It’s safe to say that the World Cup has absolutely flown by—there are just three matches remaining heading into the second semi-final, but it’s like we’ve barely gotten started.
Luckily for us fans, the final three matches in Brazil are all set to be the most dramatic of the tournament so far, starting with the Netherlands’ Wednesday showdown with Argentina for a place in the final.
Both sides snuck through the quarter-finals to reach the last four, but they’ll be determined to take their chances in Sao Paulo with the stakes higher than ever. Let’s take a look at how the drama could unfold.
Venue: Arena de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo
Date: Wednesday, July 9
Time: 9 p.m. BST/4 p.m. ET
Battle of the Forwards in Sao Paulo
If there’s one thing that Wednesday’s game looks like promising the world, it’s goals.
With the likes of Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie all in action, a high-scoring affair would be far from a surprise.
However, both sides have scored just three goals between them in normal time of the knockout stage so far, so let’s hope that something is going to give.
The Netherlands’ lack of joy in front of goal could come down to Van Persie losing his form, having not scored since the second game of the group stage in his side’s 3-2 victory over Australia.
His knockout-stage drought may well have Dutch fans worrying, and as OptaJohan’s statistics reveal, he’s overly keen to make amends:
10 - Robin van Persie has been caught offside 10 times so far this World Cup, more often than any other player. Eager.— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) July 7, 2014
If there’s one player that can produce a moment of brilliance in a second, though, it’s Van Persie. However, he recently said that so long as the Netherlands are winning matches, he doesn’t mind not being the star of the show, per FIFA.com:
This World Cup is not about Robin van Persie. It is about our team doing well. I love a big tournament, but I don't need to have the limelight. We're a squad of 23 players. The atmosphere is excellent. I don't have anything at all to complain about.
Though he appears content with his recent form, in the back of his mind he’ll be desperate to find the net against Argentina, who have some scoring talent of their own at their disposal.
Messi has been his usual, phenomenal self in Brazil, but like Van Persie, he hasn’t found the net in the knockout stage as of yet.
Higuain and Angel di Maria have come to Argentina’s rescue in their last two games, but the latter will be unavailable to face the Netherlands, according to FIFA.com, having picked up a thigh injury against Belgium.
Arguably the South Americans’ most creative player behind Messi, Di Maria will be sorely missed on Wednesday, but Sergio Aguero’s return to action numbs the pain.
Argentina team doctor Daniel Martinez confirmed that the Manchester City star is ready for semi-final action having recovered from injury, as Charlie Scott of Mail Online revealed, saying, “Sergio has practiced three times. He’s ready to play.”
Previously out with a muscle strain, Aguero needs to step up to fill the boots of Di Maria, as Argentina cannot continue to rely on the brilliance of Messi at this late stage of the competition.
Whichever defence copes with the potent attacking threat is what will decide Wednesday’s semi-final, but with Argentina just having an edge in terms of personnel, they could be on the way to their first final since 1990.
Prediction: Netherlands 2-3 Argentina