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Argentina progress as Dutch draw blanks in shootout

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Argentina win 4-2 on penalties

In a major contrast to last night’s semi-final, with only two shots on target in the whole game on 90 minutes, this one was hardly the classic that many predicted. It was a tense, cautious affair with both teams to looking not to gift the opposition a chance at goal.

The Dutch played the majority of the game in a 6-3-1 formation and kept themselves disciplined, an obvious attempt to keep Lionel Messi quiet, and it worked a treat. The man of the match was undoubtedly Aston Villa defender Ron Vlaar, especially for his efforts with Messi. Every time Messi looked to weave some magic and create an opening, the big Dutchman was there to slam the door shut, sticking a leg out and clearing the ball. The Barcelona megastar looked frustrated and a bit lost to say the least. It was a tremendous performance throughout for Vlaar, who has had an excellent tournament when many pundits wrote him off before a ball was kicked.

Another star was once again the veteran of the Dutch side, 33-year old Dirk Kuyt. He started the game at right wing-back, then was moved over to the left and for the 120 minutes he ran himself into the ground like a 20-year old would. Another man, who has had an excellent tournament and proved that he could still do a job for one of Europe’s elite teams for his versatility alone.

With 15 minutes of play remaining, Gonzalo Higuaín had an excellent chance. The impressive Enzo Perez found space on the right and bent in a lovely early ball, Higuaín beat the offside trap and got across Stefan De Vrij but stabbed the ball into the side-netting.

The Oranje’s best chance came late on of normal time – Arjen Robben suddenly found himself through on goal, but he took one touch too much and gave Javier Mascherano the chance to get across and make a brilliant block once Robben got the shot off.

Robben's last-ditch chance is snuffed out by Mascherano.

The extra time began with more of the same, neither side willing to open the game up and attack with any get risk. Inside the second half of the additional time, Argentina started to press. Rodrigo Palacio found himself with a golden opportunity, but after Messi played a perfect lofting ball into the area, the Inter striker nodded the ball straight into Jasper Cillessen’s hands. Moments later, Maxi Rodriguez should have done better with a half volley at the back post but failed to connect properly to threaten the Dutch goal.

The star of the game, Vlaar bravely stepped up for the first penalty but smashing down the middle did not work and Sergio Aguero easily stopped. This put immense pressure on Cillessen and in a massive contrast, first up for the Argentine’s was Messi who dispatched his spot kick past the youngster with ease. The penalties continued where Robben scored while Romero pulled off a great save from Sneijder next. Dirk Kuyt needed to score and did, but with the Argentines not missing a penalty Maxi Rodriguez stepped up for number four and blasted past Cillessen, who should have done better.

The Dutch are out, Argentina head to Rio to face Germany on Sunday for all the spoils.

TEAMS

NETHERLANDS: Cillessen, Kuyt, Blind, Vlaar, De Vrij, Martins Indi (Janmaat 46), De Jong (Clasie 62), Wijnaldum, Sneijder, Robben, Van Persie (Huntelaar 96).

GOALS: None.

BOOKINGS: Martins Indi 45, Huntelaar 105.

ARGENTINA: Romero, Zabaleta, Demichelis, Garay, Rojo, Biglia, Mascherano, Pérez (Palacio 81), Lavezzi (Rodriguez 101), Messi, Higuaín (Aguero 82).

GOALS: None.

BOOKINGS: Demichelis 49.

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WORLD CUP: Netherlands vs. Argentina Preview

The characteristics of the second semi-final of the 2014 World Cup are eerily similar to that of the first. On one hand, you have a team bouyed by the brilliance of a Barcelona superstar, with an overpowering support due to the geographical location of the tournament, a somewhat suspect defense and plenty of questions left unanswered after the group stage, last 16 and quarter-final matches. On the other hand you have a European team based on systems, formations and tactics, with a rotating cast of characters that are slotted in and taken out to fit requirements, with technical brilliance coming out of their ears.

You don’t get any medals for being able to establish what team falls into what category. Argentina will be relying on the individual brilliance that is Lionel Messi and the possibility of him not showing up, or the more possible eventuality that van Gaal figures out how to close him out of the game, is a scary one for Argentinian fans and players.

The Netherlands will be looking to the sideline and what Louis van Gaal can muster up to defeat their South American opponents. While Arjen Robben has been immense from the first game against Spain, Louis van Gaal has been stealing the spotlight for the entirety of the competition and the signs point towards that happening yet again on the field in Sao Paulo.

While many expected last night to be a war of attrition, it ended up to be the exact opposite but you can expect tonight’s game to be the battle that we have bee waiting for. The longer the game goes without a goal, the likelier it is that a mazy dribble by Messi will decide it.

A lot is riding on the availability of Nigel de Jong and should he be able to play, a man-marking job on Lionel Messi is exactly what can be expected from the A.C Milan midfielder. Louis van Gaal has made it no secret that he has a plan for Lionel Messi and it will be difficult to bet against the Dutch manager, given his ability to develop and coach a fully functional system.

Argentina don’t score many goals on the counter, but they do spend quite a large percentage of time in the attacking third of the field, so it is a matter of van Gaal making sure his defense is structurally solid as opposed to being good in transition. The Dutch have been solid throughout the World Cup and, as stated, if De Jong can play, this will be the deciding of the match.

As for de Jong’s replacement? Daley Blind is a possibility but his lack of pace might be shown up, De Guzman may not have the quality to live with Lionel Messi, Jordy Clasie is a poor tackler and might have to do a lot of it against the little maestro. As the saying goes, only time will tell as to how van Gaal is thinking.

Ron Vlaar is doubtful with a knee injury, but the beauty of van Gaal’s system is that it is similar to a “plug-and-play” device. The fact that Vlaar has been so good is the fact that van Gaal’s philosophy is based on the whole being better than the sum of it’s parts. This injury concern could be just another way for van Gaal to show of his tactical nuance on one of the biggest stages in World Football.

Robin van Persie’s availability is also in question (stomach and intestinal issues) and, if he is available, would be a good bet to score first against the Argentines. He has not scored in the knockout stages and could break the tie open with a goal against a questionably porous Argentinian defense. The Argentinians tend to concede more shots than they might like and a player with Van Persie’s finishing could capitalise on that kind of statistic. Van Persie is the captain of the side and van Gaal’s leader on the field. He has a stomach issue and did not train with the squad on Tuesday.

The Netherlands also like to exploit the wings and, in the absence of Angel di Maria, will certainly create chances from these positions, particularly on the right hand side with Kuyt there to allow Robben the freedom he has enjoyed so much throughout the tournament.

If the Netherlands can get their tactics right, it could end up being another beating for the South Americans, but don’t expect a hammering like last night. A 3-1 victory for the Dutch is, however, possible given their solidity at the back and quality in attack.

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