Argentina's confidence soars

LONDON - Argentina believe. That much was clear from the raucous celebrations whipped up by those clad in sky blue and white in the streets of Brasília on Saturday, or the selfies tweeted by joyous players from the dressing room and on the coach en route back to the airport.

It was even vaguely discernible in Alejandro Sabella’s post-match monotone, delivered through his usual mock grumpiness. This team are finding their feet.

They took a huge psychological stride in emerging victorious against Belgium and into a first semi-final at this tournament for 24 years.

“We broke through the barrier,” said Lionel Messi through a beaming smile. “We’ve already succeeded in getting ourselves in the four best teams and we want more. For us to be the ones who took that step through the quarter-finals is beautiful.”

With memories of Argentina’s three stumbles at this stage since Italia 90 now banished and a contest with Holland to come tomorrow, optimism abounds.

“In terms of intensity, balance, intelligence and the importance of the stage, it was our best performance by far,” Javier Mascherano said after the win over Belgium.

“We played like we had to play, against a very good team, with many attacking alternatives.”

Ally that with a newfound power of the collective and their claim to be contenders is even more persuasive.

“More than ever before we were a team,” Messi said. “We ran more than ever, we were more committed than ever. We played a game that I am not used to – running, running – and it worked. Belgium didn’t have clear chances and ended up with long balls to their tall players but our centre-halves were giants. The whole team deserved praise for their sacrifice.”

Argentina will hope to be fresher than the Dutch in São Paulo tomorrow, their late efforts to repel Belgium having ensured there was no need for extra time.

Marcos Rojo’s return from suspension at left-back will also be a fillip. “It helped that the midfielders were so close,” Pablo Zabaleta said.

“Defensively we were excellent. We knew Belgium were a very tough team physically but we defended set pieces very well. They put a lot of long balls into the box at the end but we coped brilliantly.”

Holland are more slippery opposition, their own experience across the frontline likely to pose a different kind of problem. But momentum is now with Argentina. – The Guardian.

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