Diego Perez’s early goal was cancelled out by Gonzalo Higuain in an action-packed first half, but despite chances from both ends, neither side could break the deadlock, ensuring a nerve-wracking shootout to end proceedings.
After going back and forth on the first four penalty kicks, Argentina’s Carlos Tevez was denied by goalkeeper Fernando Muslera, who guessed the correct direction as he went to his right.
Argentina tried to take the game to the opposition from the first whistle, and good play between Higuain and Kun Aguero gave Higuain a chance but his shot was well covered by Muslera. After just five minutes, however, Uruguay found the formula to silence the Santa Fe crowd.
A Diego Forlan free kick was not dealt with by the Argentina defense, and the ball was turned in just inside the far post by Perez. The goal rocked the home side, which looked scrappy in the opening moments before Higuain was on hand to restore parity.
Higuain had Lionel Messi to thank for his strike, after the Barcelona star did wonderfully to open up the game. Messi shrugged off his markers before releasing a perfectly-weighted cross into the box, and Higuain made no mistake in heading past Muslera and into the goal.
Argentina looked comfortable after equalizing, spraying the ball around with authority against its archrival. Higuain thought he had scored again from another Messi center, but was adjudged narrowly, yet correctly, offside by the officials.
Uruguay, on the other hand, relied on the counterattack, using Luis Suarez as the sole target for long balls. From set pieces, however, it looked forever dangerous against an unconvincing Argentina defense. Martin Caceres smashed home the rebound from a free kick only to be denied by the linesman’s flag, while Diego Lugano came within an inch of netting the second when his header bounced back off the bar.
Uruguay made things difficult for themselves when late in the first-half, goalscorer Perez clattered Fernando Gago and received a second booking, consigning the Celeste to play the rest of the match with 10 men.
In the second half, Uruguay changed its game plan to be more defensive minded and try and hit Argentina on the counter-attack.
That meant that Argentina had a lot more possession than they did in the first half, but too often they lacked the final pass necessary to open the game up. The best chances early on came from distance. Angel Di Maria smashed over after a great cross-field ball from Javier Mascherano, while Zabaleta and Messi also threatened without a great deal of danger.
With 15 minutes left Batista brought on Javier Pastore, and the Palermo man seemed to add creativity to the unit. A beautiful combination with Messi released Higuain, and the No. 9 was only denied by a fantastic save one-on-one. That was followed by a heart-stopping moment for home fans, when Sergio Romero had to stop Forlan clear through.
Lugano also went close in heading a Forlan corner over the bar, but neither side could break the deadlock and the match entered extra time. Argentina was forced to do it without its captain as Mascherano became the second player to be expelled, once more for a second booking. A Tevez free-kick almost avoided that outcome, but Muslera palmed away the substitute’s effort before saving from Higuain at point-blank range.
Both teams had chances to wrap up the game in the additional half hour. A poor clearance from Nicolas Burdisso gave Alvaro Pereira a half-chance, and his shot went barely over the crossbar. Higuain also had a glorious chance, but smashed against the post with just Muslera to beat. Pastore and Higuain then went close in the second half, but as the minutes ticked by, penalties loomed on the horizon.
Messi went first for the hosts and duly sent Muslera the wrong way. Forlan responded for Uruguay with his kick going straight down the middle into the top. Burdisso and Suarez also netted convincingly, before Tevez saw his powerful effort kept out by Muslera.
Scotti, Pastore, Gargano and Higuain all converted their efforts to leave the spotkicks poised at 4-4, but Caceres tucked away the final penalty to send Uruguay into the semi-final 5-4.