Gonzalo Higuain’s first-half strike proved to be the difference between the sides, although some desperate defending was needed from the South Americans late on.
Argentina started the match brightly and were ahead after just eight minutes. After picking up possession in midfield Messi twisted and turned brilliantly to evade a host of defenders before the ball eventually deflected into the path of Higuain whose instinctive volleyed-drive flew in past Thibaut Courtois.
Soon after Kevin De Bruyne had seen an effort palmed away by Sergio Romero, Messi threaded a defence-splitting pass to Angel Di Maria who turned back inside before seeing his shot well blocked by Vincent Kompany.
Argentina lost Di Maria to injury on 33 minutes but almost doubled their advantage when Messi smashed a free-kick just over the bar five minutes before the break. The last action of the half came at the other end when Kevin Mirallas sent a diving header just wide.
Higuain twice went close to doubling his tally for the game and the tournament at the start of the second period. First he saw his shot from the left side of the area deflect off Daniel van Buyten and fly inches past the post as Courtois dived the other way and four minutes later he collected possession in his own half before heading for goal, nutmegging Kompany and curling a superb effort off the top of the bar.