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World Cup semifinals: Argentina vs. The Netherlands: A Look Ahead

SOCCER : FIFA World Cup 2014 - Group F - Argentina v Iran

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With Brazil’s shocking crash and burn in the semifinal round, it looks all the more like this may be Argentina’s World Cup. The factoid has been repeated plenty of times: No European team has ever won a World Cup in South America.

Perhaps lending credence to the theory that history will repeat itself, the Netherlands may not be able to put out a full strength squad when they face Argentina in Wednesday’s semifinal. Captain Robin van Persie has been dealing with an upset stomach, making his inclusion a game-time decision, according to coach Louis van Gaal.

Argentina have made their way through this World Cup with patient and oftentimes late wins — not decisive rough-and-tumble blowouts — and the Dutch will need a leader to control the pace of the game and keep the Dutch sharp for a full 90 or 120 minutes. Normally, that might be the aggressive midfielder Nigel de Jong, but his inclusion seems unlikely after suffering a groin injury. He did train with the Dutch on Tuesday, but it may very well prove to be another psychological tactic from Van Gaal.

Unlike the Dutch, Argentina will no doubt have their best player, four-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi, who many say needs to win a World Cup to cement his place in soccer history. But Messi cannot do it himself and he will be short one man.

Angel di Maria, the goalscorer who helped Argentina squeeze past Switzerland in the Round of 16, is ruled out for Wednesday’s semifinal with a thigh injury. His absence is certainly a big blow for the Argentines as they prepare for their first World Cup semifinal since 1990. Mercifully, Sergio Agüero is freshly back from the same injury that ails Di Maria and can play the role of Messi’s sidekick. Agüero may not have the chemistry with Messi that Di Maria does, but Agüero is a deft finisher who can make an impact for the South American side.

It seems this is the World Cup that Argentina really wants and Brazil’s exit certainly had set the stage for Messi’s side to shoulder the expectations — but it won’t be easy. Without Van Persie or De Jong, the Dutch will surely turn to playmakers like Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben to drive their attack. Not a team of just one or two stars, the Dutch have scored 12 goals so far in the World Cup from seven different goalscorers, meaning Argentina’s defense will need to be organized and tight to prevent openings.

Meanwhile, Argentina has scored just seven goals in Brazil, with Messi accounting for four of them himself. The pressure may be on Messi to continue carrying Argentina, but the Dutch will certainly be looking to keep him at bay. That, of course, is what every team that has faced Argentina to date has attempted to do, but it’s a tall order to stop the Barcelona star for a full 90 or 120 minutes. Messi has shown he can convert on the chances he does get, however few that may be, and he will be the player of the match to watch.

It’s unlikely the fireworks (and embarrassment) of Germany’s 7-1 thrashing Tuesday of Brazil will be seen in Argentina-Netherlands — these two sides look more evenly matched in their approach and confidence coming into this pairing. But if fate exists and storylines matter, then it just may be Argentina’s turn to advance to the World Cup final and finally give Messi that elusive title.


  1. Mexico with a 5-3-2 worked very well. Holland using 5-3-2. Holland wants to make Messi’s game ineffective as a primary defense, but also the entire midfield as much as possible. With this approach Holland will possess and counter when they can going back the other way. Holland should look like the way the USA could play on there best day. Argentina is disciplined well similar to Germany. Both teams will get into the penalty area as much as possible guaranteed. It’s a heavy weight fight today.

  2. Legacies and histories aside, it’s much easier — at least for me — to root today for Argentina than for the Netherlands. The Dutch have carried themselves with a healthy bit of arrogance and gamesmanship, symbolized by Robben’s theatrics and Krul’s in-your-face trash-talking. By contrast, and somewhat suprisingly, given their own reputation for tremendous confidence (see the fans’ song about being better than Brazil), Argentina has been solid and workmanlike, led by the classy and unassuming Messi.

    How will Brazil treat the third-place game — as a chance for redemption, or as a meaningless exhibition? It would be interesting if they came out trying to take out all their frustration on their opponent. And if that opponent is Argentina, we might even get some fireworks.

  3. I don’t know why we make such sweeping generalizations as “the Dutch always cave in high pressure matches” or “South Americans generally have weaker spirits”, etc. Present day teams are composed of individuals who have nothing to do with failures/successes of the past. The game will be won or lost on their individual merits or defects, not their national origins or histories.

  4. ummm in what way do the dutch not have their best player? They still have Robben, Van Persie, Sneijder…De Jong is not the best Dutch player, not by a long shot

  5. I’ve rooted for the Dutch (when US is out) since the Cryuff days and would love to see them finally when the Cup. Should be a good game to day, but I think we have an advantage even without van Persie and de Jong. However, even if we win today we have a very tough Germany to get past in the final. Should be a great game today and then we’ll see. Two more great games this weekend, either way.

  6. I think even the most ardent Argentina backers will find that in Holland and Germany, it faces its greatest possible opponents. Both European squads playing the rock to Argentina’s scissors.

    In general the South American powerhouses, (see Brazil less than 24 hours ago) generally have weaker spirits and do not play well from behind against their European counterparts (well, except England, they too are far too reliant on the star system than the collective). The more dependent squads are on individuality over the collective, the harder the challenge for them to overcome a deficit, willing to push for more goals when leading by 1. I would love to be wrong, because dammit, I want Argentina to win it all now-for messi, but unfortunately history (and die germans/and oranje) says otherwise…

    Why pull for Argentina? Because this just something universal about that #10. The way he plays, and his love for the game just seem to match so many of us who play and dream and do. The way in that you always knew, it is technically possible to pull off a ridiculous series of moves, put a ball on a dime — until reality sets it: the ball takes a weird bounce, glances off a shin, the wrong part of the boot etc… But with him, it is just like watching a symphony being written and played simultaneously.

    Like music, Messi simply transcends all barriers. It does not matter where on earth you go, or with who you watch this beautiful game. All you need is one word to make the futbol fan next to you smile and shake their head. He’s who we all were in our dreams long before we ever knew he existed. For that, for all our restrained joy, we adore him, all of us.

    Just not the Dutch
    (today, anyway).

    For Messi. For Us.


    • That was beautiful, bro. The storylines are in ARG’s favor but NED looks like they cannot be contained!

      • Imperialism wasn’t racist? I know, it’s inappropriate to introduce politics on a soccer blog, but I had to say something.

      • uhm….last time I checked the Dutch are credited to have started the slave trade (colonial period)….I’m sure the Dutch have been racist far longer than the Argentines. Go catch some Reading Rainbow, and read a history book!!!

    • Well said, as a Dutch native, I’m living comfortably between the tension of wanting Messi to win to cement his legacy (well deserved) while at the same time wanting my country to finally overcome this sense that they always self-destruct in the big moments. So if we lose today, I’ll be sad, but I’ll also be happy for Messi to succeed.

  7. I’m rooting for the Dutch-back to back games of Brazil vs Argentina and Germany vs Holland would be a perfect ending to the best World Cup of my life and maybe, ever…

    Dutch winning would leave the best soccer country to never win the World Cup as: Portugal, Mexico or Belgium…

      • that’s kind of the point-who is left with both a pedigree and recent WC success if the Dutch win…Portugal, Belgium, Mexico and US have been to the 1/4 finals twice… the teams between them and the WC winners are: Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and USSR-do not exist anymore, Hungary-a mid tier at best Euro side-Austria, Poland, Switzerland-ditto…Sweden?

        it’s muddied after the Dutch, no rightful soccer nations who hadn’t won yet…

      • Oh trust me, I get your point. Just awesome that Mexico is left in the category of “look at how long you have been serious about this sport and you have never won?” haha

    • If the Dutch win it would mean that pretty much every soccer “power” has won the World Cup. Portugal is maybe in the conversation as a soccer power but not really. Mexico is a regional power but not a soccer power. England isn’t a socce power either but they did win it on home soil. Uruguay is a former power as there small size Asa. Country will limit them going forward forever.

    • Mexico?? Always the same: 1) They go in certain they will win it all, 2) They’re quickly eliminated and 3) They rage about being cheated.

  8. The Netherlands have been to three finals, against Spain, Argentina and Germany, and lost all three. Having exacted revenge on Spain in the first round, they could exercise massive demons by beating Argentina today, and Germany on Sunday. Or they could become the Buffalo Bills of soccer. I’m not one for prognostication, but my blood does run orange (and red/white and blue). Hup Holland!

    • The Dutchies certainly have to be the favorites going in, but reputations are usually rightly formed by actions. There’s a reason why they (like Portugal) are known for crapping the bed under pressure–they nearly did so against the Ticos. Argentina has made it to the top before, and I think this team is still peaking, even without DiMaria. The defense doesn’t totally stink, and Higuin is healthy. To me, the Argie goalie is the big unknown here, as this will be his biggest test.

      • To be fair Holland was extremely unlucky vs Costa Rica. Should have been a very comfortable win if not for the post.

      • the post (and crossbar) is outside the bounds of the goal. the post didn’t do them any disservice–they just needed to aim better.

        pet peeve of mine (probably because i’ve never been an attacker), but i couldn’t stand it when someone bragged about or defended their shot selection because they ‘hit post’. yeah? you should try putting it on goal next time.

        /end rant

      • haha I get you. How bout this: Holland completely outplayed and dominated a bunkering Costa Rica and were very unlucky not to score. Better?

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