Messi guides Argentina into semis, Dutch scrape in

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 5, 2014 at 7:54 pm •  Published: July 5, 2014
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The Argentines didn't need a late winner from Lionel Messi this time, settling in to protect a 1-0 margin against Belgium that earned them a first trip to the World Cup semifinals in 24 years.

The Netherlands could have used a late goal from Robin van Persie or Wesley Sneijder or Arjen Robben later Saturday but didn't get one, only edging Costa Rica 4-3 on penalties to set up a semifinal against Argentina.

The 2010 finalists lit up the tournament with 12 goals in four matches but couldn't find the net in regulation or extra time against rank underdog Costa Rica. Captain van Persie wasted chances to break the 0-0 deadlock, and Sneijder smashed an 80th-minute free kick into the post and a stoppage-time shot into the crossbar, setting the scene for replacement goalkeeper Tim Krul to be the unlikely hero.

Krul went on in the last minute of extra time — coach Louis van Gaal considering him a better option in the shootout than No. 1 Jasper Cillessen — and made two crucial saves.

"We had a lot of chances but it didn't go in," Krul said on Dutch television. "Then I come in, stop two penalties and here we are."

The flood of goals from the group stage slowed to a trickle in the knockout rounds, with the four quarterfinals yielding just five goals. Brazil's 2-1 win over Colombia on Friday night was relatively high-scoring compared with the 1-0 results by Germany against France and Argentina against Belgium.

The low-scoring quarterfinals were slightly overshadowed anyway in the host nation, where millions were still coming to terms with the fact that a back injury knocked star striker Neymar out of the tournament.

Brazil fans at Brasilia's Estadio Nacional for the Argentina-Belgium match wore face mask caricatures of their talisman and held up signs reading: "Have strength Neymar. Brazil will win."

They were drowned out by tens of thousands of traveling Argentina fans who outnumbered them and raucously supported Messi.

The alleged leader of Argentina's infamous football hooligans, Pablo Alvarez, was among them, but he's unlikely to be there next time after being detained inside the stadium and is set for deportation.

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