Argentina sink Netherlands in PK shootout, advance to World Cup final
JUL 09, 2014 7:00p ET
Maxi Rodriguez sunk the decisive penalty kick after Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder were both saved in the shootout by Sergio Romero. Argentina never looked back. Argentina now play Germany in Rio de Janeiro for the World Cup title on Sunday; the Netherlands face Brazil on Saturday in the third-place game. The result sets up a classic encounter: Argentina beat Germany for the World Cup in 1986, Germany snatched it right back in 1990.
''It's luck, that's the truth. You can dive (the right way) and not make it, like happened to their goalkeeper,'' Romero said after the match. ''I had confidence, thank God things turned out well.''
After Tuesday's devastating result, it was perhaps unfair to think this semifinal could provide us with the same level of entertainment. But this was as poor a semifinal the World Cup has ever seen, a largely shot-free game between two teams unwilling to really open the match up. Some will argue these types of tight tactical battles are enthralling. They are masochists.
Given that both of these teams had seen Brazil absolutely shredded while trying to play so-called "attacking" football on Tuesday, it's easy to see why both managers erred on the side of caution. Argentina were without two key players from the start, the injured Angel di Maria and the fit -- but not fit-enough -- Sergio Aguero, who rode the pine from the start. Enzo Perez was drafted in to play di Maria's role, was far more effective than Alejandro Sabella could have dreamt of, cutting in well from the right and linking up with Marco Rojo to compress Dirk Kuyt and Arjen Robben.
Sabella's tactics are hardly attractive -- wits have argued he is the third best Argentine manager at this World Cup -- but what Argentina can do well is smother you. Their control of midfield -- and Holland's need to have Nigel de Jong drop back to provide cover for what is a very callow defense -- allowed Javier Mascherano to boss the game for large stretches. Unfortunately, it also killed the game stone dead. Argentina were worried about the Dutch counter-attack from Robben and Robin van Persie. But with van Persie not 100% fit, and Robben reduced to the periphery, the Dutch were reduced to long balls over the top -- hoping to catch Ezequiel Garay in isolation. Louis van Gaal watched his side caught offside consistently as a result. Holland did not get a single shot on target during regulation.
Lionel Messi drifted in and out of the game, as Pablo Zabaleta and Ezequiel Lavezzi started to target young Danny Blind. Blind, who started the tournament well, has faded as the games have worn on, and he was beaten easily down the left side, pulling Bruno Martins Indi over, and creating pockets of space for Gonzalo Higauin to work in. But there were few chances of note in the first half, with Jasper Cillessen making a routine save on a Messi free kick, and Vlaar being forced to play clean-up twice on Higuain.
In fact, the most notable moment of the half came after the ball was gone: Mascherano and Georginio Wijnaldum clashed heads, and had the Dutch midfielder not caught his counterpart, Mascherano would have fell face-first onto the turf. As it was, he looked as if he was knocked unconscious, and the incident will raise new questions about the care and treatment of soccer players who suffer head injuries during matches.
After the break, as the rain began to cascade down, the game slowed into more of a slog. De Jong, suffering from a lingering groin injury, was forced to come off on the hour for the young Jordie Casie, opening the game up somewhat. But with Kuyt sliding over to take Blind's role out wide, Argentina's most promising line of attack was shut down -- and the match became more of a slog.
Higuain thought he had broken the game open with a stabbing move, knifing the ball at Cillessen off a Perez cross in the 75th, but the shot hit the side of the net and the flag was again up. The call was dead wrong, but Higuain had fluffed what was perhaps the game's best chance to that point.
With ten minutes to play, and the match deadlocked, the notoriously defensive Sabella threw the dice, putting on Rodrigo Palacio and Aguero. It made little difference as the best chance fell to Robben in stoppage, only to see his shot deflected away by a sliding tackle from Mascherano.
In added time, it was the Dutch who looked the fresher, with Robben finally hitting the target with a dipping shot that was a comfortable save for Romero. But chances were sparse. Palacio fluffed a fine chance with five to play in extra time when he weakly nodded a ball right into Cillessen's gloves with Aguero open to his right. Later, Messi set up sub Maxi Rodriguez well only to see a similarly poor volley right to the keeper. And with that, Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir blew his whistle, and to the spot they went.
''The issue in a championship like this one is that you score one more goal than your opponent, which we didn't do,'' a bitter van Gaal said after the match, ''We didn't create very much. Argentina didn't create very many opportunities, if any. So there was a balance in the match.''
The result will add extra salt to Brazil's wounds. Argentina are Brazil's arch-rivals. They are here, and the hosts are out.
Netherlands: Jasper Cillessen; Dirk Kuyt, Ron Vlaar, Stefan de Vrij, Bruno Martins Indi (Daryl Janmaat 46), Daley Blind; Nigel de Jong (Jordie Clasie 62), Georginio Wijnaldum, Wesley Sneijder; Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie (Klaas-Jan Huntelaar 96).
Argentina: Sergio Romero; Pablo Zabaleta, Martin Demichelis, Ezequiel Garay, Marcos Rojo; Lucas Biglia, Javier Mascherano, Enzo Perez (Rodrigo Palacio 81); Ezequiel Lavezzi (Maxi Rodriguez 100), Gonzalo Higuain (Sergio Aguero 82), Lionel Messi.