One semi-final down, one to go. Wednesday's 2014 World Cup fixture will see the Netherlands take on Argentina, with a final berth in at the legendary Maracana Stadium on Sunday at stake.
The Albiceleste and Oranje are two of the biggest teams in all of football historically. Both have traditionally been built around an attacking philosophy with an emphasis on playing the beautiful game. While that may no longer be the case in 2014, this should still be a truly epic matchup.
The full updated 2014 World Cup bracket:
Read on for odds, game lines and predictions for Wednesday's semi-final spectacle.
Full odds for this match, courtesy of Odds Shark:
|Draw (After 90)||+210|
Argentina Will Abuse the Centre of the Pitch
If you had never heard of the name Christian Bolanos before the start of the tournament, not a single football aficionado would have blamed you. The Costa Rican winger plies his trade in Denmark and is hardly a world-beater, but he put together an excellent campaign for the Central Americans nonetheless.
His finest performance came in his team's final match, a penalty-shootout loss against the Netherlands. Bolanos ran all over the Dutch defence during extra time, nearly winning his team the match by creating several late chances.
The recipe was always similar: Bolanos would get the ball near midfield and just run. It sounds ridiculously simple, and in reality, it was. The Dutch simply couldn't find a way to stop the midfielder on his way to the goal without the injured Nigel de Jong.
According to AFP's Tom Williams, the powerful midfielder could still feature for Louis van Gaal's side:
Nigel de Jong training with Holland this morning. Huge boost for them if he's fit for tomorrow.— Tom Williams (@tomwfootball) July 8, 2014
The Netherlands better hope that is the case, because on Wednesday, they'll be facing Lionel Messi, a faster, stronger, more productive and altogether better version of Bolanos.
Messi is at his best when the ball is at his feet and he's making a dash for the opponents' box. His quick movement left and right is a nightmare to defend, and he has the vision to find open lanes to run or pass in.
Without the injured Angel di Maria, Argentina will be losing a big part of their strength out wide, but Alejandro Sabella knows his team's biggest asset happens to be the Dutch's greatest weakness.
Look for the Albiceleste to use Enzo Perez to spread the Dutch defense wide, giving Messi space to operate in the centre early and often.
Arjen Robben Will Find Success Against Marcos Rojo
Robben has been used in a more central role by Van Gaal during the tournament, and that will continue on Wednesday. Best known for his ability to cut inside from the wing and wreak havoc with his left foot, he's usually marked by the right-back until he makes his cut, at which point the centre-back helps out.
Argentina's Rojo is a bit of an enigma: He can look incredibly solid for 20 minutes and convince you he's a fine defender, only to be caught completely out of position just minutes later.
He's also dumb enough to try things like this, via Football Showboats:
Argentina's Marcos Rojo with a rabona clearance from inside his own area last night... http://t.co/eaSDyJF0rt— Football Showboats (@ShowboatVines) June 16, 2014
Meanwhile, Robben has been one of the absolute star performers during the 2014 World Cup. He looks faster and stronger than ever, and his runs all over the attacking third have opened up chasms in the defences his team has faced.
Plenty of people will dislike the winger-turned-striker for his tendency to go down easily, but per OptaJoe, it's yet another thing he does well:
21 - Only Alexis Sanchez (24) has won more fouls than Arjen Robben at the 2014 #WorldCup. Bumped.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) July 8, 2014
What you can't disagree with is that he's been deadly effective during this World Cup, and people have noticed. Count Jose Mourinho among his admirers, per the Daily Mail:
Robben is a big player, he is not a kid anymore. He is 30 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.
Rojo is a big, physical full-back who likes to take risks on occasion, and while he is by no means slow, he will struggle against the quicker Robben. When the Dutchman cuts inside, he'll be facing a double wall of Argentine defenders, but out wide, he'll be one-on-one with Rojo.
That's a matchup Robben has to be looking forward to, and one he'll be looking to exploit over the course of this match.