Netherlands vs. Argentina: 6 Things We Learned
Argentina will play Germany in Sunday's World Cup final following their penalty-shootout victory over Netherlands in Sao Paulo on Wednesday.
There were very few chances in a cagey match between two sides unwilling to commit too many men forward lest they get caught on the break.
After a 0-0 draw through normal and extra time, it was Argentina who triumphed 4-2 on penalties to progress to their first World Cup final since 1990.
Here are six things we learned from Argentina's World Cup semi-final victory over Netherlands.
FIFA Need to Implement Tougher Rules Regarding Concussions
Javier Mascherano appeared to briefly lose consciousness following a nasty clash of heads with Georginio Wijnaldum during the first half.
A couple of minutes later, however, having signalled his intention to continue, he returned to the pitch as if nothing had happened.
The same thing happened when Alvaro Pereira was knocked out during Uruguay's victory over England earlier in the tournament.
A concussion is not something that can always be immediately diagnosed, as its effects are rarely apparent straight after an incident.
As per The Guardian, FIFA's concussion guidelines state:
With every impact to the head, it is important that you always think of concussion and watch out for it. If you feel a little out of sorts, but think you can still play, that may not be a good idea. The safest is: 'when in doubt, keep out'.
These are only guidelines, however, and there is nothing in the rules mandating that players be prevented from returning to the field after such incidents.
The English Professional Footballers' Association, for one, have called for players with serious head injuries to be automatically substituted.
Now is the time for FIFA to be proactive on this issue—it should not take a serious injury for action to be taken and rules enacted.
Mascherano Was a Deserved Victor After an Excellent Performance
Notwithstanding the fact that with more stringent regulations regarding head injuries he may not have been on the field, Javier Mascherano was superb for Argentina.
He expertly patrolled the area in front of the defence, breaking up play with well-timed tackles and—a couple of misplaced passes aside—distributing crisply into midfield.
His play was both intelligent and tenacious—at times a simple interception was sufficient, while on other occasions a strong tackle was needed. Whatever was required, Mascherano provided it.
Even right at the end of extra time, he could be seen sprinting out into the left channel to make a perfectly timed sliding tackle on Arjen Robben.
Lionel Messi may have been the wearer of the captain's armband, but Mascherano was the vocal leader of the team, on the pitch and in the team talks that preceded extra time and the penalty shootout.
He was down to take Argentina's final penalty in the shootout, but his contribution was not required because his side had already been crowned victors by then.
He will be vital to Argentina's hopes in the final against a Germany side whose strong midfield runners played such a key part in their annihilation of Brazil.
Good Organisation Is Capable of Stifling Messi and Robben
Much of the talk in the buildup to the match centred around Arjen Robben and Lionel Messi, who were expected to be the difference-makers for their respective sides.
That did not prove to be the case, however, as both teams were disciplined in their defensive work, closing down their opponent's star man whenever he received possession.
There were a few bright moments from each of them when they were able to fashion a yard or two of space to work in—most notably when Robben broke into the area at the end of the second half—but in a cagey and difficult match, neither shone as they had earlier in the tournament.
Both did score calmly taking penalties during the shootout.
Low Goal Count Was To Be Expected
The quarter-final ties involving Argentina and Netherlands yielded just one goal between them, while Argentina's round of 16 victory over Switzerland also saw just a single goal.
Both teams had set up relatively conservatively throughout the tournament and Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal had spoken of the importance of not conceding the opening goal in his pre-match press conference, as per FIFA.com.
It should therefore have come as little surprise that Wednesday's match ended goalless. Both sides were unwilling to commit too many men forward and chances were few and far between.
The majority of the players who impressed most—the likes of Ron Vlaar, Ezequiel Garay and Javier Mascherano—were those in defensive positions.
Neither goalkeeper was seriously tested in normal time, nor indeed in extra time.
The end result was the first 0-0 draw in a semi-final in the history of the World Cup.
Time Is Running out for Some of the Netherlands Squad
Four years after losing to Spain in extra time of the final in South Africa, Netherlands again suffered heartbreak in the latter stages of a World Cup.
A number of younger players have been brought into the Dutch setup since the 2010 World Cup, but five of the first XI on Wednesday also started in the defeat to Spain.
Arjen Robben (30), Dirk Kuyt (33), Nigel de Jong (29), Robin Van Persie (30) and Wesley Sneijder (30) are all around the same age, and it would be surprising if many of them are heavily involved in Russia in four years' time.
Euro 2016 in France is likely to represent the last chance of tournament success for the quintet.
Sergio Romero Is a Fine Penalty Stopper
After Louis van Gaal's decision to bring on Tim Krul in place of regular goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen for the penalty shootout of Netherlands' quarter-final win over Costa Rica, the majority of the focus was on the Ajax stopper.
It was, however, his opposite number, Sergio Romero, who stole the show.
Romero played very little football for Monaco in the season building up to the tournament and was highlighted as a potential weak link by many.
He performed well during regular play on Wednesday, punching out strongly under pressure on two or three occasions and dealing competently with the limited additional work he was required to undertake.
And Romero proved to be the difference between the sides in the shootout, saving from Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder to see Argentina through to their first World Cup final in 24 years.