Although the match was scoreless for 120 minutes, Argentina were able to finally defeat the Netherlands on penalty kicks, 4-2, to advance to the 2014 World Cup finals against Germany.
Lionel Messi did not have the stunning performance everyone was hoping for, but he came through when needed along with Maxi Rodriguez, who ended the competition with the game-winning goal.
Coming into the match, stopping Messi was a major goal for the Dutch. Manager Louis van Gaal knew it was not the full game plan, but there was certainly a lot of focus on the star, via FIFA.com:
I'm not thinking about individual players, I'm thinking always that we have to play against a team, but Messi is a very important player. But we also have very important players in our team: Van Persie, Robben and Sneijder. They have never won the [FIFA Ballon d’Or], but they are very good players who can decide a game, like Messi. So we have to play against Argentina and we have to try to stop Messi getting the ball, passing the ball, scoring goals, and you do that as a team. I hope my team can do the job.
His squad did a great job of accomplishing this feat right from the beginning. As Brian Straus of Sports Illustrated pointed out, Messi's positioning helped limit his production:
Messi playing pretty deep, allowing NDJ to shadow, back 4 to keep shape and #NED to foul in less dangerous spots. Time to push him higher?— Brian Straus (@BrianStraus) July 9, 2014
This was likely due to the absence of Angel di Maria, who was unavailable for the match due to a thigh injury. Still, this allowed Nigel de Jong to do his job of marking the superstar from the midfield, something he did very well, according to Mike Foss of For The Win:
Messi is going to need to take a restraining order out on Nigel De Jong when this is over. De Jong clearly has one job today.— Mike Foss (@themikefoss) July 9, 2014
The Barcelona star's best play in the first half—and the most exciting moment early in the match—came on a free kick, as described by ESPN FC:
Messi with a shot on goal from the free kick but right at Cillessen! Still 0-0, 16' #NEDvsARG— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) July 9, 2014
While the Netherlands deserved credit for keeping the top scorer in check, American player Michael Parkhurst questioned the effort from Messi:
No doubt Messi is one of worlds best but you don't see anyone on Germany walk around on defense— Michael Parkhurst (@MFparkhurst) July 9, 2014
Benjamin Morris of FiveThirtyEight backed this up to a degree:
Messi had 26 touches in the first half, has averaged 33 per half throughout the tournament.— Benjamin Morris (@skepticalsports) July 9, 2014
Messi continued to work in the second half but the action was still limited as neither side was able to break through. Miguel Delaney of ESPN FC was amazed that the forward could not get anything going:
Dutch have done a great job on Messi. Still difficult to think he can go a full two hours without getting at least one moment...— Miguel Delaney (@MiguelDelaney) July 9, 2014
There was not much more action in extra time, leading the two sides to settle things in penalty shots. After Ron Vlaar missed the first shot for the Dutch, Messi was able to give Argentina the advantage with an easy score, as The New York Times shared:
Messi went left, Cillessen right. And that looked easy.— NYT Sports (@NYTSports) July 9, 2014
A few moments later, Rodriguez was there to finish it. The 33-year-old midfielder only came onto the match in the 101st minute for Ezequiel Lavezzi, and he missed on his earlier attempt, as noted by The Sun:
CHANCE! Brilliant, mazy run from Messi, who has been quiet. Cross to Maxi Rodriguez who scuffs his shot straight at the keeper #NEDvsARG 0-0— The Sun - Football (@TheSunFootball) July 9, 2014
However, he made up for it as the fourth shooter for Argentina in the penalty kicks. With the pressure on, he fired the ball off Jasper Cillessen's hands and into the net:
Ives Galarcep points out that the power of the shot helped it go in:
Cillessen got his hands to Rodriguez's PK, but there was 2 much power behind it. Mascherano in tears, Messi overjoyed. #ARG fans in heaven— Ives Galarcep (@SoccerByIves) July 9, 2014
The clutch goal was enough to clinch the 4-2 victory on penalty kicks and help Argentina win the dramatic World Cup semifinal. The South American squad will now face Germany—a team that recently blew out Brazil 7-1—for the title.
If the defense can play as well as it did against the Netherlands and Messi finds a way to break free for a goal, Argentina can come through with the win.
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