Netherlands and Argentina will finish off the semifinal round of the 2014 World Cup in a contest fraught with crushing expectations for both teams.
For Argentina, this is its first semifinal since 1990 and its best chance at winning the competition since Diego Maradona ruled the world back in 1986. The fans won't be forgiving, especially after getting so close this year.
For the Netherlands, they are 180 minutes away from securing the country's first World Cup title. The Oranje have been runner-up three times in this competition, twice in the nascent "Total Football" days of the 1970s as well as the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
The winner of this matchup goes on to play Germany in the final on July 13.
Here are the match odds, viewing information and projections for how this semifinal will play out.
|July 9||Netherlands vs. Argentina||Argentina 7/5, Netherlands 2/1, Draw 21/10||4 p.m.||ESPN|
FIFA.com, Odds Shark.com
(Note: Odds courtesy of Odds Shark and updated as of July 8.)
Netherlands vs. Argentina Preview, Prediction
The key for each team will be stopping the other's not-so-secret weapon. For the Dutch, that means wrangling the little nuisance that is Lionel Messi, while Argentina must prevent Arjen Robben from cutting left and cutting the team down to size.
Messi's game has been a bit more complete than Robben's in this tournament. He plays all over the pitch, dropping deep to pick up the ball before navigating his way through a forest of midfielders and setting up his running mates Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Angel di Maria.
He has four goals and one assist in this tournament. He also averages 3.8 key passes and 5.8 successful dribbles per game. There is very little on the pitch that Messi hasn't done at one point or another.
Unfortunately, Di Maria's thigh injury rules him out of this contest, greatly reducing La Albiceleste's speed down the flank. ESPN's Paul Carr noted Di Maria's high-volume impact on the attack:
Ángel di María goes off w/ an injury. He leads Argentina w/ 24 shots & 187 attacking-third touches at this WC.— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) July 5, 2014
This injury should allow the likes of Daley Blind and Dirk Kuyt to move up the pitch on counterattacks without too much fear of getting caught on the break.
As Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl noted, Robben doesn't relax for a second out on the pitch:
Robben is absolutely relentless for 120 minutes.— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) July 5, 2014
His relentless energy and direct method of attacking leads to numbers like the ones he put up against Costa Rica, per Squawka Football:
Robben is an individualist, no doubt, but the pressure he puts on the defense opens up space for the likes of Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder in the final third. Sneijder has been able to get off clean shots from his central-midfield position thanks to Robben, averaging 3.2 shots per contest.
Besides the ultra-famous and highly competent attackers featured in both squads, the defensive units for each team might be the real reason each side has made it this far into the tournament.
Netherlands came in with a young, mostly untested back line and have allowed just four goals in the tournament.
Argentina's undoing was supposed to be the defense, but the central partnership of Ezequiel Garay and Martin Demichelis has done well to disrupt the oppositions' attack.
Javier Mascherano has also been superb shielding the back line—4.8 tackles per match—for Argentina, although the commitment to defense seems to be more of a problem for Argentina than it does for the Netherlands.
Argentina's possession-based style—its maintained the ball 61.3 percent of the time in this tournament, highest of any team remaining—doesn't always click with Mascherano and Lucas Biglia committed to defending.
The 5-3-2 employed by Dutch coach Louis van Gaal seems to work particularly well for absorbing pressure and breaking on the counter. If the likes of Ron Vlaar and Blind can shut down Messi, Argentina should be playing right into the Oranje's strengths.
While we're getting into tactics, the Dutch do seem to have the advantage on the sidelines. Van Gaal has made a number of brave decisions in this tournament, almost all of them working out to perfection.
He substituted in goalkeeper Tim Krul for penalties against Costa Rica, and famously used a cooling break in a 2-1 victory over Mexico to switch tactics and get the crucial win his team needed. His confidence in switching tactics rubs off on his players.
What will be the outcome of Netherlands vs. Argentina?
"He knows exactly what's going to happen, if it's not happening then he changes to something that works," said Vlaar after the Mexico match, via a report from the BBC. "It gives a lot of confidence to the players-we have a manager capable of changing something and that's great."
Coach Alejandro Sabella is a steady hand, but he is no match for the brilliance of Van Gaal in this tournament. This should be the downfall for Argentina.
Robben will run rampant, the flanks are there for the taking in the 5-3-2 and the Dutch should be able to contain, but not completely stop, Messi.
Prediction: Netherlands 3-2 Argentina
All stats courtesy of WhoScored.com unless otherwise noted.