BRASILIA, Brazil — This time for Argentina, it was less about Lionel Messi and more about the men behind him.
Argentina made the semifinals of the World Cup for the first time in 24 years on Saturday as stubborn defending and clever tactics overcame Belgium in a tight 1-0 victory.
Before the quarterfinals, Messi's magic had bailed out the team as it labored unimpressively through the group stage and past Switzerland in the second round, relying on four goals and a couple of assists from its playmaking superstar.
But coach Alejandro Sabella's strategy appeared to work at Brasilia's Estadio Nacional as Argentina scored early and then out-maneuvered a Belgium team that was left completely frustrated.
Belgium coach Marc Wilmots criticized Argentina as "an ordinary team" that relied on a couple of attacking players and mostly defense, built on the back four and combative midfielders Lucas Biglia and Javier Mascherano.
It was good enough to beat Belgium, though, and might be the key to Argentina overcoming more impressive teams in the last four of the World Cup as the South Americans go in search of a third title but first since 1986.
"The players today played a wonderful match. I would say that it was excellent," Sabella said, "(From) the tactical point of view."
Despite having a team that includes Messi, probably the most exciting attacking player in the game, Sabella is a firm believer in the importance of closing down other teams and limiting their opportunities. He calls it "occupying the spaces" and used his favorite catchphrase 10 times in an answer Friday when explaining tactics to a reporter.
"It was a team that was very well balanced today. ... Sometimes forward, sometimes to the back," he said.
Netherlands gets through on PKs
SALVADOR, Brazil — Tim Krul came on as a substitute in the final minute of extra time and then saved two penalties in a 4-3 shootout victory over Costa Rica on Saturday, giving the Netherlands a spot in the World Cup semifinals.
Krul saved spot kicks from Costa Rica captain Bryan Ruiz and Michael Umana after the match had finished 0-0.
"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."
In another stroke of tactical genius at this year's World Cup, Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal pulled Jasper Cillessen moments after the Ajax goalkeeper had saved a shot from Marcos Urena in extra time.
"The trick is good," said Krul, who plays for Newcastle. "A lot of preparation went into it."
The Dutch team will next face Argentina in the semifinals on Wednesday in Sao Paulo.
Krul looked super confident during the shootout at the Arena Fonte Nova, saving the second and fifth penalties by diving to his left and sticking out his hand.
When Krul stopped Ruiz's penalty, Cillessen, watching from the sideline, punched the air in celebration.
When he saved the second to win the match, Cillessen out-sprinted the rest of the bench to get to Krul, who was already being mobbed by jubilant teammates who had watched from the halfway line.
Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas had kept his team in the match with a string of great saves in the first half and again in extra time. When Wesley Sneijder twice beat him late in regulation and again in the second half of extra time, the woodwork made the stop.
Sneijder hit the post with a free kick in the 80th minute and sent a curling shot over Navas and off the crossbar before the penalty shootout.
At the end, however, Navas could not stop any of the four Dutch penalties as veterans Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, Sneijder and Dirk Kuyt all scored.
The Krul substitution will only boost Van Gaal's reputation as a coach who leaves nothing to chance and who has a golden touch with replacements. And it kept his tenure with the Netherlands alive for two more matches before he becomes the manager at Manchester United next season.