The Netherlands and Argentina will battle on Wednesday for the right to face Germany in the 2014 World Cup final, and the match will inevitably come down to a few intriguing individual matchups.
Both of these teams are incredibly talented as a whole and possess the quality across the starting 11 necessary to play as a cohesive unit. But with so many individual stars sprinkled between the two rosters, it's bound to come down to some key one-on-one affairs.
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|Wed., July 9||4 p.m.||ESPN|
Take a look below for the most important individual matchups that will decide the Netherlands-Argentina match.
Lionel Messi vs. Jasper Cillessen
Even if the Netherlands figure out a way to keep him under wraps in Wednesday's semifinal, Lionel Messi will get his chance against Dutch goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen at some point. Whether he gets that chance past Cillessen could end up deciding who goes through to face Germany.
Although the Argentines have won every game, Messi has been held scoreless for the past two contests—most notably against Belgium, when Thibaut Courtois denied Messi one-on-one late in the Belgians' loss.
Cillessen was substituted off for Tim Krul before the Dutch's penalty kicks versus Costa Rica, and it paid dividends. Krul stopped two Costa Rican penalties to help the Netherlands move on.
But Cillessen has given up just one goal in his past three matches, including a couple of key saves that kept the Dutch alive against Costa Rica. He's been crucial to their success and should definitely get the call to start again versus Argentina.
The Dutch center backs and defensive midfielders will get the main responsibility of checking Messi, but he's bound to get free at some point. When that comes, Cillessen had better be ready.
Arjen Robben vs. Marcos Rojo
The Netherlands have quality from top to bottom in their starting 11, but during many stretches, the attack is a one-man affair with Arjen Robben running the show.
The Bayern Munich winger has been unstoppable in the open field with his pace and vision, scoring three times already this World Cup. When he's not scoring, he's breaking into space and setting up his teammates.
Robben typically operates out on the right, meaning that Argentina left back Marcos Rojo has drawn the short straw and will have to mark Robben. The 24-year-old has shown plenty of potential but is arguably the only weak spot in an Argentina defense that is otherwise flooded with experience.
Can Robben make Rojo pay on the right side and open up space? If so, defenders will have to come down to help, and that could open up players like Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder in the middle.
Wesley Sneijder vs. Javier Mascherano
Messi is undoubtedly the man of the attack for Argentina. With that being said, Javier Mascherano plays a similarly valuable position in the defense.
Although he stars as a center back for Barcelona, Mascherano has been inserted into the midfield for Argentina. Still, his main responsibilities come in the front of the defense, keeping things organized and quickly flushing out opposing chances.
Which individual matchup will be most decisive?
Against one of the world's top attacking forces in the Netherlands, this will be a tougher task than usual for Mascherano. With Robben operating on the outside and van Persie making runs, he'll largely be charged with keeping Sneijder under wraps.
Sneijder isn't the player he used to be, but he's shown throughout the Dutch's run to the semis that he can still show that quality in stretches. He will get the ball in the midfield with opportunities, and it will be up to Mascherano to stop him.