World Cup

Thursday 24 July 2014

Argentina keep their dream alive as Dutch pay penalty

Netherlands 0 Argentina 0 (after extra-time; Argentina win 4-2 on penalties)

Henry Winter

Published 10/07/2014|02:30

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Lionel Messi leads the way as Argentina players celebrate after Maxi Rodriguez struck the winning penalty against the Netherlands in the World Cup semi-final in Sao Paolo. Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Lionel Messi leads the way as Argentina players celebrate after Maxi Rodriguez struck the winning penalty against the Netherlands in the World Cup semi-final in Sao Paolo. Photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

After two hours of dreadful, defensive football, Liverpool reject Maxi Rodriguez helped Argentina overwhelm Holland 4-2 on penalties to reach Sunday's World Cup final where they will face Germany, who will have loved watching this stultifying semi-final go to a draining period of extra time.

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The only plus to out of the game was that Argentina’s victory takes Lionel Messi to Rio and the chance to place himself amongst the very greats.

Holland had to rely on Jasper Cillessen as their keeper for the shoot-out as Louis van Gaal had used up all his subs so was unable to bring on Tim Krul, who had thwarted Costa Rica in the quarters. But this was all about Argentina keeper Sergio Romero, who became the hero by saving the efforts of Ron Vlaar and Wesley Schneider.

After Vlaar had missed Holland’s first, Cillessen tried to put Lionel Messi off but the little genius stayed calm, and swept his penalty home.

Arjen Robben stepped forward, and coolly slotted his kick low to Romero's left. Ezequiel Garay took a long run-up and slammed his penalty in, keeping the pressure on the Dutch.

Next up was Sneijder, whose right-footed shot was saved by Romero as the Argentina fans went crazy with delight. Their joy was unconfined when Sergio Aguero stroked home his kick.

Dirk Kuyt had to score and he did, sending Romero the wrong way, but it was to no avail as Rodriguez beat Cillessen to clinch victory.

This result re-establishes one of the great historic World Cup fixtures. It will be a repeat of the 1986 World Cup final when Argentina prevailed in the Azteca in Mexico City and will give Messi the opportunity to match the legendary Diego Maradona, who was tightly marked by the Germans but still managed to sweep that pass through for Jorge Burruchaga to beat Harald Schumacher and win the trophy.

Messi was closely shadowed by the Dutch and he faces a huge task to unravel Germany's defence. But Argentina will not fear the Germans' vaunted attack after defendeding so well here.

Normal time had been such poor fare for the supporters, many of whom were exposed to the rain in this strange, very open stadium, and given little warming entertainment from the players.

The first half was poor, far too cagey, the sides working each other out like boxers in the opening round. It contained little of the fireworks launched by the Germans in the Belo Horizonte semi-final. Messi was largely forced wide, although he alarmed Bruno Martins Indi so much that the defender was booked for persistent baulking and wisely removed at half-time by Van Gaal for Daryl Janmaat.

Few of the stars got going before the break. Robin van Persie and Robben were disappointing, failing to elude Argentine defenders who had shown real signs of improvement as the World Cup has progressed. Martín Demichelis partnered Ezequiel Garay at centre-half, determined to extend a run of not conceding a goal for 253 minutes.

Far from the highs of Belo Horizonte, this was low key. Occasional excitement rippled through the fans but defences dominated. The flair players were too well-marshalled. Pablo Zabaleta blocked a cross from Robben.

A contrast to the shambolic Brazilians 24 hours earlier, the defences revealed timing and determination. Kuyt and Vlaar combined to dispossess Messi. A Lavezzi free-kick was headed clear by Van Persie. Messi struck the ball low and hard, sending it curling round the wall but it was superbly caught by Cillessen, diving to his right.

Argentina were increasingly targeting the space behind Kuyt and particularly Blind. Lavezzi now moved to the right and was beginning to join Messi in troubling Martins Indi.

Argentina were building. A one-two between Perez and Messi was cut out by Vlaar. Lavezzi's corner was met by the leaping Garay, who headed over and took a boot from Vlaar in the face. The neatest touch of the half came from a keeper, Cillessen, who dummied Gonzalo Higuaín with a body swerve that Johan Cruyff would have been proud of.

After a couple of seconds, and with the ball safely transferred forward, Cillessen glanced back at Higuaín, who stared back, unimpressed.

There were then brief concerns for the well-being of Mascherano who leapt to intercept a ball, was beaten by Wiljnadum's flick but carried on and headed the Dutch midfielder. Mascherano staggered around for a few moments but recovered. Typically influential, Mascherano was dropping deep to start moves, sending one long ball to Lavezzi, whose cross was cut out by the sliding Vlaar just before it reached Higuaín. Messi was finding little pockets of space but was also finding Dutch in close company.

De Jong was never further than a few yards away. Sneijder tracked him. So did Blind, and most painfully Martins Indi, who deliberately baulked the No?10. The Feyenoord centre-half escaped with that offence but not moments later when again blatantly impeding Messi. Cuneyt Cakir lost his patience and cautioned the ­centre-half. Sneijder headed up the complaints committee, partly because he had just been caught by Demichelis who went unpunished.

Janmaat's arrival forced a rejig with Blind going to the left of the three centre-halves, Kuyt moving to left wing-back and Janmaat on the right wing. Defences remained in charge. Vlaar intercepted from Messi. On the hour, Van Gaal took off De Jong and sent on Jordy Clasie, leaving him with only one change remaining and needing to have Tim Krul ready for possible penalties.

The game was meandering. Robben and Van Persie were failing to link up. Argentina kept trying to break through the Dutch defence but found Vlaar indomitable. Rather unrecognisable from his Aston Villa self, Vlaar dispossessed Higuaín but then conceded a free-kick with a challenge on the Argentinian No?9 which had something of the linebacker about it.

The rain quickened, almost falling from the skies in tears at the poverty of the proceedings, soaking many of the 63,267 fans in this hybrid stadium. The Dutch almost managed a goal after 73 minutes. Vlaar lofted the ball forward, Robben found the overlapping Janmaat but his cross was too awkward for Van Persie, who hooked the ball over.

Messi continued to be stopped through fair means and foul, such as a body-check from Clasie. As Messi recovered, Pérez flew down the right, drilling a cross towards the near-post but Higuaín could find only the side-netting. Higuaín and Pérez were then taken off for Sergio Agüero and Rodrigo Palacio. Cillessen was almost caught out by a Marcos Rojo long-ranger.

Robben almost prevented extra time with a driving run down the inside-left channel. He could have shot earlier but took the extra touch, allowing Mascherano to stretch out a leg and divert his shot.

Van Gaal then sent on Klaas Jan Huntelaar for Van Persie, meaning that Krul would remain on the bench. The Dutch seemed to raise their game. Robben went on one of those runs. He then cut in from the right, wrong-footing Rojo and bringing a low save from Sergio Romero. Almost 100 minutes and the Dutch had their first shot on target. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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