Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By DAN KARELL
It may not have been the prettiest campaign, but Argentina won’t care. They’re headed to the World Cup final.
Argentina were locked in a scoreless draw with the Netherlands for 120 minutes on Wednesday evening at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo, as neither team was able to penetrate the opponent’s resilient defense.
With the match headed to penalty kicks, Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero proved to be the difference, saving two Dutch penalty kicks before Maxi Rodriguez scored the decisive fourth penalty kick to send Argentina to the World Cup final.
In a match that was nothing like Tuesday night’s 7-1 Brazilian capitulation, both Argentina and the Netherlands neutralized the other nation’s top player as the rain poured down in Southeast Brazil. In the first half, Arjen Robben was held to just a handful of touches, as Argentina controlled the play with strong performances from Javier Mascherano and Enzo Perez in midfield.
Mascherano actually had a scary moment in the 28th minute after smashing heads with Netherlands midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum, looking a bit dazed and needing a few minutes of treatment.
Argentina’s best moment of the first half came in the 15th minute, after Netherlands defender Ron Vlaar was whistled for a strong challenge on Perez just outside the box. Messi took the Argentina free kick and curled it towards the far post but Netherlands goalkeeper Jesper Cillissen watched it the whole way.
In the second half, the Dutch picked up the intensity in addition to bringing on Daryl Janmaat, allowing both he and Dirk Kuyt to roam forward down the wings. Robben, Robin Van Persie, and Wesley Sneijder combined well in midfield but never found the right touch inside the box to really threaten Argentina. Mascherano worked very hard to block the passing lanes and stop Sneijder and Robben from threatening in the middle.
Into the extra time periods after a scoreless 90 minutes, Netherlands manager Louis Van Gaal was forced to take off forward Robin Van Persie and send in Klaas-Jan Huntelaar as the Dutch’s final substitution, ending the chance for the Dutch to use Tim Krul in case of penalty kicks.
Robben had a couple of chances to score on Argentina in the extra time period but failed to pull the trigger on his strikes early enough, allowing the Argentine defenders to get into position.
Heading into penalty kicks, the Netherlands went first and sent centerback Ron Vlaar to take the first kick. Though he had a masterful game marking Messi and Gonzalo Higuain, Vlaar scuffed his penalty kick and Romero made a key save.
Romero came up huge again with Sneijder up to take his spot kick, diving to his right to make a brilliant save. Argentina took four penalty kicks and hit all four, beginning with Messi, Ezequiel Garay, Sergio Aguero, and ending with substitute Maxi Rodriguez, who finished to send the Argentine fans into tears of joy.