The second semi final was thought to be one of the most evenly matched tie seen in the World Cup since a long time. Louis van Gaal’s overachieving Netherlands versus Alejandro Sabella’s gritty and superb Argentina. After Germany humiliated Brazil, this match had a lot of expectations. Netherlands welcomed back Nigel De Jong, whose return couldn’t have been timelier. They also continued with Janmaat on the bench and Mr. Versatile Dirk Kuyt started at right wing back. Argentina continued with with their firing front line and welcomed Enzo Perez to the side. This match would be won in midfield and the tactical nous of both managers would be instrumental. Who would join the Germans at the Maracana?
The game disappointed, to say the least. We saw many posts on various social networking sites after the game about “watch the Netherlands vs Argentina game’s highlights”, and we amusingly thought, “What highlights?”
It was goalless through 2 hours of football and we needed penalties to decide the victor, where The Albiceleste made it through. The game was supposed to be a free flowing attacking masterclass from both sides but it was the exact opposite. This World Cup had had everything in it; attacking ruthlessness, a perfect blend of attack and defence, surprises and shocks, drama in extra time and even a few penalty shootouts. Looking at that list, we’d say almost everything. This match gave us the 2 best defensive performances seen in an international game since a brazillion years. Netherlands’ in house lion Ron Vlaar had the game of the tournament (although, he missed a penalty), Mascherano was immense and had the most telling contribution to the game with a super block for a Robben effort some 100 minutes into the game, that would’ve ended Argentina’s run, otherwise. Lionel Messi was subdued and was not given even a inch of space as he tried to work his magic on the game, being hustled out by Vlaar and De Jong who were his constant shadow. He was very hard working though, trying time and again to work with his teammates, but could only impact the game by dispatching a penalty past Cillessen.
The same could be said for Arjen Robben, who had a spiffing tournament. He was not allowed to dribble and was shut out by Marcos Rojo and a very enterprising Javier Mascherano. The only time Robben got a sniff at goal, his shot was blocked by the former and his only other chance at goal was the penalty he converted. He did link up superbly with Dirk Kuyt who had a game which was confusing. While deployed in an orthodox position, he was nifty and tidy in passing and was ever present in defence when Argentina attacked. That being said, his crosses were dismal. All of them were over hit and never really troubling Garay and Co. He calmly scored his penalty and can now bow out with pride, with an amazing achievement of playing in all 3 outfield positions across the pitch (striker, winger, wing back) in 3 different World Cups.
Enzo Perez was very creative in midfield, for the only South American side in the World Cup. His touches were swift and he was linking up with some effect only to be battered down to the ground time and again by Bruno Martins Indi. The two #9s were extremely poor and could not force any clear chances on goal. Higuain had found his old form again and RvP was outmatched physically and had no standpoint impact in the game. He could not link up with anybody and was a tremendous disappointment. Stefan De Vrij and Martin Demichelis were disciplined and stopped every attack; they could do little about the goals in the shootout, obviously. They were rock solid and kept trying to find a pass that would start a good attack. Nigel De Jong had a strong 60 minutes, stopping Messi and being a good pivot for Netherlands. The manager then replaced him, at a crucial juncture with someone who had not played a single minute of World Cup football (obviously!), in Jordy Clasie. The youngster had a good start, finding a nice rhythm and his free flowing passes were quite eye-catching. He should have been tighter while defending and should have put his shooting boots on, as he constantly chose not to shoot from afar, although he had time and space. Wesley Sneijder was another disappointment, missing his penalties and failing to exude any influence on the game. His slick play with Robben almost led to a goal, but for the rest of the game he just seemed to be passing the ball Tom Cleverley style. He did not even complete one pass to Robin van Persie, something very unexpected by the playmaker.
What do we say about Jasper Cillessen and Sergio Romero? The custodians between the sticks, they did their job when called upon during the 120. Cillessen saved Messi’s free kick and was cool as a cucumber in the penalty area, stepping aside Higuain once and Aguero once more, this time during extra time. His delaying tactics, etc, were not enough as he wasn’t decisive enough while saving the spot kicks. He could’ve saved Maxi Rodriguez’s winning penalty, but we cannot really say much to blame him. Sergio Romero was superb although he didn’t have a single save to make during the match. His penalty saves versus Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder (which was stunning) meant that he was hero of the moment and Wesley Sneijder was the victim of the trauma.
The match ended 0-0 with Argentina winning 4-2 on penalties. Fun fact: There were more goals in the Brazil – Germany game (8) than the shootout (6).
Although Netherlands crashed out of the world cup, we cannot say they deserved to. Even if Argentina edged into the finals, we cannot say they deserved it. There was no flair in this game, it was tense but boring. Many said that the 2 teams will be going out and trying to win it, but in reality, they didn’t even try to come out of their comfort zone as there was simply too much at stake. For Netherlands, what could have been a fairy tale, ended being sort of an anti-climax. After the Dutch media had written off the Oranje’s chances in Brazil, they have surpassed expectations and Louis van Gaal has already warmed up Manchester United fans to himself with his rational and jaw dropping tactics and his ability to win games in many different ways. For Argentina, the dream lives on, as they are now 90 minutes away from claiming a World Cup on Brazilian soil. Winning the World Cup would mean a lot to Lionel Messi, who will definitely earth his position into the best ever players of the game. That being said, if Argentina play the way did versus Holland, Germany will go on to trample them. We await an exciting final at the Maracana, but probably a more interesting match for 3rd place.
FIFA Man Of The Match: Javier Mascherano
He was an absolute commander in midfield. Anything that was good, went through him and he shuffled effortlessly from attack to defence. Argentina would be preparing for Brazil on Saturday if not for his tremendous block, late into the game. He took control of speeches too, being a motivational leader to his teammates and seeing this performance of his, Luis Enrique might just be tempted to play the former Liverpool man in midfield.
Our Man Of The Match: Ron Vlaar
The Defender General capped in his best performance of the tournament with a super display. He was always there whenever there was a hint of danger, be it backing Martins Indi, Blind or De Vrij. Rock solid in his aerial duels, he kept one of the best players ever at bay for 120 minutes. Very solid and focused performance, albeit him missing a penalty.
Our Flop Of The Match: Robin van Persie
A dismal performance by the former Arsenal captain who looked listless and tired throughout. Was physically outmatched at all times by Biglia and lacked a proper first touch. Was not commanding enough is possession and he should be disappointed with his performance, and World Cup overall, as he hasn’t fired since the Australia game.