Hatching a Plan for Argentina to Stop Netherlands Superstar Arjen Robben

Daniel Edwards@@DanEdwardsGoalFeatured ColumnistJuly 7, 2014

Netherlands' Arjen Robben celebrates after the Netherlands defeated Costa Rica 4-3 in a penalty shootout after a 0-0 tie during the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Brazil, Saturday, July 5, 2014.(AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Wong Maye-E/Associated Press

The Argentine national team have so far made fairly steady progress through the World Cup, but there have been some bumps along the way. The side captained by Lionel Messi suffered more than they should have in disposing of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran in the group stage. They also came within a post-width of penalties against Switzerland. 

But overall, and including a much-improved performance to take down Belgium 1-0 in the quarters, recording a second consecutive clean sheet in the process, the Albiceleste are on the right track. If a place in the World Cup final is far from inevitable, it is a definite possibility at this stage. 

The thousands of Argentine fans who have followed their team faithfully across Brazil should not relax yet, however. In the shape of Arjen Robben, the Netherlands possess a formidable obstacle to the Albiceleste's route to the Maracana Stadium and Sunday's final. 

Hassan Ammar/Associated Press

With an average rating of 9.59, FIFA.com's Castrol Index used to rate players marks the balding Dutchman as sixth in their rankings. His numbers from the tournament so far certainly make for frightening reading if you hold an affinity for the team coached by Alejandro Sabella. 

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With three goals and one assist, Robben has been directly involved in four of the Oranje's 12 strikes so far in the tournament. He has broken into the area an astonishing 26 times with the ball, and 94 percent of his shots have been on target. Even against Costa Rica, without a doubt the poorest match of his World Cup so far, the Bayern star passed with an accuracy of over 80 percent and beat his man on seven out of 10 attempts over the 120 minutes. 

If all else fails, he is also prepared to turn to the darker arts of the beautiful game. Just ask Mexican fans, who are still incensed over his tumble in the last minute of the last 16 that helped Netherlands grab an agonising 2-1 win just before the physical punishment of extra time. 

But can the tough, speedy winger be stopped? It will not be easy. Argentina cannot either simply focus on raking Robben out of the game, with Robin van Persie sitting just inside and the likes of Dirk Kuyt, Wesley Sneijder and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar also more than aware of where the goal is located. It is without a doubt the biggest defensive conundrum faced by Sabella so far in what has been a kind World Cup draw for the nation up to this point. 

It is a difficult challenge, but perhaps not insurmountable. Costa Rica showed that given the right conditions, Robben's talents can be nullified. 

The first priority for Argentina will be restricting the supply of possession the winger receives. While he may play out on the right, Robben really acts as a type of wide playmaker for the Oranje, leading his side through the transition phases of play and up to the penalty area. It is before he reaches full stride, or preferably before he even receives the ball, that the Albiceleste must target him. 

Holding midfield duo Javier Mascherano and Lucas Biglia, the latter drafted against Belgium to combat the likes of Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne going forward, will be vital in that sense. The pair both enjoyed immense matches in the semi-finals, nullifying their creative spirit to the extent that the usually cultured, measured team were reduced to lumping the ball into the box in their desperate attempt to find an equaliser. 

Sneijder must be closed down throughout to strangle Netherlands' attacking hopes at the first opportunity. So too must right-back Daley Blind. The young defender is crucial to moving the ball up to Robben, and against Costa Rica he completed 93 percent of his passes, a total of 78. If Blind can be rushed in his distribution, Argentina's job suddenly becomes a lot easier. 

Hassan Ammar/Associated Press

Marcos Rojo, if Sabella chooses to reintroduce the Sporting man after a one-match suspension, is also crucial. The left-back will have the responsibility of marking Robben incessantly, making sure he never gets his opportunity to stretch his legs and hare off toward goal. Rojo has been in fine form for Argentina so far, but he faces the challenge of a lifetime on Wednesday. 

Nobody in Argentina believes that the semi-final is a foregone conclusion. Dennis Bergkamp's wondergoal to put the Albiceleste out in 1998 is still painfully recalled, while the 3-1 final victory of 1978 is a little further back in history. But if Robben can be nullified, the squad have a great chance. 

Costa Rica showed how the dangerous winger can be almost muzzled over 120 brutal minutes. Stick close, do not let him out of your sight and do not give him a clear view of the goal. If you can make him angry and start to lose sight of what is going on around him, half the battle is already won. 

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