Two of the more exciting national teams in the world will fight for the last spot in the World Cup final as Argentina takes on the Netherlands.
These two teams have not always looked dominant, but they have both won all five of their matches coming into the semifinals.
The Dutch made it through one of the tougher groups in the tournament while knocking off Chile and the defending champions in Spain. They continued their run by barely escaping close battles against CONCACAF squads Mexico and Costa Rica.
Argentina have not faced too many perennial contenders but had solid showings against Switzerland, Belgium and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The problem is that every single win has been by a single goal, leaving much to be desired from this talented squad.
The winner of this match is going to be one step away from a world championship, so you can imagine there will be plenty of excitement throughout this battle.
Who will win?
When: Wednesday, July 9
Where: Arena de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Time: 4 p.m. ET, 9 p.m. BST
Live Stream: ESPN3
How Will Argentina Fare Without Angel Di Maria?
Argentina had arguably the top attack in the world coming into the tournament, but injuries could end up being a problem. Sergio Aguero has missed the last two matches, and now, the squad will miss Angel Di Maria, via ESPN Stats & Info:
Sam Kelly of ESPN FC points out what Argentina will be missing with the latest injury:
Clearly, however Argentina line up they'll be weaker for Di María's exclusion. Whether he's played well or not, his running has provided a spark from midfield to complement Lionel Messi's iron will and nerves of steel which have defined Argentina's tournament so far. Without Di María, adaptation will be essential for Argentina's survival.
Whether Enzo Perez, Fernando Gago or anyone else ends up replacing the midfielder in the lineup, the pressure will shift to Lionel Messi. The elite goalscorer will have to do even more work than usual by creating his own opportunities instead of relying on teammates.
Additionally, look for Messi to become more of a distributor as opponents put all of their focus on stopping the Barcelona star.
If Argentina struggle to overcome the loss of Di Maria, though, they will struggle to get any goals in this match.
Will the Netherlands Have to Play Without Robin van Persie?
Robin van Persie has been one of the top scorers for the Dutch, but his side might have to compete without him against Argentina.
Netherlands manager Louis van Gaal provided an update on the situation, explaining, "It was best for him not to train. I don’t know [if he will be fit to face Argentina]. I will have to take that decision but we have more than a day to go and Van Persie is a very important player for us," via Jason Burt of The Telegraph.
Interestingly, the Manchester United star has not scored in any World Cup knockout round match, so this competition would be a chance to finally come through in the clutch. He is certainly giving himself plenty of opportunities, as noted by WhoScored.com:
Robin van Persie: Has better shot accuracy (71.4%) than any other player with 10+ shots in World Cup 2014 #ned— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) July 6, 2014
If he cannot play, it would put more pressure on Arjen Robben to take advantage of his chances and keep his squad in the match.
Each of these teams has displayed the ability to come through with impressive attacks while also having some problems in the back. Even with the injuries, expect this to continue in the upcoming matchup.
The difference in this contest will be the individual performances of key players. As Bleacher Report's Dan Levy points out, the Brazil loss in the semifinals opens things up for Messi:
It's all there for Messi now. Get past Netherlands and it's Pep's boys between him and the Cup.— Dan Levy (@DanLevyThinks) July 8, 2014
Fans should expect the forward to provide some sort of dazzling play in this match, like he has in every competition until now. Between him, Gonzalo Higuain and possibly Aguero, Argentina should be able to get onto the scoresheet.
Meanwhile, Netherlands will also be aggressive with Robben upfront as Daley Blind and others work to make plays throughout the midfield. This group will certainly break through the inconsistent Argentine defence at least once in the contest.
However, the best player in the world will remain the difference as Messi leads his side to a spot in the finals with a narrow victory.
Prediction: Argentina 2, Netherlands 1
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