunate to pick out talisman Messi in the 75th minute, prompting the 27-year-old to arc around a series of German challenges at the outer edge of the area. The strike was always coming but when the No10 did unleash a curler and the massed ranks of Argentinians in attendance drew breath, it skewed harmlessly off target.

Back at the other end, Mesut Ozil was accurate in passing across the field to the onrushing Kroos, who realised the need to hit the ball instantly as opponents closed in. However, Romero was able to watch his cool side-foot drift wide. The Albiceleste goalkeeper was then equally comfortable in keeping out a Gotze daisy-cutter, heralding extra time in Rio.

The pace from the outset of the additional period was relentless; Schurrle smacked straight at the keeper, Aguero looked for a colleague from the left at the conclusion of a counter-attack and saw none, while substitute Rodrigo Palacio looped the ball over Neuer but lost control after taking down a fine Marcos Rojo inswinger in space.

Then, with seven minutes of the 120 remaining, the decisive moment arrived. Schurrle bulldozed past three Argentina defenders on the left flank, drawing Sabella’s charges out of shape and clipping over them to Gotze. The 22-year-old’s technique was exquisite, cushioning the ball on his chest and volleying at an awkward height, finding the far corner of the net to write his name into German and World Cup football folklore.

Line-ups

1 ROMERO (GK)
2 GARAY
4 ZABALETA
6 BIGLIA
8 PEREZ (-86′)
9 HIGUAIN (-78′)
10 MESSI (C)
14 MASCHERANO
15 DEMICHELIS
16 ROJO
22 LAVEZZI (-46′)

Substitutes

12 ORION (GK)
21 ANDUJAR (GK)
3 CAMPAGNARO
5 GAGO (+86′)
7 DI MARIA
11 M. RODRIGUEZ
13 A. FERNANDEZ
17 F. FERNANDEZ
18 PALACIO (+78′)
19 ALVAREZ
20 AGUERO (+46′)
23 BASANTA

Coach

SABELLA Alejandro (ARG)

Argentina 0-1 Germany

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Argentina 4-2 Netherlands (0-0 a.e.t. 4-2 P.S.O.)

Sergio Romero inspired Argentina to a 4-2 victory over the Netherlands on penalties and FIFA World Cup™ Final place for the first time in 24 years.

After 120 goalless minutes in Sao Paulo, the 27-year-old repelled Ron Vlaar’s spot-kick before making a stunning save from Wesley Sneijder to send La Albiceleste into a showdown with Germany at the Maracana.

The first half was a tense, chance-shy affair. Lionel Messi had Argentina’s best opportunity, with a centrally-positioned free-kick from the edge of the box, but he curled it straight into the arms of Jasper Cillessen.

Ezequiel Gonzalez bravely ducked his head between flying boots from a corner, but the 27-year-old centre-back was unable to keep his effort down, while the sliding Ron Vlaar did well to intercept a low Ezequiel Lavezzi cross before Gonzalo Higuain could pounce.

The Netherlands, for their part, struggled to get the ball to danger man Arjen Robben and failed to force Sergio Romero into a save before the half-time whistle sounded.

If the first half was tame, the second was even tamer. Argentina finally sprung to life on 75 minutes, however, when Messi spun his man down the right touchline but was felled. The referee played the advantage, allowing Enzo Perez to surge forward and cross for Higuain, whose first-time stab hit the side-netting.

After the contest crawled into added time, the Netherlands conjured up what was its best chance. Sneijder’s crafty flick sent Robben racing into the Argentinian area. The 30-year-old nevertheless took too many touches, which enabled Javier Mascherano to make a superb sliding block from his strike from point-blank range.

Shortly into extra-time, Klaas-Jan Huntelaaar replaced Van Persie. It was Louis van Gaal’s third substitution, eliminating the possibility of quarter-final saviour Tim Krul coming on should the game go to penalties and signalling the Oranje coach’s desire to go for it.

That his charges did. Robben sped in behind the Albiceleste defence, only for Mascherano to divert his cut-back behind, before the Bayern Munich player tested Romero’s hands with a fizzing 25-yard piledriver.

After 115 minutes, Argentina had their finest opening of the match. A long ball over the top bounced into the path of substitute Rodrigo Palacio, but he failed to generate sufficient power on his header to trouble Cillessen.

Both goalkeepers had had little to do in normal and extra time, but Romero did plenty thereafter to send the masses of Argentinians in Sao Paulo delirious.

Line-ups

1 ROMERO (GK)
2 GARAY
4 ZABALETA
6 BIGLIA
8 PEREZ (-81′)
9 HIGUAIN (-82′)
10 MESSI (C)
14 MASCHERANO
15 DEMICHELIS
16 ROJO
22 LAVEZZI (-101′)

Substitutes

12 ORION (GK)
21 ANDUJAR (GK)
3 CAMPAGNARO
5 GAGO
7 DI MARIA
11 M. RODRIGUEZ (+101′)
13 A. FERNANDEZ
17 F. FERNANDEZ
18 PALACIO (+81′)
19 ALVAREZ
20 AGUERO (+82′)
23 BASANTA

Coach

SABELLA Alejandro (ARG)

Argentina 4-2 Netherlands

Argentina 1-0 Belgium

An eighth-minute half-volley from Napoli forward Gonzalo Higuain proved to be enough to take Argentina through to the semi-finals of Brazil 2014 at the expense of Belgium side who failed to fire in Brasilia.

The Napoli striker capitalised on an error from Belgium skipper Vincent Kompany to put La Albiceleste ahead with their first shot on target. The Belgium captain lost possession and Lionel Messi capitalised, finding Angel Di Maria on the right. The Real Madrid man then gained a slice of luck as his attempted pass to Pablo Zabaleta deflected off Jan Vertonghen and into the path of Gonzalo Higuain, who shot home first time.

The remainder of the first half was an open affair, played at an extremely high tempo as Argentina’s front three of Higuain, Messi and Di Maria constantly looked to counter against an opposition looking to force an equaliser. However, the South Americans flow was interrupted when Di Maria went off with a thigh injury after firing a shot towards goal.

The change made Sabella’s side ever more reliant on Messi and the Barcelona star almost provided Argentina’s second when he blazed a free-kick just over the bar after being fouled by Marouane Fellaini on the edge of the box. Belgium’s best chance of the half came just before the break when Vertonghen’s inswinging cross from the left was headed narrowly wide by Kevin Mirallas.

The South Americans created the first opportunity of the second half when Higuain kept the ball in play and hit a low drive towards goal. The ball ricocheted off the heel of Daniel van Buyten and out for a corner. Higuain should then have made it two when he forced Kompany into another error, allowing him a clear run on goal. The Real Madrid man just had Courtois to beat, but clipped the crossbar with his effort.

Wilmots made a double substitution on the hour mark with Romelu Lukaku and Mertens replacing Divock Origi and Mirallas. Yet it was two of their original starting 11 who combined to go close. Fellaini outjumped Basanta in the box and headed Vertonghen’s superb cross narrowly wide.

Argentina were given a scare when Ezequeil Garay almost diverted Kevin De Bryune’s low ball into his own net, but Sergio Romero was alert to the danger. A committed defensive display, plus the efforts of defensive midfielders Lucas Biglia and Javier Mascherano limitedLes Diables Rouges to a handful of half-chances as their hopes of emulating the team’s showing at Mexico 1986 ebbed away.

Indeed it was a quick break from Messi which almost produced the game’s second goal in added time, but Courtois stood his ground superbly to keep his record of clean sheets intact against the Barcelona man.

And so Argentina reached the semi-finals, with another single goal win enough just as it had been in their four previous encounters at Brazil 2014. They will now face the winners of Netherlands-Costa Rica in Sao Paulo on Wednesday.

Line-ups

1 ROMERO (GK)
2 GARAY
4 ZABALETA
6 BIGLIA
7 DI MARIA (-33′)
9 HIGUAIN (-81′)
10 MESSI (C)
14 MASCHERANO
15 DEMICHELIS
22 LAVEZZI (-71′)
23 BASANTA

Substitutes

12 ORION (GK)
21 ANDUJAR (GK)
3 CAMPAGNARO
5 GAGO (+81′)
8 PEREZ (+33′)
11 M. RODRIGUEZ
13 A. FERNANDEZ
16 ROJO
17 F. FERNANDEZ
18 PALACIO (+71′)
19 ALVAREZ
20 AGUERO

Coach

SABELLA Alejandro (ARG)

Argentina 1-0 Belgium

Argentina 1-0 Switzerland (a.e.t.)

Angel Di Maria’s strike in the 11th hour of extra time sunk Switzerland and snatched Argentina a place in the FIFA World Cup™ quarter-finals. A goalless draw seemed inevitable until, on 118 minutes, Lionel Messi produce one of his patented dribbles to set up the Real Madrid man, who duly booked La Albiceleste a trip to Brasilia.

Ottmar Hitzfeld set his charges up defending very deep and in numbers, and the tactic served to limit Argentina to nothing more than half-chances in the first half. Gonzalo Higuain headed over from a Messi free-kick, while goalkeeper Diego Benaglio was up to tame attempts from Ezequiel Lavezzi and Di Maria.

Xherdan Shaqiri’s influence began to flower as the half progressed, and just before the half-hour he carved out a big chance for the Swiss. The diminutive, solid-shouldered 22-year-old nutmegged his marker down the right, broke into the Argentinian area and cleverly cut it back to Granit Xhaka, whose low drive from eight yards was excellently repelled by the outstretched leg of Sergio Romero, who then saved Stephan Lichtsteiner’s follow-up.

Romero was nevertheless let firmly off the hook on 39 minutes. The 27-year-old curiously elected against vacating his box to clear a hopeful punt forward. Josip Drmic accepted his rival’s invitation, raced clean through on goal, but elected to try a chip when he had much simpler options, allowing Romero to make a straightforward catch.

The man who had the last opportunity of the first half had the maiden one of the second. Shaqiri tricked his way to the byline and passed it back for Drmic, whose strike curled aimlessly over.

That was the cue for Argentina to assume the ascendancy. Marcos Rojo broke into the left of the Swiss penalty area but fired straight at Benaglio, Higuain’s close-range header was acrobatically tipped over, and Messi cheated the ball into his own path on the edge of the box and unleashed a dipping volley which was just too high.

Rodrigo Palacio came on with 16 minutes remaining, and within seconds he headed a Messi cross wide from six yards out.

Swiftly, Messi gathered a poor clearance on the edge of the box, side-stepped his marker and fired a low drive, which Benaglio did well to first keep out and then jump on amid flying boots.

That sent the game into extra time, in which Di Maria’s fizzing strike brought a fine push-over from Benaglio.

The game was on the cusp of a penalty shoot-out, until Messi went on one of his mesmerising dribbles and teed up Di Maria, whose first-time strike curled around the arm of the diving Benaglio and into the bottom corner.

Play restarted on 119 minutes, but Switzerland almost equalised, with Blerim Dzemaili’s header coming back off the post, hitting him and rolling just wide. Shaqiri had the last chance, firing a free-kick into the wall as Argentina hung on.

They will now face the winners of Belgium-USA for a place in the semi-finals.

Line-ups

1 ROMERO (GK)
2 GARAY
4 ZABALETA
5 GAGO (-106′)
7 DI MARIA
9 HIGUAIN
10 MESSI (C)
14 MASCHERANO
16 ROJO (-105′)
17 F. FERNANDEZ
22 LAVEZZI (-74′)

Substitutes

12 ORION (GK)
21 ANDUJAR (GK)
3 CAMPAGNARO
6 BIGLIA (+106′)
8 PEREZ
11 M. RODRIGUEZ
13 A. FERNANDEZ
15 DEMICHELIS
18 PALACIO (+74′)
19 ALVAREZ
20 AGUERO
23 BASANTA (+105′)

Coach

SABELLA Alejandro (ARG)

Argentina 1-0 Switzerland