Germany awaits an opponent in the World Cup final after routing Brazil Tuesday. The second part of that equation will be solved Wednesday when the Netherlands and Argentina meet in a semifinal clash.
Both squads boast perfect records during this World Cup, but they have achieved those marks in imperfect ways. This will undoubtedly be a battle of the titans, but each squad will be without key players, so others will have to step up.
Anyone on either side could potentially achieve hero status with a strong showing in the semifinal, but there are some who will be put in better positions to succeed than others.
Here are three players who are ailing, replacing a star or are simply unheralded and will serve as the biggest X-factors in Wednesday's affair.
Robin van Persie
Dutch striker and captain Robin van Persie is expected to be spectacular whenever he takes the pitch. Those expectations may be tempered a bit for Holland's semifinal tilt with Argentina, though, as an illness has left his status in doubt for the past several days.
Van Persie initially looked doubtful for the match, as coach Louis van Gaal was unsure if his star player would recover in time from a stomach ailment, according to ESPN FC.
He has a stomach problem, an intestinal problem. I don't know [if he will play]. I will decide [on Wednesday]. Van Persie is our captain, so he is very important to us. In principle my captain always plays, but he has to be fit. In general, I give the players two days to recover, so if you have one day less it's an issue, a problem. But a top athlete can perform, so my players will be in shape.
Despite the uncertainty, it has since been reported by ESPN's Jeremy Schaap that Van Persie is expected to take the pitch for Oranje's pivotal match, per ESPN FC.
Even if RVP does play, though, it is unclear how long he'll be able to go and how effective he will be. The World Cup hasn't always been kind to Van Persie, as he has scored just five times in 14 matches. With that said, he is a game-breaking player who can open things up for teammates like Arjen Robben and Dirk Kuyt even when he isn't scoring himself.
At the very least, Van Persie should be a valuable decoy that the Argentinian defense will have to account for. If he can somehow find the back of the net in his weakened state, though, it will be gravy for the Netherlands.
While the Netherlands may have the benefit of Van Persie's services, Argentina is well aware that dynamic midfielder Angel Di Maria will not be available Wednesday. Di Maria suffered a thigh injury in the Albiceleste's quarterfinal win over Belgium and has been officially ruled out for the Netherlands match, according to the Associated Press (via FoxNews.com).
Di Maria was replaced by Benfica star Enzo Perez in the quarterfinals, and Argentinian coach Alejandro Sabella said it is "very probable" that Perez will start in Di Maria's stead, per the Associated Press (via ABCNews.com).
Perez is a highly skilled player, but he has just one international goal to his credit. Stepping in for Di Maria will be a huge challenge since Di Maria has been the driving force behind Argentina's attack throughout the 2014 World Cup, according to ESPN Stats & Info:
Enzo Pérez on for di Maria, who led #ARG with 187 touches in attacking third and 25 shots, 2nd most among all players this WC (Benzema, 32).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) July 5, 2014
Lionel Messi grabs most of the headlines, but Di Maria has been the straw that stirs the drink. His absence will adversely impact Messi, Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero. Perez possesses a skill set similar to Di Maria's, though, and could lead Argentina to victory if he does his best Di Maria impression.
With so much talent from top to bottom for the Dutch, it is easy to forget about who the Oranje has in goal. Jasper Cillessen is an unheralded 25-year-old goalkeeper for Ajax, and he has been a big part of Holland's run to the semifinal. Even so, many are talking about what he hasn't done rather than what he has done.
Cillessen kept a clean sheet for 120 minutes in the quarterfinal against Costa Rica before being subbed in favor of Tim Krul for penalty kicks. It turned out to be an ingenious move, as Krul stopped two Costa Rican attempts and helped the Dutch reach the semis.
Some viewed that as a slight against Cillessen, and even he admitted that he was surprised and angered by the decision initially, according to Henry Winter of The Telegraph.
"I didn't know it would happen before, it was a bit of a surprise," Cillessen said. "I saw [Krul] warming up but I stayed focused on the game. I thought he was just doing a warm-up in case I got hit. I was a bit angry. I wanted to play the penalty shootout."
Which X-factor will make the biggest impact in the Netherlands vs. Argentina semifinal?
Those feelings quickly dissipated when Krul came through, however, as Cillessen was the first person on the pitch to congratulate him. Now that it is in the past, the focus shifts toward Cillessen shutting down a skilled Argentinian attack.
Cillessen will definitely be tested more Wednesday than he was against Costa Rica. With Messi, Higuain, Aguero and others threatening to score at any moment, Cillessen will have to be locked in.
He managed to keep his eyes on the prize against Costa Rica despite very few shots being sent his way. That suggests he should be able to handle a barrage if it comes to that.
Few are expecting Cillessen to be the one person who decides this match, but that may be the case for better or worse.
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