A day after Germany flexed its muscle and fissured the Brazilian belief that they are the best football program in the world, Argentina and Netherlands gave fans a more representative look of the tension typical of a World Cup semifinal.
The Argentines pulled out a 0-0 (4-2) victory in penalty kicks, culminating more than 120 minutes of scoreless action defined by conservative play and strong defensive tactics.
|2014 World Cup: Results and Fixtures|
|Date||Round||Matchup/Result||Local Time||Time (ET)||Time (BST)||Where||Watch|
|July 8||Semifinal||Germany 7, Brazil 1||-||-||-||Belo Horizonte||-|
|July 9||Semifinal||Argentina 0 (4), Netherlands 0 (2)||-||-||-||Sao Paulo||-|
|July 12||Third-Place Match||Brazil vs. TBD||5 p.m.||4 p.m.||9 p.m.||Brasilia||ESPN|
|July 13||Final||Germany vs. TBD||4 p.m.||3 p.m.||8 p.m.||Rio de Janeiro||ABC|
Argentina needed only four of the five allotted kicks to move on, defeating Dutch keeper Jasper Cillessen on every try as their own Sergio Romero came up huge. Romero, who faced only one shot on goal against a hapless Netherlands attack, showed no signs of rust by guessing correctly on attempts from Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder.
Maxi Rodriguez netted the clinching goal for the Argentines, who are headed to their first World Cup final since 1990.
The somewhat anticlimactic end—even with penalty kicks coming into play—was indicative of a larger problem throughout the match.
For the few detractors of the sport that remain, the match was at times a perfect representation of what can go wrong. Neither side seemed able—or even willing at certain points—to form a cogent attack. The ball largely stayed in the midfield area, with Netherlands satisfied to hang around the fringes and Argentina allowing them to do so.
Netherlands' Robin Van Persie and Argentina's Lionel Messi, two of the best attacking forwards in the world, were rendered fangless. Van Persie did not attempt a shot before being pulled in the 96th minute for Klaas Jan Huntelaar. The Manchester United star has been held scoreless in his past three matches after scoring five times in group play; Argentina held him without a shot.
As a team, Netherlands were held without a single shot on goal in regulation. Despite possessing the ball for 56 percent of the match, six of the seven Dutch attempts either went wayward or were blocked. Only two came within the box.
Arguably their best opportunity of the match came in the 91st minute. Arjen Robben found himself with a wide-open look at the net after an excellent pass from Sneijder. Needing only to control his touch and fire off what looked to be a likely score, Robben held the ball for a beat too long and the Argentine defense lunged for a block.
Messi was slightly more successful. He attempted only one shot himself but was able to set teammates up in a few advantageous situations. But as has been the case throughout much of this World Cup, the Argentines struggled to finish near the net. They went scoreless despite getting six shots in the box in regulation and extra time.
Messi did find redemption in the penalty kicks. Toeing the line first, he put the Argentines ahead 1-0 for a lead they would never relinquish.
Argentina will face a German squad that looked unstoppable in Tuesday's 7-1 win over Brazil. The Germans enacted an all-out assault of Julio Cesar's net, scoring five goals in the first 29 minutes as a shell-shocked home crowd looked on in horror. Andre Schurrle and Toni Kroos netted two goals apiece, while Brazil were left to wonder what happened to their back-line defense.
Germany will be playing in their eighth World Cup final, most of any other country. Despite their longstanding status among the world's best, the Germans have come up empty in three of their past four finals and haven't taken a Cup since 1990. Knowing the recent history, coach Joachim Low indicated his team's focus remains squarely on the task at hand.
“Now it's important we recover and we are able to regenerate our momentum,” Low told reporters, per Sam Wallace of The Independent. “It is important we remain calm. The team is perfectly rooted and calm. There is no euphoria. This team is ready to deliver. The final will be difficult but we want to win the final and will retain our concentration."
Argentina are making their fifth appearance, their most recent coming 24 years ago against these same Germans. The then-West Germany won that match in a 1-0 defensive struggle.
This iteration will also look to control the pace and limit Argentina's scoring chances. Germany have allowed one goal or fewer in five of their six matches thus far, the only exception being a 2-2 draw versus Ghana. The Germans have especially turned up the defensive heat in the knockout rounds by holding Algeria, France and Brazil to one goal each.
Argentina's run has also been defined by their defensive prowess. Romero has gone three straight matches without letting a ball touch the net. The Argentine back line has also been strong, using their bodies to get in the way of shots and fortifying the box.
While Germany looked stronger in the semis and will undoubtedly be a favorite, Saturday has all the makings of a noteworthy affair. Just don't use that particular match to introduce the agnostic football fan to the sport. The match may be brilliant, but it won't be high-scoring.
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