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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