World Cup 2014: Winners and Losers from Netherlands vs. Argentina Semi-Final
Argentina will play Germany in the 2014 FIFA World Cup final after the South American side defeated Netherlands on penalties in the second semi-final.
After a difficult 90 minutes failed to yield a goal or a victor, the two sides went to extra time and then spot-kicks, with Argentina progressing 4-2 from the penalty spot.
The epic tie that played out was hugely contrasting to the game that occurred a day earlier between Germany and Brazil, which sets up an intriguing repeat of the 1986 and 1990 finals. Here are all the biggest winners and losers from the second semi-final in Brazil.
Loser: Poor Offside Decisions
This one came on both sides of the flag.
Gonzalo Higuain was caught offside more than once when in simple attacking positions, wide and looking right the way along the defensive line, not a position he should have been flagged from. At the other end, Arjen Robben did the same, with both players spurning chances to progress attacks that were few and far between.
On the flip side, Robin van Persie saw an erroneous offside flag go up against him, denying a chance to shoot or win a penalty when he was clearly a few yards on.
Winner: Demichelis and Argentina's Defence
While we acknowledge that there was a lack of attacking intent in the game, due praise must also go to the defenders who performed admirably, kept around £250 million worth of forwards quiet for 120 minutes and rarely made any kind of slip-up.
Martin Demichelis made a number of timely blocks, tackles and interceptions to inspire Argentina's back line to a strong performance and another clean sheet, following on from not conceding against Switzerland and Belgium in the knockouts.
Marcos Rojo, Pablo Zabaleta and Ezequiel Garay were also all consistent and diligent about their work.
Loser: Fans Hoping for a Repeat of Brazil vs. Germany
Following on from an eight-goal thriller in the first semi-final, many neutral supporters might have been hoping to see something similar, if not quite as extravagant, in the second.
They were to be disappointed; Argentina and Netherlands fought out a very tight, tense, safety-first 90 minutes with both sides more intent or remaining in the game than leaving their opponents in the dust.
With plenty of defenders staying back and few extra attackers being committed forward, chances were few and far between.
B/R tactical analyst Sam Tighe called it the "worst game of the tournament" via Twitter, worse even than Iran's scoreless draw against Nigeria in the group stage.
Winner: Vlaar and Netherlands' Defence
At the opposite end of the pitch to Demichelis and Co., Ron Vlaar was Netherlands' rock for 120 minutes.
Organised, composed and very quick to read the game and move himself and others into position, Vlaar covered, closed down and put in challenges both on the deck and in the air to ensure Argentina's front players rarely had time on the ball inside the penalty area—or indeed anywhere in its vicinity.
Daryl Janmaat made a phenomenal headed clearance, and Stefan de Vrij was admirable throughout, while Dirk Kuyt got through plenty of work on both sides as wing-back.
Loser: Lack of Willingness or Ability to Change Game from the Bench
In previous matches at the World Cup, Netherlands boss Louis van Gaal has been able to influence the course of games from his bench with telling substitutions or tactical switches.
On this occasion, he largely went like-for-like, swapping Dirk Kuyt from one flank to the other at the break but keeping the team shape the same.
Alejandro Sabella made little impact also, throwing on three ineffectual players in the second half and never looking as though he wanted his team to break out of the defensive shell they were in from the start.
Winner: The Defensive Midfielders
Argentina went with three attackers as usual, with Netherlands operating with a front two once more.
By contrast, Argentina had two central defenders, while Netherlands had three. It left an obvious one-vs.-one situation at both ends of the pitch in open play, and with neither side committing wide players into the attack, the wide defenders dropping in meant it was constantly the defending side that had the overload, comfortably winning the ball back.
In turn, that led the midfield battle to be important in terms of territory as well as second balls—and Nigel de Jong and Javier Mascherano won out there every time. In a tight match, with few players gambling on running from deep, the play of both to sweep up, make challenges and get the ball moving forward again was quietly impressive and key for both sides.
Mascherano then made a fantastic late block to take the game into extra time.
Loser: Wesley Sneijder
There is almost always one big-name player who happens to miss a spot-kick when big teams are sent home from the World Cup, and on this occasion, it was the turn of Wesley Sneijder.
His penalty was well-struck, but at a medium height and not close enough to the corner, allowing the Argentine keeper to make an impressive save.
Sneijder was one of the Dutch heroes as they reached the final in 2010—but four years later, it is essentially his missed spot-kick that sends them out of the competition one stage earlier.
Winner: Sergio Romero
Sergio Romero has hardly had a look-in all season long as the backup at AS Monaco, but the Argentina No. 1 goalkeeper has made himself a hero with two penalty saves in the shootout against Netherlands.
He initially saved Ron Vlaar's low, rather feeble effort with a dive and stop to his left before a more spectacular, leaping dive to the opposite side to keep out Sneijder.
One round earlier, it was Netherlands' Tim Krul getting the plaudits for sending his side through. Jasper Cillessen couldn't repeat the trick, but Romero could and Argentina are through to the World Cup final as a result.
Romero downplayed his heroics, giving credit to a higher power.
"Penalties are all about luck; that is the reality," he told FIFA.com. "I had confidence and thanks to God it turned out well."