Higuain sends Argentina into semis

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iol spt july5 Higuain celebrates REUTERS Argentina reached the World Cup semi-finals for the first time in 24 years after a Gonzalo Higuain strike secured a win over Belgium. Photo by: Damir Sagolj/Reuters

Argentina reached the World Cup semi-finals for the first time in 24 years after a Gonzalo Higuain strike secured a 1-0 win over Belgium.

Napoli striker Higuain lashed in an instinctive first time shot after eight minutes as Belgium's hopes of qualifying for the last four wilted in Brasilia.

The victory sees Argentina advance to next Wednesday's semi-final in Sao Paulo where they will face the winner of Saturday's other quarter-final between the Netherlands and Costa Rica.

Argentina's win snapped a run of two successive World Cup quarter-final exits following failures against Germany in 2006 and 2010.

It is the first time the South Americans have qualified for the last four since the 1990 finals in Italy.

A hard-fought contest at the Mane Garrincha National Stadium was settled in the opening skirmishes.

A ball from Real Madrid's Angel di Maria deflected off Belgium defender Jan Vertonghen and fell invitingly into the path of Higuain, who rifled a shot past Thibaut Courtois.

The win keeps Argentina on course for a possible dream final against hosts Brazil at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on July 13.

Brazil set up a semi-final showdown with Germany after Friday's bruising 2-1 win over Colombia.

That match was overshadowed by the tournament-ending injury to Brazil's star striker Neymar.

Neymar's injury blow continued to reverberate off the pitch on Saturday, triggering anger and anguish amongst his compatriots.

FIFA said it was investigating the tackle from Colombian defender Juan Zuniga which left Neymar with a fractured vertebrae.

“The FIFA Disciplinary Committee is analysing all the elements provided, the videos and the match reports, and will decide whether or not to take action,” FIFA spokeswoman Delia Fischer said.

Zuniga was rapidly being cast as Brazil's public enemy number one on Saturday but insists he had not sought to hurt Neymar in the tackle.

“When I'm on the field I always do what I have to, to defend my country and the shirt I wear, but always without intent to injure anybody,” Zuniga said.

But Zuniga's protests failed to impress Brazilian legend Ronaldo, who accused the Colombian of a “violent attack.”

“I believe there was an intention to hurt by the player. I believe it was very aggressive and very violent,” he said.

Italy's 2006 World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro agreed, saying Zuniga had intentionally struck Neymar with his knee.

“I didn't like that very high knee. That leads me to believe it was a foul with a prior intention to cause harm,” he said.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff reflected the sense of national anguish, writing a personal message to Neymar.

“Your painful expression yesterday on the pitch ... wounded my heart, along with that of all Brazilians,” Rousseff wrote.

Several Brazilian newspapers vented fury at Zuniga, with O Dia denouncing the “criminal knee” while a columnist in O Estado de Sao Paulo accused him of “a crime of national lese-majeste.”

Saturday's last quarter-final sees Holland face Costa Rica in Salvador at 5:00 local time (2000 GMT).

The Dutch will be favourites to progress with in-form attackers Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie spearheading the challenge.

Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto stoked controversy ahead of the match by stating he was “really worried about Robben diving.”

He urged Uzbek referee Ravshan Irmatov not to be afraid to hand out yellow cards if necessary.

“Maybe he would have to leave the field because he gets two yellow cards for diving. That could happen,” said Pinto. – AFP


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