The World Cup Semifinals between Argentina and the Netherlands will see two of the top performing teams of the tournament fight for a spot in the finals. While the Dutch hope to make consecutive final appearances, Argentina will be scrambling to find a niche up top that works well without the playmaking attacker, Ángel di María. The player’s absence will make it much more difficult to defeat the likes of a steady Oranje defense. For now, the odds favor the better-equipped Netherlands to advance to the World Cup finals after defeating a one-dimensional Argentina.
The Netherlands performed extremely well in group play, from slapping Spain with a demoralizing 5-1 defeat, to scoring twice against Mexico’s Memo Ochoa, arguably one of the top performing goalkeepers of the tournament. The Dutch have shown themselves to be tactically versatile against different opposing strategies. This protean quality—undoubtedly a learned behavior from mastermind Louis van Gaal—is arguably more valuable than the individual talent that the team possesses.
Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie have three goals apiece (not counting penalty kicks), and have been a consistent attacking force for the Dutch. Add Wesley Sneijder and Memphis Depay to that mix and the goals and assists just keep on coming. The odds favor the Netherlands because, frankly, they have shown themselves capable of performing solidly and consistently throughout the tournament.
After punching in the numbers, both Argentina and the Netherlands average about 11 shots on goal per game. This might lead one to believe that the teams are evenly matched, however the Netherlands still have much better odds and here is why:
Drawing from FIFA’s game stats, Argentina has a total of 87 shots, 56 of which were on goal. This means that 64 percent of Argentina’s shots stand the chance of seeing the back of the net, in theory. However, if one factors in the number of goals Argentina has logged—eight—the percentages start to look pretty grim. As it stands now, a shot on goal for Argentina only stands a 14 percent chance of scoring. Keep in mind that Argentina has dominated ball possession in each of its games so far, and things start to look even shoddier.
Netherlands, on the other hand, may have fewer shots than Argentina but they manage to convert a higher percentage of scoring opportunities. Not only do 75 percent of shots taken by the Dutch have a chance of scoring, but in light of the team’s 12 goals thus far, 21 percent of shots on goal have found the back of the net for the Oranje. The superiority is only magnified when one considers that the Dutch have managed to pull off better odds despite being unable to dominate ball possession in two of their five games so far this World Cup.
To divert from the truculent nature of statistics it is important to keep in mind that part of what makes the game of football so brilliant is its capacity to defy the odds, lest every Jane with a calculator would be a bookie’s best friend by now. So in ditching the numbers for a moment, the Netherlands stand to win on the grounds that they have a more evenly displaced offensive threat whose guile has opened the doors to more set-piece opportunities than deserved. Robben’s ability to draw the foul—and the dive—has given the Oranje free-kick opportunities in dangerous areas around the box.
Argentina’s side will be missing the playmaking ability of Ángel di María, as the player was ruled out with an injury during the team’s quarterfinal match against Belgium. However they still have good performances left in Gonzalo Higuaín and Ezequiel Lavezzi. Though Sergio Agüero has been cleared to play, it is uncertain whether or not he will be starting for Argentina tomorrow. It will be interesting to see how the Dutch manage to shut down Messi centrally, a tactical topic of focus that van Gaal has undoubtedly covered with his defensive midfield.
Tomorrow’s semifinal between Argentina and the Netherlands will take place at the Arena Corinthians in São Paulo, and the winner will be set to face off against either Germany or Brazil in the 2014 World Cup finals on July 13. The Netherlands stand a better chance of winning in terms of holistic team performance when compared to Argentina’s one-dimensional programme and as such the team is better equipped to defeat Argentina.
Read more Guardian Liberty Voice Coverage on the FIFA World Cup Semifinals
Commentary by Courtney Anderson