In a repeat of a grand World Cup final exactly 36 years ago to the day, the 2010 runners-up; Netherlands, will have to overcome an old South American football powerhouse in Argentina in a mouthwatering semi-final to book a place in the final against Germany. It is crunch time. Who can deliver under the pressure of the World Cup Semi-Final?
Argentina vs. Netherlands
What Should We Expect
This match has all the dressings suited for a clash of the ages, with two heavyweights of world football taking centre stage for a place in the illustrious World Cup Final. However, I don’t exactly expect this particular semi-final match to be as spectacular of a game as one would expect it to be; never-the-less, it should be a fascinating tactical battle. This run-out possess all of the ingredients for a thoroughly engaging and intriguing match – both sides’ formations are currently undecided, both sides have a big injury doubt in a key position and both teams have one particular individual that the opposing side simply must stop!
Argentina seek their first appearance in the Grande Dance since 1990 and with having seemingly shaken off the pressure that comes with playing on your own continent, the Lionel Messi led side look more prepared now than ever to punch their dance card.
Alejandro Sabella’s side produced maybe their finest performance to date in their quarter-final victory over Belgium, where they displayed greater fluidity in their forward thrusts and kept things much tighter across the back.
Argentina will be without Angel Di Maria; which will be a huge blow considering the Real Madrid midfielder brings so much to the table: energy, dribbling and someone who combines very nicely with Leo Messi. There’s no obvious replacement for Di Maria within the Argentina squad. In fact, it is difficult to think of a similar player anywhere in the world and therefore Sabella will probably have to reformat his side for this particular match.
I expect Sabella to use the mold that he implemented after Di Maria’s departure from the quarter-final win over Belgium, which included central midfielder Enzo Perez tucked inside on the right with Ezequiel Lavezzi doing the same on the left and then dropping Messi in behind Gonzalo Higuain.
One wrinkle, however, is the return of Marcos Rojo who was suspended from the quarter-final and replaced with Jose Basanta. The inclusion of Rojo more-than-likely means that Argentina will have to rotate themselves into a 5-3-2 shape which in reality could actually be a more natural formation with Lavezzi making way. This would be a huge gamble from Sabella, who used that system in the first half of Argentina’s opener against Bosnia without success and would risk upsetting Messi, who understandably disliked that set-up.
The joker in this desk is the potential return of Sergio Aguero. However, whether he returns or not doesn’t really solve Argentina’s problem pertaining to not having a proper replacement for Di Maria and in itself would actually be quite the gamble. As good as Aguero is, he always seems to take a while to reach full match-fitness after suffering an injury setback
Conversely, the Oranje are on the verge of making back-to-back World Cup finals for only the second time in their history and that is largely due to their eclectic and explosive three-high front runners.
The Netherlands were desperately unlucky not to dispose of the plucky Costa Rica side in regular time, however what occurred during those 120’ should serve as a warning for Louis van Gaal’s side that they need to take their chances without hesitation against the mighty “umph” of their home continent semifinal opponents.
Louis van Gaal also has selection doubts, because there are rumors that Nigel de Jong could return early from injury, which would be a significant boost to his side. Against Costa Rica, Van Gaal put-out the midfield combination of Wesley Sneijder and Georginio Wijnaldum. That pair did the trick against the ‘ticos, but that tandem just isn’t good enough when going-up against Lionel Messi. De Jong would be a perfect destroyer to man-mark Messi and he’s probably worth a gamble in that holding position.
I expect Van Gaal to revert back to the 3-4-1-2 system he implemented back in the group stage. He can afford to play an attack-minded wing-back on the left, which means he’ll probably go with Memphis Depay or Dirk Kuyt, but on the right against Lavezzi he’s more-than-likely to favour a defensive-minded player such as Daryl Janmaat or Paul Verhaegh. Obviously in the middle, Daley Blind is the logical running partner for De Jong.
Let’s Battle – Lionel Messi vs Arjen Robben
It is a head-to-head match-up that makes the World Cup the spectacle that it is, allowing two of the world’s best players to show their worth on the biggest international stage.
Both Messi and Robben have excelled at the club level and now the opportunity is in in their sights for one of these great footballer to take their nation onto the next level.
In one corner, Lionel Messi heads into this semi-final clash having finally reached his potential at the international level and having already scored four goals in Brazil. We can all be assured that the Barcelona forward will be eager to add to that tally.
His lightning quick feet and sudden bursts of explosive pace have been an exciting feature at this year’s tournament and it has been his ability to pop up in the dying moments of a match that has been crucial in Argentina’s progression.
In the other corner, Arjen Robben, has never been too far away from controversy during the World Cup and his theatrics in trying to get fouls called in his favour have somewhat overshadowed his exceptional tournament form to date.
He was at his best during the quarter-final win over Costa Rica and although he could not find the nylon behind the posts, he will head into this gargantuan clash confident of silencing the diving critics by finding the back of the net.
What I’ve found the most interesting about the Netherlands’ system is their insistence on man-marking in the midfield zone, which in this match-up means Wesley Sneijder will press Javier Mascherano, Blind will be on Lucas Biglia and De Jong will be up against Messi. This will force the Argentine centre-backs to show their passing ability, as easy balls into the midfield zone won’t always be available.
They’ve also had a tendency to man-mark at the back, so I would expect Higuain to be tracked very tightly. The key is whether Argentina have anyone bursting into that space behind the defense, something that hasn’t been obvious in their campaign so far. If so, then Lavezzi would be the obvious candidate and if it him, then he must play a very energetic role in the absence of Di Maria. Nevertheless, Argentina’s play might simply be too slow to break down this Dutch defense.
The Netherlands’ strategy will be about breaking quickly, primarily through Arjen Robben. Previously having started out wide-right against Costa Rica, I expect him to return to a more central position here, drifting wide into the channels when the opportunity arises.
It’s really difficult for me to envision any of the Argentina defenders against Robben in a one-versus-one situation coming-out on top, so it’s imperative that Argentina get numbers around him.
How Will This One Tip?
Both sides will enjoy the cooler temperatures that come with the late eve semi-final kick-off time and that should bode well for a fast and entertaining contest.
Argentina will definitely have the majority of the support inside the Arena Corinthians and that itself could prove to be the deciding factor if this match does end-up going the distance.
The Netherlands are currently motivated by the chance of redemption from losing the 2010 final and they will be desperate to give themselves a shot of making that happen. However, they will need a fast start against a now coherent Argentina side and by putting them on the back foot and allowing their pace to be used to its full extent will be vital.
However, the Argentines have their very own pace up front and it might just be the midfield and their ability to dispossess the opposition and start a counter-attack that will be pivotal in deciding the outcome.
What’s My Call?
Netherlands 1; Argentina 2 – in extra-time
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