Arena Corinthians, Sao Paulo
Time: Wednesday, July 9, 20:00 GMT (01:30 IST)
Netherlands find themselves in a strange position in the FIFA World Cup 2014. After shocking the world by dismantling the World Champions, Spain, they threatened to run away with the competition only to find themselves being held back by teams whom they can sidestep in their sleep. Yes, they have indeed struggled to find their way past teams like Mexico and Costa Rica and yet they are in the semi-finals of this World Cup.
Argentina, on the other hand, didn’t exactly have the best of campaigns so far. They too have struggled to win matches against Iran, Nigeria, Switzerland and Belgium. While they are without a doubt, one of the strongest teams in this World Cup, they are yet to stamp their authority. And what better way to do that than to eliminate the 2010 finalists!
Team News and Tactical Brief
Netherlands started off this tournament as one of the favourites to lift the coveted trophy. Having played in the ill-tempered final from last time, Netherlands are no stranger to playing in big matches and under van Gaal, they have a manager, who can go to any extent to achieve the desired results; and yes, sometimes that means playing ugly and winning.
From van Persie’s flying header in their opening match to Robben’s alleged dive for the winning penalty, Netherlands have been at the center of all things related to football and beyond. Led by one of the best-recognized coaches in the world, Netherlands have it in them to go the whole way, but the question remains – do they have the desire to do so? In their last match against Costa Rica, they failed to find the back of the net and although, they hit the crossbar on more than one occasion, the bottom-line remains that they have failed to score a goal from open play. It was only due to the tactical genius of van Gaal, who replaced Cillessen with Krul in the dying moments of the game, that his team is still in the competition.
Netherlands will line up in a 3-4-1-2 formation with Cillessen under the bar. Van Gaal made it quite clear that although Krul was favored in the penalty shoot-out, there remains no mystery over the no. 1 goalkeeper spot. The back-line will be formed by Vrij on the right, Indi on the left with Vlaar playing through the center. Netherlands will be missing the likes of De Jong due to injury while Leroy Fer is also doubtful for this match. The defensive screen in front of defense will be formed by Guzman and Wijnaldum, while Kuyt will play on the right with Blind on the left.
The midfield will be formed by Sneijder playing through the middle. Robben will start this match besides van Persie up top, but as the match progresses, he is likely to play in a more central position. If the need arises, Sneijder might be pushed to the left with Robben taking up the right flank, where he can cause maximum damage.
Possible Starting Line-up (3-4-1-2): Cillessen(GK); Vrij, Vlaar, Indi; Kuyt, Guzman, Wijnaldum, Blind; Sneijder; van Persie, Robben
Argentina will be missing the services of Di Maria for this match and in all probability, he is out of this World Cup. Having suffered a thigh strain in the previous match, Di Maria was immediately subbed. Later, it was revealed that his injury is similar to the one suffered by Aguero earlier in the tournament. While his absence will not be catastrophic like that of Neymar, but he is certainly one of the most important cogs in the Argentine attack line and surely, his absence will be keenly felt by everyone on the field. It has almost been a one-man show for Argentina, with Messi leading the team almost single-handedly. He has received adequate support from his teammates and he, in turn have turned provider.
Argentina is likely to deploy a 4-3-1-2 formation with Romero under the bar. The back-line will be formed by Zabaleta on the right, Rojo on the left with Garay and Demichelis playing through the center. Rojo will return to the team after his suspension and he will replace Basanta. Also, Sabella might choose to start with Demichelis instead of Fernandez. Although Argentina have struggled to score goals in this tournament, they did resemble a squad capable of going far in this tournament since their previous match against Belgium. Most of that will be placed on Belgium’s inability to score goals, but for a neutral observer, that match represented Argentina’s best team performance till date.
The midfield will be formed by Perez on the right, Gago on the left with Mascherano playing through the center. He has indeed been a busybody in the Argentina midfield and in the previous match, he was all over the field. For every step the opposition took, there was Mascherano looking to break up play. Messi will play just behind the strikers for this match, although as the match progresses, he will move all over the field, dragging the defense line and making way for his teammates. The forward line will be formed by Aguero and Higuain, with the latter looking to build on his goal from the previous match.
Possible Starting Line-up (4-3-1-2): Romero(GK); Zabaleta, Garay, Demichelis, Rojo; Perez, Mascherano, Gago; Messi; Aguero, Higuain
Player to Watch Out For
At the beginning of the World Cup, there was a lot of noise generated around the partnership of Robben, van Persie and Sneijder. However, barring the first match, Netherlands has solely depended on Robben to lead them to victory and guide them over tough times. Robben, on his part, has been one of the outstanding players in this World Cup and more than van Persie, opposition players have looked to mark him. His pace, trickery and guile has flat-footed many a defenders and from the looks of it, it seems that he is yet to stop. Questions have been raised about his penchant for diving in the box, and Robben has not made himself much endeared when he accepted that he had dived in the game.
There has been a lot of noise about Messi’s performance in the Argentine national shirt. Although it would be wrong to say that those have been totally unfair, Messi did have a lot to prove in this particular World Cup. 2010 was remembered more for the image of Maradona comforting Messi than for the drubbing they received at the hands of Germany. However, Messi has indeed stepped up and performed whenever his team required. While most of the superstars saved themselves from tackles in order to prolong their club appearances, Messi has taken it upon himself to lead Argentina, almost single-handedly. The best part about him has been the fact that he is actually enjoying this time and that is something every football fan would want to see.
Netherlands 0 – 1 Argentina
There are no clear favourites going into this match, but even for a neutral, a South American country will be the favored one to proceed to the final. Both Netherlands and Argentina have battled their way to this stage, and at the end, it might come down to one moment of inspiration or a stroke of genius to settle the tie. Legends are born out of matches like this and players from both sides will leave no stones unturned to etch their names in history.