Now that Germany has secured a spot in the 2014 FIFA World Cup finals after defeating host nation Brazil by a demoralizing 7-1, the second spot will be filled by the winner of the match between Argentina and the Netherlands. Argentina will be missing Ángel di María, but will regain the likes of Sergio Agüero, though it is uncertain whether or not the player will see any playing time. While Argentina gains back crucial players, they stand a better chance of defeating a newly wounded Netherlands, who are experiencing a late-onset of player illness and injury.
It has been 14 years since Argentina last saw the pitch at a World Cup final, and the team remains confident that their current strategy can carry them through this time around. Argentina’s defeat against Belgium was an early decided 1-0 victory. The goal was significant for the team because it was the result of a collaboration between Ángel di María and Gonzalo Higuaín. In other words, accused crutch Lionel Messi was only a third-party player in the matter.
Messi passed the ball off to di María and sat back in the midfield as di María attempted a slotted pass to Higuaín. Despite the pass being deflected, Higuaín was still able to get off a phenomenal one-touch strike that Belgium’s keeper had no chance at saving. The goal awoke the lore that there exists an Argentine offense outside of Messi.
One Guardian Liberty Voice writer has taken to citing statistics to support the likelihood that Argentina will fall victim to a more efficient and even-keeled Netherlands in today’s match. The narrowness of solely hiding behind statistics need not be explained in depth here, and though most previews favored Germany to beat Brazil, there was no statistical prelim that could have foreseen the blowout that the game turned out to be.
One thing that was easily observed in the Germany-Brazil game was the massive effect that missing crucial players had on Brazil’s performance—or more accurately, Germany’s outperformance of Brazil. Similarly, the Netherlands may be without some of its most effective players today. Questions have arisen regarding van Persie and playmaker Daryl Janmaat, who both missed practice yesterday with gastrointestinal complaints. There are also some question marks looming over certain Oranje defenders as well: a recipe for disaster for the Netherlands, but a prime opportunity for Argentina.
Argentina play a very central game, but their match against Belgium started to show signs of more diverse offensive drives. There were long balls to the flanks and Higuaín had moments of taking the ball down the side and sending crosses from the corner. These were just early-game glimpses, however. By the second half, Argentina reverted back to a Messi-centric posture.
The advantage that Argentina has is that the Netherland’s star player has become just as textbook as Messi. Bottom line: Argentina’s defense must shut down Robben on the right side and keep him from cutting back to his left foot. Marcos Rojo is set to return to the Argentine back line today, and will likely be charged with closing down Robben.
An unlikely twist of fate for the Netherlands regarding the match’s appointed central referee may play out well for Argentina. Cüneyt Çakır of Turkey has already officiated two Group stage games (Algeria-Russia, 1-1 and Brazil-Mexico 0-0) and issued a total of nine yellow cards this World Cup, which sets the stage for a good chance that the referee will be on the lookout for Robben’s dives. Çakır has a past with van Persie, too, who criticized the official last year for issuing fellow Manchester United player, Nani, a red card during a match against Real Madrid.
Sergio Agüero may prove to be the ideal remedy for Argentina now that di María is out with injury, and the return of Rojo will be a much-needed relief for the Argentine back line. Though Agüero’s presence on the pitch will be crucial, it is still uncertain whether his fitness will be where it needs to be, or if he will even start the game. In the end, Messi is the player to shut down for the Netherlands, however the Oranje will have to do so without some crucial defenders today.
Oranje center back Ron Vlaar will miss today’s match with a knee injury and there are questions about whether midfielder Leroy Fer will be able to play through a thigh injury. Defender Nigel de Jong has missed the past few games after incurring a groin injury during the team’s match against Mexico, so it seems as though the Oranje have gone through much of their back line reserves at this point. One can almost hear Messi cheering far off in the distance, or it might be the sound of stomping down on statistics.
The 2014 World Cup semifinals between the Netherlands and Argentina will decide which team gets to progress to the finals and take on Die Mannschaft. Argentina has a good chance against a petering Oranje, but will need to be on their attacking A-game. The time has never been better for Argentina to take advantage of and defeat a wounded Netherlands squad.
Read more Guardian Liberty Voice coverage of the FIFA World Cup Semifinals
Commentary by Courtney Anderson