The FIFA World Cup semifinal match between Argentina and the Netherlands was decided by penalty kicks and will see Argentina through to play Germany in the World Cup finals. The game ended tragically for the Dutch who were unable to perform as effectively in penalty kicks as they did against Costa Rica in the quarterfinals. Argentina will face Die Mannschaft on July 13 at the Estádio Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro.
There were a few surprises in the Oranje starting lineup against Argentina. Nigel de Jong, who was ruled unfit for the Costa Rica match after suffering a groin injury against Mexico, was considered to be an unlikely candidate for today’s game despite warming up with the squad during training. Whatever gastrointestinal ailment had plagued Robin van Persie was a nonissue at kickoff, as was Ron Vlaar’s purported knee injury.
In the first half, Argentina came out more aggressive offensively, and was likewise able to close down the majority of the Oranje attack. Javier Mascherano gave an outstanding performance on defense by thwarting much of Arjen Robben’s attempts up top and by supplying a healthy dose of support offensively.
Though the Netherlands were unable to maintain possession in the midfield as effectively as Argentina in the first half, they did not get caught playing in a defensive posture. The Oranje offensive combinations consisted largely of long lofted balls to van Persie, and in the second half, services into the box from Dirk Kuyt on the left side.
Lionel Messi was an absolute workhorse in the first half and was no stranger to his own team’s defensive third, winning balls and initiating counter-attacks. However Oranje coach Louis van Gaal made some crucial lineup alterations for the second half that helped the Netherlands neutralize Messi.
Bruno Martins Indi was replaced by Daryl Janmaat, which allowed for Kuyt to return to the left side where he has been the most effective throughout the 2014 World Cup. The benefits of the lineup shift were immediately visible, however Argentina’s defense remained strong and consistent, dooming the game to a scoreless finish and extra time.
Extra time saw some of only real offensive threats from both sides. Robben sparked to life and begun to dictate the pace up top, but rather than drawing the foul, had numerous fouls called on him instead. Maxi Rodríguez had the opportunity to end things off a cross from Messi in the 117th minute, however the player gave a poor strike to the ball and Dutch goalkeeper, Jasper Cillessen, was able to make the easy save. Visibly frustrated with the officiating, the Oranje continued to apply pressure and dominate the game in extra time. Unfortunately, neither team was able to convert, and the 2014 FIFA World Cup semifinal game between Argentina and the Netherlands was to be decided by penalty kicks.
One of the major changes for the Dutch this time around was that van Gaal did not go with Tim Krul in goal. To complicate matters, Ron Vlaar, who had given a phenomenal performance during the match, was unable to convert the first penalty kick for the Dutch. The twofold setback was ominous, and visibly damaging to the Dutch squad’s morale.
Messi and Ezequiel Garay both finished their penalties, and Robben was able to put the Dutch on the scoreboard by converting his shot, however, Wesley Sneijder’s shot did not make it past Argentina’s Sergio Romero. After Sergio Agüero and Maxi Rodríguez made their penalties, the Netherlands’ fate had been sealed, and the team’s run in the 2014 World Cup came to a devastating close.
Argentina will take the victory with open arms and prepare to meet Germany in the World Cup finals for the third time in history. The Dutch defeat comes with some unease, however, and there will undoubtedly be much discussion surrounding van Gaal’s choice in goal. In the end, Argentina will make well on their plight to become the 2014 FIFA World Cup champions next Sunday.
Commentary by Courtney Anderson
Read more Guardian Liberty Voice Coverage on the FIFA World Cup Semifinals
Observation by author