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September 21, 2014

Semifinals preview

Monday, July 7, 2014

Argentina hopes Di María recovers

Ángel Di María (r) leaves the field with an injury during the quarterfinal match.

Misses semifinals but may return for last game; Agüero fit

Midfielder Ángel Di María has been ruled out of the World Cup semifinal against the Netherlands with a thigh injury, but he may recover to play in the last game. Striker Sergio Agüero has been declared fit to play.

BELO HORIZONTE — Ángel Di María has been ruled out of Argentina’s semifinal against the Netherlands, but could be available for the last match of the tournament, the team doctor said yesterday.

Forward Sergio Agüero has recovered from a muscle strain and is fit to play. He looked comfortable in training at the Argentine camp, but Di María was missing and undergoing intensive treatment after hobbling out of their 1-0 quarterfinal win over Belgium.

In its first semifinal since 1990, Argentina plays the Netherlands in Sao Paulo on Wednesday.

“Ángel has a Grade One injury. Of course he won’t play in Argentina’s next game. After that, we’ll evaluate the situation day-by-day,” team doctor Daniel Martínez told reporters. “Sergio has practiced three times. He’s ready to play.”

Agüero missed two games due to a muscle strain but on the evidence of yesterday’s afternoon training session at their camp in Belo Horizonte, the speedy forward should at least make the substitutes bench.

The absence of Di María, Argentina’s most creative player after captain Lionel Messi, will be a big blow but the return to form of Gonzalo Higuaín lessens the impact.

Higuaín’s instinctive strike against Belgium gave Argentina passage to the semifinals.

“I wasn’t getting desperate about scoring because I knew I was going to get a goal sooner or later,” Higuaín, who ended a six-match scoring drought in Brasilia, told reporters.

“Obviously I’m very happy, especially with this being such a historically important win for Argentina,” he added. “They’ve been asking me since day one when the goal was going to come and I’ve always given them the same answer: I’m working on it.”

Sabella will have to rely on Di María’s replacement in the starting lineup to help unlock a well-drilled Dutch defence in Sao Paulo on Wednesday. Enzo Pérez took his place against Belgium to play as a right midfielder. He had a great season playing in Benfica of Portugal. Ricardo Álvarez (Inter Milan), Ma-ximiliano Rodríguez (Newell’s) and Agusto Fernández (Celta de Vigo) will also be considered to take Di María’s place.

Roared on by tens of thousands of fans who have crossed the border into Brazil, Argentina is bidding for a third World Cup. To achieve it on the soil of rivals Brazil would be especially sweet.

The squad looked relaxed during training, laughing and joking with coach Alejandro Sabella.

They are based at local team Atlético Mineiro’s training complex, where motivational banners in sky blue-and-white colours give them encouragement as fans huddled at the gates outside.

The last time Argentina reached the semifinal stage in the World Cup was 24 years ago in Italy, when it made it to the final but lost 1-0 to West Germany.

Coach Sabella said being among the final four was the “minimum” that Argentina expected out of this World Cup after being eliminated in the quarterfinals in two consecutive tournaments.

Sabella made two key changes to the lineup against Belgium, fielding Manchester City defender Martín Demichelis for the first time in Brazil, and having Lucas Biglia replace Fernando Gago in the midfield. “You always hope to play,” Demichelis said. “I was showing a lot of heart in practice and tried to get to the place where I would get called up.”

The moves bolstered Argentina’s defence, with Biglia and Javier Mascherano dropping back to help protect the early lead.

With left back Marcos Rojo returning from suspension Argentina’s defence should be in even better shape for the semifinal. However, the attack is bound to suffer without Di María.

Herald staff with agencies

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