Nicolas Sanchez steered Argentina into the World Cup semi-finals with a thrilling 43-20 victory over injury-depleted Ireland on Sunday.

Los Pumas will meet the winners of the fourth and final quarter-final clash between Australia and Scotland.

Defending champions New Zealand will play South Africa in the other last-four clash.

Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip — standing in for injured talisman Paul O’Connell — said they had been their own worst enemy.

“It is obviously very disappointing to lose in such a big game,” he said.

“We didn’t help ourselves at the start but we fought back and came back into it.

“Argentina play a very expansive game and stretched us and we didn’t make it easy for ourselves at times.

“But fair play when we got back to three points they took their opportunities to kick on and we couldn’t take ours.” 

Juan Imhoff, who scored two tries, said it had been hard work in securing their record win over the Irish.

“It was a very tough game and worked hard to get this victory,” said the 27-year-old wing.

“We will enjoy this moment but we will have another very difficult match next weekend.

“We are a really good team in offence but the defence made the difference.”

Ireland, also missing fly-half Johnny Sexton, flanker Peter O’Mahony and centre Jared Payne through injury and suspended star flanker Sean O’Brien, struggled to match Argentina’s opening hi-tempo start.

The Pumas scorched out to a 17-0 lead thanks to tries from Matias Moroni and Imhoff with Sanchez kicking the rest of the points before Ireland came back through a Luke Fitzgerald try, Ian Madigan kicking the conversion and a penalty.

Jordi Murphy’s try early in the second-half and Madigan’s boot kept Ireland in the game until Joaquin Tuculet and Imhoff crossed in the final minutes of a scintillating game, masterminded by Sanchez, who finished with a personal tally of 23 points from five penalties and four conversions.

The victory broke Argentina’s five-match losing streak against Ireland, their last win coming in the pool stages of the 2007 World Cup.

Argentina played a sparkling opening 20 minutes with such free-running elan that Ireland looked completely off the pace.

Moroni, starting in place of the banned Marcelo Bosch, crossed for a fourth-minute try in an electric start.

Tucqulet claimed a high up-and-under and was cleared out by impressive No 8 Leonardo Senatore.

Pablo Matera charged, the ball was recycled and Juan Fernandez Lobbe’s long pass found Moroni in acres of space for a simple run-in.

Ireland’s scrum looked under presure from a burly looking Pumas outfit, and Irish woes were compounded as the Argentinians doubled their score on 10 minutes, Santiago Cordero was played into more space down the porous right wing, cleverly chipping the covering Rob Kearney for Imhoff to race in and touch down just millimetres from the dead-ball line.

Sanchez converted both tries and booted a penalty to extend Argentina’s lead, Ireland coach Joe Schmidt could only look on in disbelief as Tommy Bowe was stretchered off with a leg injury.

Respite was offered when tighthead prop Ramiro Herrera was yellow carded for a no-arms tackle on Keith Earls, Madigan booting Ireland’s first points with a simple penalty as Argentina drifted offside.

Sanchez responded with his second penalty, but missed with a third as Ireland gave themselves a much-needed lifeline with a superb individual try from replacement Fitzgerald converted by Madigan just before Herrera rejoined the fray.

Ireland started the second-half just as they needed to, Fitzgerald splitting the defence and offloading to Murphy for a try Madigan converted.

An Imhoff break saw Rory Best penalised for clinging on to Cordero, Sanchez booting his third penalty to extend his team’s lead to six points.

That didn’t last for long as Herrera infringed at a ruck, Madigan kicking his second penalty with the prop lucky not to get a second yellow — and automatic red card — from French referee Jerome Garces.

Madigan put another penalty just wide moments later as Argentina paid for some ill-discipline.

Then it was Ireland’s turn as Devin Toner went high on Sanchez, the fly-half making no mistake with his fourth penalty in the 63rd minute.

Tuculet and Imhoff sealed Ireland’s fate when they crashed over for two devastating tries in the last 12 minutes, Sanchez twice more converting and having the last laugh with a final penalty to deny Ireland a first-ever place in the semi-finals after a gripping game. – Agence France-Presse

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