Argentina qualified for its first trip to the World Cup semifinals in nearly a quarter century, while the Netherlands secured its second straight visit to the semifinal round.
The Argentines knocked off Belgium, 1-0, on striker Gonzalo Higuain’s goal, firing the ball into the corner of the net less than 10 minutes into the match. Argentine superstar Lionel Messi had an chance to make it 2-0 toward the end of the game, but goalie Thibaut Courtois made the save.
Argentina now heads to its first World Cup semifinal since 1990, after being eliminated in the quarterfinals in 2006 and 2010.
“We produced a very complete match,” Messi said. “We weren’t able to create that many chances, but they didn’t make that many clear chances, either.”
Messi and Maradona
The Argentines are seeking their third World Cup championship, after wins in 1978 and 1986. In 1986, they were led by Diego Maradona, a man widely considered the greatest football player ever behind Brazilian legend Pele.
Messi, a four-time FIFA Player of the Year who is often compared with Maradona, said he and his teammates took great pride in matching the achievement of Argentina’s 1990 team.
“This is amazing,” Messi said. “We knew it was going to be difficult. Argentina (has) gone a long time without doing this, and it was us who crossed the frontier.”
Argentina next plays the Netherlands in the semifinals on Wednesday in Sao Paulo. The game marks a rematch of the 1978 World Cup championship, which Argentina won, 3-1.
Both teams have won all five of their matches at this year’s World Cup.
In Salvador Saturday, the Netherlands posted a 4-3 penalty shootout win over the surprise of the World Cup, Costa Rica, following a scoreless draw.
Dutch goalie Tim Krul, who came off the bench late in extra time and played in the shootout, dove to his left to stop penalty shots by Bryan Ruiz and Michael Umana. Krul is noticably taller than starting goalie Jasper Cillessen.
The Dutch, who converted all four of their penalty shots, dominated the match in regulation and extra time.
But Costa Rica’s goalie Keylor Navas made a series of outstanding saves, stopping star striker Robin van Persie at least twice. Van Persie also was denied by midfielder Yeltsin Tejeda, who blocked an attempt while standing on the goal line.
Another dangerous Dutch player, Wesley Sneijder, had his shot in regulation hit the post and another in extra time bounced off the crossbar.
“We had a lot of chances, but it didn’t go in,” Krul said later on Dutch television. “Then I come in, stop two penalties and here we are.”
Krul praised Dutch coach Louis van Gaal for pulling Cillessen at the time he did.
“The trick is good,” the goalie said. “A lot of preparation went into it.”
The other semifinal game, Tuesday in Belo Horizonte, pits teams believed by many to be the world’s top two football powers: Brazil and Germany.
But Brazil will be without two key players. Its leader and superstar, Neymar, broke a vertebrae when Colombia’s Juan Zuniga kneed him near the end of Brazil’s 2-1 win in the quarterfinals. Neymar, who has scored four goals in the World Cup, has been ruled out for the rest of the tournament.
Brazilian captain Thiago Silva will not play because of a yellow-card suspension. He scored a goal in the win over Colombia, after a corner kick by Neymar.
Brazil, Germany and Argentina have won 10 of the 19 World Cups. The Dutch were finalists in 1974, 1978 and 2010.
This year’s championship game is on July 13 in Rio de Janeiro.