It’s semi-final time at World Cup 2014, and with one last place in the final up for grabs, it’s up to either the Netherlands or Argentina to demonstrate their world-champion credentials on Day 28.
These two great football nations have played out some World Cup classics down the years, and Wednesday’s clash has all the makings of another with some of the finest talents in the game in action.
Here, we take a look at how the match could play out at the Arena de Sao Paulo and look forward to what could be a high-scoring affair.
Match Prediction: Netherlands 2-3 Argentina
A little optimistic given the low-scoring nature of the knockout stage so far, sure, but with both teams more than capable of finding the net, it could well be a thriller.
With Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben all hoping to fire themselves to the final, the goals could come flooding in—and from a neutral perspective, let’s hope they do.
Argentina will be marginal favourites heading into Wednesday’s match, and it’s not hard to see why. Some of the free-flowing, attacking football that they’ve played throughout the tournament has been exemplary, and they more than deserve a shot at the trophy.
However, they’ll have to get past the Netherlands in the last four without the services of one of their star men, Angel di Maria.
Di Maria picked up a thigh injury in the quarter-final against Belgium, per the Press Association (via FIFA.com), and could see out the rest of the tournament from the sidelines.
That injury puts even more pressure on the shoulders of Messi, who has earned himself a reputation as the team’s carrier throughout the tournament. Gary Lineker was among many who commented on Argentina’s dependence on the Barcelona star:
Another star makes his World Cup exit. Di Maria limps off and Argentina get ever more dependent on Messi.— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) July 5, 2014
Their performance against the Belgians was far from a one-man show, though, and they’ll look to keep such form up on Wednesday.
Messi’s Barcelona colleague, Javier Mascherano, also believes that Argentina didn’t depend too heavily on the 27-year-old in the last round and said that the team comes before any big name—per FIFA.com:
Leo has rescued us in a few matches but we can’t just rely on him. The team should be there to support him just as we were against Belgium, when he controlled the game with everyone’s help. That’s what we’re aiming for: even though we know we have great individual players, the team comes first. ...
I want joy again and we need to give everything to get that.
Mascherano’s joy will only come from seeing off the challenge of the Dutch, who are looking to emulate past success against Argentina.
From their 4-0 drubbing of the Argentinians in 1974 to Dennis Bergkamp’s moment of brilliance against them in 1998, it’s safe to say that the Netherlands have enjoyed playing against the South Americans down the years.
Though they face an Argentina side that is at the strongest it’s been for many a major tournament, manager Louis van Gaal will be confident that his tactical nous can once again lead the Dutch to victory.
Who will progress to the 2014 World Cup final?
The soon-to-be Manchester United boss has made some inspired substitutions in the tournament so far, none more so than bringing on goalkeeper Tim Krul in the dying embers of their quarter-final against Costa Rica, as he went on to be the penalty shootout hero.
The Netherlands will likely to set up to defend before trying to catch Argentina on the counter-attack, and it’s a system that’s worked perfectly so far.
Arjen Robben has been integral behind Van Gaal’s setup, scoring three goals and putting together endless top-class performances.
His brilliance hasn’t gone unnoticed either, with Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, in his role as Yahoo’s Global Football Ambassador, commenting on just how good he’s been—per Mail Online:
Robben is a big player, he is not a kid anymore. ...
He is thirty years old, it is probably his last World Cup in the maximum of his potential and Robben is showing everything he has showed during his career, the quality he has.
But at the same time he is showing a physical condition and mental condition that we have to say is really amazing and I’m happy for him because he’s a very good guy.
He is fighting in an unbelievable way and leading his team, and for me this is fantastic, this is absolutely fantastic.
Indeed, Robben has been one of the players of the tournament so far, and he’s just one game away from appearing in back-to-back World Cup finals.
However, it’ll take something special to overcome Argentina, who have looked stronger and stronger with every performance in Brazil.
The Netherlands have been a contrast of that, and though Van Gaal has the tactics to outwit any manager, his side may just come up a touch short.