Belgium coach Marc Wilmots branded Argentina “a very ordinary team with one extraordinary player” after they overcame his side 1-0 in the World Cup quarter-finals here.
“I’m not at all impressed by Argentina,” Wilmots told a post-match press conference at Brasilia’s Mane Garrincha National Stadium.
“They’re a very ordinary team with one extraordinary player,” he added, in an apparent reference to Argentina captain Lionel Messi.
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Belgium struggled to create chances after falling behind to an eighth-minute Gonzalo Higuain goal and Wilmots was unable to disguise his frustration at the outcome of the game. “We saw Argentina’s experience,” he said.
“They break the rhythm, they take 40 seconds to take a throw-in, and they’re never brought to order by the referee.
“We made some very small mistakes, but we learnt a lot tonight. We’re very disappointed, everyone is very down, but I’m very proud of the boys.”
While Argentina also hit the bar through Higuain and saw Messi thwarted by Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois in an injury-time one-on-one, Wilmots did not feel that they were clearly superior to his team.
“We can always expect more, but we expended a fair amount of energy against the United States (in the last 16),” he said.
“And them (Argentina), how many shots on target did they have? If I’d done that, I’m sure the Belgian press would have criticised me for not trying to play.”
Wilmots elected to withdraw the ineffective Eden Hazard with 15 minutes to play, but the coach said it was due to a need to give his team more height in attack, rather than a reflection of the Chelsea winger’s performance.
“I’m talking about the team as a whole. I don’t want to talk about individuals,” he said when asked about Hazard’s display.
Explaining the decision to withdraw Hazard, Wilmots added: “(Daniel) Van Buyten went to centre-forward, we tried everything.
“At that point, there was no point keeping Hazard on because we weren’t playing to feet any more.
“We tried everything, we gave ourselves extra height.
Sometimes we also made bad decisions.”
A crestfallen Hazard, who will leave Brazil with two assists and no goals to his name, said that his team had paid for a lack of experience.
“We could have done more. We didn’t play our game. I don’t think we played well,” he told reporters.
“They have more experience than us in these competitions.
It’s our first (as a group of players), but we still had a good tournament.”
Hazard felt that Higuain’s early goal gave Argentina a “perfect” start.
“In matches like that, when you concede a very early goal, your opponents kill the game,” he said.
“We didn’t have much movement in the team, so it was difficult to find solutions. That’s what we need to work on, the understanding between the players.”
Meanwhile, 36-year-old centre-back Van Buyten, the only player in Belgium’s squad over the age of 30, revealed that he would now reflect on his international future.
“It’s too early to talk about it,” said the Bayern Munich defender, who had tears in his eyes as he spoke to journalists in the mixed zone.
“I’ll try to enjoy the time I have still here with all the kids. And then I’ll speak to my family, my wife, my children, the grandparents.
“I’ll maybe rest for a bit, discuss it with my agent, and then we’ll see.”