Full-time: Argentina 1-0 Belgium
Argentina deservedly go through, Belgium deservedly go home after a match that began well and then petered out once the South Americans realised the Europeans didn't have the wit to beat them.
90 + 4 min: A Belgium move breaks down and suddenly Argentina are breaking ... and Messi is sent scampering through on goal all on his own! he should seal victory here! But Courtois comes out and makes a terrific save! Messi's composure deserted him.
90 + 2min: Belgium bombard the box ... but not with enough accuracy to do any damage.
90 min: A pause in play to allow a player to receive treatment ... and to build the suspense! The fourth official indicates that there will be at least another five minutes.
88 min: Fellaini's been everywhere today - and goofed just about everywhere. But he's just done well to win a valuable corner. It's delivered towards the back post, where it breaks for Mertens ... who can't work room for the shot, as Argentina converge to snuff out the chance.
87 min: Van Buyten is now an auxiliary centre-forward. Belgium are going for it!
85 min: The penny has dropped! Belgium finally summon some gumption! There's nothing clever about their new attacking ploy - except that it's new - but it's annoying Argentina. A long whack into the box sees the ball break to De Bruyne, whose first-time shot ricochets off a defender and flies just wide!
82 min: Have Belgium actually given up? Argentina are coasting to victory here and Belgium, seemingly having learned nothing from the spirit that the USA showed against them, are not doing much about it. And now an email. from Rory McCafferty.
"I am very sad today as it is my final day in Brasil after 7 games and 17 days. I was at the Brasil v. Colombia game last night which was the most intense sporting event I have ever been at. The atmosphere was tribal you could feel the crowd willing Brasil to win, I have never felt anything like it. The only game that came anywhere close to it was Argentina in the round of 16, I can only imagine what a Brasil Argentina final would be like, it would blow the roof of the Maracana.
What a World Cup it has been all the predictions about it being a disaster were wrong. I have been to 4 stadiums, countless flights and seen almost no problems. I saw Belgium twice and they were probably the most disappointing team I saw (and I saw England twice) so it shows how poor they have been winning.
My favorite chant which the Brasileiros love top sing regardless of the game and if Argentina are in it or not goes to the sound of a popular Argentinian song and is basically
A thousand goals
A thousand goals
Maradona sniffed Cocaine"
81 min: Argentina substitution: Higuain off after his best game of the tournament, Gago on.
79 min: Argentina lose the ball downfield. Zabaleta fails with a cynical attempt to curtail the counter-attack with a foul. But Belgium then do his job for him by giving possession away dumbly.
77 min: Belgium have the will, but not the way. No problem for Argentina to keep them at bay.
74 min: Belgium substitution: forget the previous entry - Wilmots has had enough: Hazard is deservedly take off and replaced by ... Nacer Chadli.
73 min: Neymar is out injured. Cristiano Ronaldo was barely fit. Ribéry, Ibrahimovic, Reus and Falcao all had to miss the tournament too. And Hazard just hasn't turned up. He's got 17 minutes to prevent the waste.
71 min: Dimichelis makes another important intervention to thwart Belgium. He's had a solid game, the Manchester City defender.
70 min: Argentina substitution: Palacio on, Lavezzi off.
69 min: Alderweireld booked for another ugly tackle. Belgium are increasingly frustrated by their own impotence.
67 min: Marc Wilmots has a lot to answer for. Belgium have lots of talent but they do not have real method. Individuals have under-performed, but, most of all, so far this has been a failure of management.
65 min: Belgium are starting to gather a bit of steam. After working the ball wide to De Bruyne, the wideman sends in a threatening low cross towards Lukaku. Garay intercepts at the near post but almost diverts it into his own net. Romero saves.
63 min: Better from Belgium. Hazard delivers an in-swinging cross from the left and Fellaini outjumps Garay but heads wide.
61 min: Fellaini finally gets into the position where he's most dangerous and meets a fine cross from Vertonghen. But he fails to keep his 10-yard header down.
60 min: Belgium substitutions: I never understand why managers tend to wait until particular milestones to make a change, usually 45, 60 or 75 minutes. It has been obvious for ages that Wilmots needs to alter his approach here but he hasn't been able to bring himself to do it until the clock reached a nice round figure. Mirallas and Lukaku on, Mertens and Origi on. That looks like a change of personnel rather than straategy, mind.
59 min: Kompany catches Lavezzi with an ugly challenge.
56 min: Some sad news from an emailer calling her/himself Fripouille: "Oh dear, news is filtering in that Alfredo Di Stefano, who began his career at River Plate before moving from his native Argentina to Spain, where he would become a legend, is seriously ill in hospital in Madrid today after apparently suffering a heart attack in the street. Let's all wish him well..." Yes, let's.
55 min: Wonderful play by Higuain! He showed strength and skill to run past three defenders and then nutmegged Kompany! Courtois came out to try to stop him from crowning the run with a goal but the striker fired past him ... and out off the crossbar!
53 min: Hazard finally makes an impact on the game - or, to be precise, on Biglia's tibia! It was a dirty-looking foul and could easily have been punished by more than the yellow card he was given. Messi takes the resultant freekick and Courtois has to palm it behind to prevent an attacker from getting his head to it.
52 min: Lavezzi flashes a super ball across the face of goal. Courtois can't reach it ... but nor can Higuain! It's all Argentina.
51 min: Higuain does well to retrieve a seemingly wasted ball, then races past Alderweireld and into the box. His shots deflects off Van Buyten ... and just wide!
49 min: So sign of improvement from Belgian, nor of an attempt to do anything different. They started the game brightly but they're in danger of going the way of France if this continues ....
48 min: Messi clips a freekicks from 30 yards towards the back post, where Biglia tries and fails to meet it.
46 min: The teams are back ... and this it's personal. Or something. "Is it just me (okay, I know it's just me) or does Marc Wilmots gradually expand during the course of a game?" parps Ian Copestake. "Perhaps this is a little known effect of the heat. Either way it may explain why he has not been able to focus on getting the most out of his team of round pegs in square holes."
"Well sir after yesterday"s thrilling but cynical game between the South Americans, I am cheering for whoever emerges from the other side of the bracket," blathers D'Arcy Mackenzie. "The mauling of James and tolerance of it by the referee followed by the injury to Neymar was sad. Coupled with the other semi-final we see a return to the old WC dominated by a few repeat winners ... The whole thing reminds me of a memorable quote Lawrence of Arabia about the virtues of the young and the vices of the old. Maybe someone able play from Messi can reverse this mood."
Half-time: Argentina 1-0 Belgium
It's been a strong showing by Argentina so far. They scored a fine goal and seldom been disturbed since. Belgium have had plenty of the ball but mostly in the areas into which Argentina have corralled them and they have not had the speed of thought of action to get out. Hazard has been ineffective. So has Fellaini, who has had lots of possession - he needs to be either sent up alongside Origi to pose a different problem or else replaced by Defour or Dembélé, both of whom are more likely to produce a meaningful pass.
44 min: Another purposeful Belgian attack comes to naught, as again invention is missing. Fellaini's final ball was easily cut out.
42 min: Vertonghen receives the ball from a throw-in and then whips a cross towards the penalty spot. Mirallas darts from deep to meet it with a dive. It's a good effort but it's just wide.
40 min: Ooooooh! The freekick was a yard outside the box and central ... and Messi fizzed a fierce shot inches over the bar!
39 min: A sumptuous piece of control by Messi to kill a pass and then set about torturing the Belgian defence, who ultimately upend him at the edge of the box. A freekick, in a mighty dangerous spot ...
37 min: It seems to me that Belgium are overplaying in midfield and also overstaffed there. Getting support and the ball to Origi quicker is worth trying, such as by pushing Fellaini up farther.
35 min: Belgium are hogging the ball a bit now but have not yet found any way of bothering Argentina, who have become quite conservative in the last few minutes. Let's hope that they're just adjusting to Di Maria's departure as opposed to setting their stall out for the rest of the game.
32 min: Argentina substitution: Here's a blow for Argentina and also, perhaps, to the entertainment prospects: Di Maria is limping off, seemingly with a hamstring strain, and is replaced by Perez, a sturdy midfielder with far less flair. What does that portend?
31 min: Apparently the stadium is not entirely populated by Argentinians: there are a few enclaves of red-clad folks and, during a break in play just now, some people have piped up with chants of "neymar, Neymar, Neymar". I'm guessing they're not Argentinian ...
29 min: A lovely low pass from deep by Messi sends Di Maria bearing down on the Belgian box. The winger darts inside and unleashes a shot from 20 yards but Kompany kept pace with him and blocks well.
28 min: This is engrossing! Not many scoring chances so far but it's a taut, fast-paced contest ...
26 min: A decent long-range striker from De Bruyne almost confounds Romero but the keeper bats the ball away awkwardly.
25 min: Good work by Mirallas to hare back and help Witsel curtail a dangerous Messi run.
24 min: Belgium knock the ball around outside the Argentina box but are found to be badly short of ideas. Two Argentinians eventually step forward to bustle Hazard off the ball and launch a counter-attack, which also fizzles out.
21 min: "Let's hope that Argentina don't react like Brazil and Germany yesterday to getting an early goal," squawks Karl Tilinius. "The first two quarterfinal games were like throwbacks to 1990 World Cup with the teams who were ahead concentrating on stopping their opponents with minor (and not so minor) fouls before they got within 25 yards of the goal. After all the fun so far, it was a rude awakening." Fear not, Karl, or at least not yet: Argentina are still showing plenty of ambition and, indeed, a foxy flick from Higuain just now almost led to another goal-scoring chance. Belgium are showing ambition too, but they haven't found a way of converting that into a serious problem for their opponents.
19 min: Funny how things go. With the game going through its first lull, ITV are paying tribute to the meticulousness of Belgium manager Marc Wilmots, noting approvingly that "he has already changed hotels once on this trip because he felt it didn't meet with the player's needs". When some Ghana players complained about their accommodation, they were depicted as spoilt prats. Just saying.
17 min: Promising for Belgium! After patient probing, they worked the ball wide to Vertonghen, who scampered past his man and fired in a vicious cross. Argentina are forced to concede a corner. The delivery is better this time but Van Buyten's ensuing header goes high over the bar.
15 min: Corner to Belgium, the first of the game, unless I haven't been paying attention properly. And there won't be much point in them getting any more if De Bruyne is going to keep delivering like he has just done, wafting the ball out of play on the far side.
14 min: Hazard has been well contained so far. He collects the ball in the middle just now and starts to skedaddle forward, then realises his way is blocked so knocks the ball to his left, where De Bruyne takes it up. He feints to create space for a shot ... and then spanks the ball way wide from 25 yards.
12 min: Belgium go in search of a route back into the game but Vertonghen, having flown all the way up from the back, mis-controls at the byline to relieve the pressure on Argentina.
10 min: The replays show that Kompany was partially culpable on the goal, as he strayed out of position in search of a ball he was never going to get, creating space that Higuain exploited to perfection.
GOAL! Argentina 1-0 Belgium (Higuain 8)
The stadium erupts as the ball breaks to Higuain at the edge of the area and the striker produces a superb instinctive finish to sweep it first-time into the bottom corner of the goal! Game on!
6 min: The Argentinian menace is growing. They're forcing Belgium backwards with aggressive passing and movement. And the atmosphere generated by their fans is astounding. "This is already more exciting than the entire Germany-France match yesterday!" gasps JR in Illinois, quite rightly.
4 min: Vertonghen has to make another important intervention, blocking a curling Di Maria shot at the edge of the area. It's encouragingly attack-minded stuff from both sides so far.
3 min: The crowd starts squealing with excitement as Messi gets the ball for the first time, around mid-way. He carries it about 10 yards and then sprays a fine ball wide to Lavezzi, who pegs a low cross into the danger zone. Vertonghen (I think) scoops it away before it reached Higuain.
2 min: It's a positive start by Belgium. They look purposeful and energetic. Play hasn't got out of the middle third yet but there's a bold feel to the game.
1 min: We have kick-off! De Bruyne and Origi complete a textbook one-two - this bodes well!
As the Argentina anthem resounds around the ground, the camera lingers on Alejandro Sabell, who, it must be said, has a touch of Anthony Hopkins about him. Go on then, say he should be in charge of Luis Suarez's Uruguay.
Here we go, here we go, here we go
The teams trot out on to the lawn. Belgian are in a Melchester Rovers-inspired red number with yellow features; Argentina are sporting their familiar light blue stripes on a white background. Or are they white stripes on a light blue background?
In light of proceedings last night, probably best that I make mention of the referee. His name is Nicola Rizzoli and he's an Italian architect. Let's hope we don't have any reason to mention him again.
Sometimes it is not obvious what advantage journalists gain from being at a match as opposed to watching it on TV, but Ken Early wrote a really nice piece on Lionel Messi that offered an interesting view. It's a worth a read.
The first thing that strikes you is that, most of the time, he appears to be doing very little indeed. He loiters at an angle to the play. He drifts disinterestedly in the spaces between defenders. The only signs of alertness are those sharp, hawkish swivels of the head, as he stores a mental image of what's over his shoulder. Then he darts toward empty space—the logic of his movement only becoming apparent two passes later, when the ball arrives at his feet. The wonder is that somehow he exerts this gravitational pull on the play while seldom even breaking into a trot.
"Matthew Clapham?" poohpoohs Matthew Clapham. "Surely the Belgians would have to go with the relentless drive and vigour of Plastic Bertrand and his eternal classic Ça Plane Pour Moi", non?"
If Belgium score today, let's hope commentators react in the same way that this one did after their goals in the 1986 knock-out game against USSR. Marvel at the "hahahahahahaha!" that greets most of them, especially Demol's one in extra-time.
"Are you surprised Lukaku was not given the nod considering his impressive entry against the USA?" wonders Kevin Dardis. No, because he was plop in the matches before that and Origi has been a livewire every time he's played, even if he didn't score against the US. But if Lukaku is truly back in form, then he could make a big contribution from the bench - Belgium, indeed, have better options off the bench than almost any other team in the tournament.
But what should Belgium choose? Well, Jacques Brel could get anyone going...
Wouldn't it be a grand if we dispensed with the traditional national anthems and each team could get themselves going with a different track of their choosing. Get Maradona on the pitch to reprise this, for example:
Argentina: Romero; Zabaleta, Demichelis, Garay, Basanta; Biglia, Mascherano, Di Maria; Higuain, Messi, Lavezzi.
Belgium: Courtois; Alderweireld, Kompany, Van Buyten, Vertonghen, Witsel, De Bruyne, Fellaini, Hazard, Mirallas; Origi
Let's hope this time we really get to go Back to the Future. The 1980s brought us more than Ghostbusters, Twisted Sister and Prozac, because they also delivered two cracking World Cups, both of which featured memorable matches between Argentina and Belgium (and this beautiful photo, the story of which is told with delicate insight by Jonny Weeks). Yesterday, France and Germany desecrated the memory of their two epic encounters from that decade but there is reason to be hopeful that Belgium and Argentina will do much better today, even if neither country has yet top form yet in the tournament.
Lionel Messi, for instance, is already showing signs of rising to the challenge of exerting an influence comparable to that of Diego Maradona. Yesterday's injury to Neymar perhaps puts even more pressure on Messi, as it gives Argentina an even bigger chance to win the World Cup in the Maracana, which would be an act of cuckoldery to fill Argentina fans with filthy, indelible glee, but Messi has so far suggested that he is now able to carry his nation's burden. This would be an excellent time for Eden Hazard to start doing the same for Belgium – he has only really flickered in this tournament and if he can summon all his ingenuity, he could do real damage today. But Belgium have plenty of other threats, notably Kevin De Bruyne, who has been their most dangerous player in Brazil, as he was for much of the qualifiers; and good to see Kevin Mirallas starting after making a big impact against the USA. And, of course, Argentina have several nighty accomplices to, if they could just get over their deference to Messi and take a bit more responsibility themselves. A place in the semi-finals is up for grabs and the world wants to see these teams do their utmost to seize it. Bring it!