Belgium’s array of talented contenders for the Hyundai Young Player Award were unable to build on their impressive displays in the Round of 16 in their quarter-final encounter with Argentina and have now bid farewell to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. A young Dutch duo will, however, have further opportunity to demonstrate their ability at the tournament after the Netherlands’ nail-biting triumph over Costa Rica.
The day started well for Belgium’s Divock Origi, who was selected to lead the Red Devils’ attack for the second consecutive game. Unfortunately he cut an isolated figure in the lone striker’s role and was well marshalled by the South Americans’ backline.
Origi was replaced by another candidate for this award in the 59th minute, when Romelu Lukaku took to the field in his place. However, Lukaku was only able to free himself from Argentine clutches on two occasions: in the 65th minute he was denied by a last-gasp Ezequiel Garay clearance and in stoppage time the forward’s good run into the box ended with a pull-back that was also hooked to safety.
It could well have been that very move that a visibly down-heartened Lukaku was seen discussing with Belgium coach Marc Wilmots after the final whistle. The country’s third contender, Adnan Januzaj, did not feature in the game. While the trio took their leave from Brazil following an off-key team display, they were nevertheless able to showcase their unquestionable ability during the competition.
In the evening’s second match, Memphis Depay was handed his starting debut at the tournament following a string of impressive recent outings, making him the youngest Dutch player to begin a World Cup fixture since 1938, and the fourth youngest in the Oranje’s history. The wide attacker repaid his coach’s faith in him with a bold first half display and his superb passing created a number of good opportunities for Robin van Persie. The captain later returned the favour only for Depay to likewise fail to get the better of the outstanding Keylor Navas in goal.
The Netherlands’ No21 continued to work hard after the break but was unable to exert as much influence and was eventually replaced in the 76th minute, joining the unused Terence Kongolo on the bench.
The tournament’s four remaining candidates - Depay and Kongolo, as well as Germany’s Matthias Ginter and Julian Draxler - now have two days to recover ahead of the next round of matches. In the first semi-final on Tuesday, Schalke youngster Draxler will be eager to make his maiden World Cup appearance and demonstrate his attacking gifts on the global stage. It is highly likely however, that alongside the more defensive-minded Ginter, he will have to make do with being a substitute.