Argentina advanced to the FIFA World Cup final after defeating the Netherlands 4-2 in a penalty shootout in Wednesday's semi-final at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo.
Neither side scored in 120 minutes of regular and extra time, with the tense, cagey match providing a stark contrast to Tuesday's other semi-final, which saw Germany rout hosts Brazil 7-1.
In the penalty shootout, Lionel Messi, Ezequiel Garay, Sergio Aguero and Maxi Rodriguez converted their spot-kicks—Rodriguez scoring the clincher off the hands of Dutch goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen. Meanwhile, Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero saved against Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder to secure his status as a hero.
The dramatic win sent Argentina into their fifth World Cup final, having won the title in 1978 and 1986. Alejandro Sabella's side will face Germany on Sunday in Rio de Janeiro in what will be a rematch of the 1986 and 1990 finals.
The two teams split those first two meetings, West Germany lifting the trophy in 1990. Following their impressive win over Brazil, Germany likely will enter the match as favourites. In addition, Joachim Low's side will benefit from an extra day of rest—and possibly a fatigued Argentina, who endured 120 grueling minutes in two of their three knockout matches.
The Netherlands will face Brazil in the third-place play-off on Saturday in Brasilia. The penalty shootout was the second in as many matches for the Dutch, but after making all three substitutions before the shootout, manager Louis van Gaal was unable to bring in second choice Tim Krul, who had starred in a cameo role against Costa Rica in the quarter-finals.
With so much at stake, it was hardly surprising that both teams appeared cagey in the first half and few clear-cut opportunities developed. In the 13th minute, Sneijder blazed wide from the edge of the box for the Netherlands. Two minutes later, Messi drove a free-kick on target but straight at Cillessen.
The best opening of the half came from an Argentina corner in the 24th minute, Ezequiel Lavezzi curling into the centre of the box for Garay. The centre-back made contact with the ball but redirected it over the bar with Vlaar defending closely.
Argentina received a scare in the 27th minute as Javier Mascherano was forced to leave the match briefly after receiving a blow to the head in an aerial challenge. Dazed in the collision, Mascherano showed clear signs of disorientation but remained in the match regardless.
Multiple commentators questioned the decision to allow him to continue playing after possibly suffering a concussion:
There's no way Mascherano should be allowed to play. That's a full-blown concussion. FIFA needs rules to prevent this. Too unsafe.— Matteo Bonetti (@TheCalcioGuy) July 9, 2014
I fear for Mascherano right now. He has no clue what he is doing and because FIFA has no backbone to stand up and legislate it's trouble.— Taylor Twellman (@TaylorTwellman) July 9, 2014
The second half was just as tight as the first, as clear chances remained scarce.
In the 58th minute, Dutch substitute Daryl Janmaat headed a Lavezzi cross clear with Gonzalo Higuain lurking in front of goal. Higuain then turned the ball into the side-netting in the 75th minute, but the Argentine attacker had already been ruled offside.
The Netherlands' best chance came in the opening seconds of stoppage time as Arjen Robben burst clear in the box after latching onto a clever layoff by Sneijder. Robben was momentarily free, but Mascherano cleared the danger with a perfectly timed tackle.
In stoppage time, both teams appeared content to play safely in order to avoid a costly error. Argentina had the best chance in the 115th minute, Rodrigo Palacio heading weakly at Cillessen after running onto a fine chip over the defence by Rodriguez.
Two minutes later, Messi crossed dangerously for Rodriguez, who scuffed a volley at Cillessen. At the other end, Dirk Kuyt had a shot deflected off target in the 120th minute.
It turned out to be the final chance for either side as the match went to a dramatic penalty shootout.
|Stefan de Vrij||8||8||8|
|Bruno Martins Indi||7||6||6|
|Nigel de Jong||6||6||6|
|Robin van Persie||6||5||5|
|Daryl Janmaat (for Indi, 45')||N/A||7||6|
|Jordy Clasie (for de Jong, 62')||N/A||6||5|
|Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (for van Persie, 96')||N/A||N/A||5|
|Rodrigo Palacio (for Perez, 81')||N/A||5||5|
|Sergio Aguero (for Higuain, 82')||N/A||5||6|
|Maxi Rodriguez (for Lavezzi, 101')||N/A||N/A||7|
(All quotes from FIFA.com.)
Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero:
We are celebrating along with our people and I am so happy. I dedicate this victory to my family. The final is a one-off game and anything could happen, as luck is also an important element. Playing Germany will be difficult, but our objective since the first day of training has been to reach the final. Tonight we celebrate, from tomorrow we’ll think about Germany and the final.
Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella:
It was a tough and even match, probably deserving to be a draw, but I thought we had better chances over the 120 minutes. We won the penalties; if they’d won the penalties, I’d say the same. I’m delighted with the professionalism of the players; they’ve given us a great platform for the final. We never gave up on winning tonight and my players gave everything—every last drop of sweat. Although we have one day less to recover and we’ve played 30 more minutes tonight, we’ll approach the game with hard work and humility. But we believe that we can win.
Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal:
It’s the most terrible scenario to lose on penalties. It’s simply a matter of luck and we did not lose today. In a tournament scenario, you need to score more than one goal than the opposition during the game – and we didn’t do that. But not only that, we didn’t create many chances in this match, far less than any other game here. However, Argentina didn’t create much either. Players like Robben, Sneijder and Van Persie found opportunities difficult to come by and so did Messi, Aguero and Lavezzi, so that says something about the tactical battle we saw. We’ve played a fantastic tournament. No-one expected us to make it out of the group stage, but we won it, we defeated Mexico and Costa Rica – and at the very least we were equal to Argentina, if not better.