BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL
Argentina midfielder Angel Di Maria has been ruled out of the World Cup semifinal against the Netherlands with a thigh injury while striker Sergio Aguero has been declared fit to play after recovering from a similar problem.
Di Maria limped off the field in the first half of Argentina’s quarterfinal win over Belgium after straining a muscle in the back of his right thigh.
Team doctor Daniel Martinez on Sunday said tests showed it was a “first-degree” strain — the mildest kind but added that Di Maria wouldn’t be fit to play in Wednesday’s semifinal.
Martinez said Aguero, who sustained a similar injury 10 days ago, had recovered in an “excellent” way.
Losing Di Maria is a big blow for Argentina as it prepares for its first World Cup semifinal since 1990. Besides Lionel Messi, he’s been the team’s most influential player in Brazil.
Di Maria scored the extra-time winner against Switzerland in the second round and set up Gonzalo Higuain’s winning goal in the first half against Belgium on Saturday.
“He’s a key player in this project,” Higuain said of Di Maria.
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 Alejandro 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 Martin 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 defense, with Biglia and Javier Mascherano dropping back to help protect the early lead.
With left back Marcos Rojo returning from suspension Argentina’s defense should be in even better shape for the semifinal. However, the attack is bound to suffer without Di Maria.
World Cup ratings
he four World Cup quarterfinals averaged more than 10 million viewers in the United States combined on ABC, ESPN networks and Spanish-language Univision.
Host Brazil’s 2-1 win over Colombia in a 4 p.m. EDT kickoff Friday on ESPN was the most-viewed of the game with 11.84 million: 6.35 million on ESPN and 5.49 million on Univision. The Netherlands’ penalty-kicks victory over Costa Rica following a 0-0 tie in the late game Sunday on ESPN was seen by 10.92 million: 5.79 million on ESPN and 5.13 million on Univision.
In the noon EDT kickoffs, Germany’s 1-0 win over France on Friday on ESPN2 was viewed by 9.6 million (4.89 million on ESPN and 4.71 million on Univision) and Argentina’s 1-0 victory over Belgium on ABC was seen by 8.81 million (5.18 million on ESPN and 3.63 million on Univision).
The overall quarterfinal average was 10.29 million.
ESPN said Sunday its quarterfinal average of 5.58 million on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 was up 29 percent from 2010’s 4.34 million and 68 percent from 2006’s 3.32 million. Its 60-game average of 4.19 million marks a 42 percent increase from 2.95 million in 2010 and a 114 percent rise from 1.96 million in 2006. The two 4 p.m. matches were the most-watched quarterfinals in the history of ABC, ESPN and ESPN2.