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Long after the game, thousands of Argentine fans flocked to one section of the Estadio Nacional to celebrate the country’s best World Cup performance since it lost the 1990 final to West Germany.

“They played an excellent match,” Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella said of his team. “After 24 years, we can be among the four best teams in the world. At least we lived up to the minimum objective.”

Argentina has won every match in Brazil by a single goal. In previous games, it scraped by thanks to individual moments of magic by Messi. But against Belgium, Argentina looked in control even after losing Di Maria — the team’s most influential player in Brazil aside from Messi — to a right thigh injury in the 33rd minute.

Sabella said the Real Madrid midfielder will have medical tests on Sunday to discover the extent of the injury.

It was Di Maria who set up Higuain’s goal as he picked up a pass from Messi and cut in from the right. He tried to find fullback Pablo Zabaleta, but the ball bounced off Jan Vertonghen into Higuain’s path.

Startled by the early goal, the Red Devils didn’t create any heat in Argentina’s penalty area until the 42nd minute when Mirallas headed Vertonghen’s cross just wide of Sergio Romero’s right post.

Fifteen minutes after the break, Vertonghen once again sent in a precise cross from the left flank but Fellani headed it over the crossbar.

Higuain came close to making it 2-0 in the second half when he easily ran past Vincent Kompany and smashed a shot into the crossbar. He worked relentlessly for Argentina before being substituted in the 81st by Fernando Gago.

“We still have two matches to go so we can have the dream, the dream that brought us here from the very first day,” Higuain said.