Key Battles That Will Shape Argentina's Clash with the Netherlands
Two of football's giants will face off in the World Cup semi-final on Wednesday, so which are the key battles that will shape this mega-clash between Argentina and the Netherlands?
With stars all over the pitch, there will be various fascinating individual contests occurring that will shape the match overall.
Decisions made by the respective managers, Louis van Gaal and Alejandro Sabella, on how to best deal with their opponents' leading lights will also be critical.
Here are four key battles that could determine who reaches the World Cup final.
Sneijder vs. Mascherano
Aside from Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano has arguably been Argentina's best player at this World Cup.
Though he is used to playing in defence at club level these days, in national team colours, Mascherano plays the role of midfield general that comes most naturally to him.
Dutch playmaker Wesley Sneijder, meanwhile, might not be at his playing peak as he was four years ago in 2010, but he has demonstrated in Brazil that he is still very much a big-game player who can cut open a defence with a single pass or hit the back of the net when the pressure is on.
Argentina's vice-captain has the important task of initiating his side's attacks from deep in midfield, but in this semi-final, he must also keep a very close eye on Sneijder.
Shutting down the Netherlands' creative hub will go a long way to swinging the contest in the Albiceleste's favour.
Rojo vs. Robben
The most devastating attacking threat for the Dutch is without doubt Arjen Robben.
Incredibly quick, skilful and crafty, he can break a game open in a matter of seconds.
Like Messi, when Robben picks the ball up in space, you've got a good idea of what he's going to do, but stopping him is another matter altogether.
The Bayern Munich man will no doubt drift all over the park, but his most common route of attack is down the right flank, meaning returning Argentina left-back Marcos Rojo will have a huge task on his hands in containing him.
Rojo was viewed as a weak point in Argentina's line-up before the World Cup began, but he has actually had a fine tournament so far despite his suspension in the quarter-final.
The Argentine won't have the pace to match Robben, so he must use his guile to manage the Dutchman's runs.
He won't be able to do it all on his own, either, and will require help from the likes of Ezequiel Lavezzi, Lucas Biglia and Mascherano.
Lavezzi vs. Blind
A driving force down the left flank for the Dutch throughout Brazil 2014, Daley Blind will be another player whom Sabella will be keen to neutralise.
If the Argentine coach opts for a 4-4-2, with Lavezzi on the right of midfield, then the Paris Saint-Germain man will have the job of stopping Blind's forays forwards to go along with his attacking duties.
Blind, meanwhile, must be careful not to get too adventurous. Lavezzi is possessed of blistering pace and will be looking to exploit any open space behind the left-back.
Sabella may yet opt for five at the back, meaning he has plenty of width to deal with Robben and Blind.
Cillessen vs. Messi
Van Gaal showed tremendous courage in taking off his No. 1 goalkeeper, Jasper Cillessen, in the last minute of extra time against Costa Rica in order to bring on penalty specialist Tim Krul.
The gamble paid off, with Krul stopping two Costa Rican penalties to guide his side through to the semi-finals.
Cillessen is expected to reclaim his spot between the posts from the start against Argentina, where he will have a daunting attack, headed by Messi, to contend with.
Thibaut Courtois showed in the quarter-finals that Messi can be kept at bay to some extent through outstanding goalkeeping.
Whether Cillessen can produce a similar display to stop Argentina's main man remains to be seen. Even if he's at the top of his game, he'll require a great deal of assistance from the men in front of him to stop Messi from scoring.
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