You would be hard-pressed to come up with a more pressure-packed scenario in the entire sports world than playing in the World Cup. It's the world's most popular game being played on its biggest stage, with a dose of national pride thrown in for good measure.
Now increase that pressure exponentially, and you just begin to scratch the surface of the nerve-wracking situation Argentina and Netherlands found themselves in Wednesday.
Their semifinal showdown ended in a penalty shootout with everything on the line. Argentina won the match 0-0 (4-2) thanks to an incredibly clutch performance from goalkeeper Sergio Romero. He stopped two of Netherlands' four penalty kicks, which was more than enough for Argentina to win.
Argentina buried all four of their penalty shots.
Argentina's victory means we finally have our World Cup final set, as well as the consolation match. Here is a look at the schedule and broadcast information for the two remaining fixtures.
|Game||Date||Time (ET)||Matchup||TV||Live Stream|
|Third-Place Game||Saturday, July 12||4 p.m.||Brazil vs. Netherlands||ESPN||Watch ESPN|
|World Cup Final||Sunday, July 13||3 p.m.||Germany vs. Argentina||ABC||Watch ESPN|
Remember Germany’s offensive explosion in the first half Tuesday against the host nation Brazil? The showdown between Argentina and Netherlands was the exact opposite.
It wasn’t just the fact that the game was scoreless at intermission and regulation. Neither team mustered much of an offensive attack at all, and the ball simply exchanged hands in the middle of the field for the majority of the opening 45 minutes.
Squawka Football provided some context to the rather lackluster first half:
Given the magnitude of the stage, both Argentina and Netherlands were avoiding unnecessary risks, which contributed to the early lack of offense. The risk-averse style of play wasn’t particularly surprising, given Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano’s comments before the match, according to Mike Corder of The Associated Press, via Yahoo Sports:
We know that we will play against one of the best teams when it comes to counterattacks because of the speed of their men up front. So we have to take precautions to not give them the possibility to counterattack, to always be well positioned, to not lose balls unnecessarily in areas where there's a lot of risk.
Speaking of Mascherano, there was one notable moment in the first half that was particularly scary and worrisome. He challenged for a header and ended up banging heads with his opponent. ESPN FC described the action, while ESPN commentator Taylor Twellman and Matteo Bonetti of Sirius XM expressed their disgust with the entire situation:
Mascherano stumbles down to the pitch after a clash of heads, clearly dazed. He'll continue though. #NEDvsARG— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) 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
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
Mascherano remained on the pitch but didn’t do much in the early going to spark Argentina’s offense. In fact, ESPN Stats and Info pointed out that none of the superstars were really living up to their billing:
The fans were treated to much of the same after halftime. ESPN Stats and Info noted that Netherlands set some history in the early stretch of the second half, but it wasn't exactly the history they were looking for:
The match finally started to open up around the 75-minute mark when Netherlands had a golden opportunity to score, but Robin van Persie was caught offside. The ensuing shot sailed wide anyway, but at least there was something of an offensive spark.
Argentina then topped Netherlands' attack and came dangerously close to actually scoring a goal, but the try was disallowed because Gonzalo Higuain was offside.
There was a sense of inevitability that the match was heading to extra time without a goal scored. Andy Glockner of The Cauldron had an interesting idea that would have been appropriate for the match:
Soccer needs a rule like chess where both sides can just agree to a draw mid-match— Andy Glockner (@AndyGlockner) July 9, 2014
Describing the final 10 minutes of regulation as sustained possession by each side would be something of a dramatic understatement. Still, it would be unfair to ignore the tremendous defending from both teams. The rare times there were actual scoring opportunities, the offense was turned away with timely tackles and impressive team defense.
In fact, the general lack of shots on goal could be credited to the defending from each side.
As the game went into stoppage time, Netherlands brought a bit more urgency to their offensive attack, and Arjen Robben forced Argentina fans everywhere to hold their breath when he slashed into the penalty box and had a momentary look at the goal.
Argentina's defense was there to stop it once again though, and the match went to extra time tied at zero.
Paul Carr of ESPN pointed out just how rare an overtime match is at this stage of the World Cup:
This is the 8th #WorldCup semifinal to reach extra time, first since Italy beat Germany 2-0 in 2006.— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) July 9, 2014
Surprise, surprise, the defense came to play in extra time as well.
Robben and Lionel Messi tried to create opportunities with their shifty dribbling, and Robben even got a shot off within the first few minutes but to no avail. Fatigue kicked in, the defense was strong, and the game inevitably went to a penalty shootout even with a few late charges from both sides.
That is where Romero shined.
It was elation Wednesday for Argentina, but they have little time to celebrate before turning their attention to the mighty Germans for the World Cup final.
You think the Super Bowl is a big deal in the U.S.? There is no bigger sporting spectacle on the entire planet than the World Cup championship match, and viewers will be in for a treat as two of soccer's all-time superpowers square off for the coveted trophy.
Many have focused on Germany's ruthless offense after their 7-1 drubbing against Brazil, but their defense has been absolutely stifling throughout the vast majority of the World Cup. They have turned back attacks and controlled the pace of play every time out and will look to do the same against Messi and company.
Argentina's defense looked up to the challenge Wednesday and should have momentum on its side.
Look for a defensive tussle in the final between these two stout sides that could come down to one magic moment off the foot of Messi.
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