The Netherlands and Argentina are two nations that will feel as though they’ve never quite fulfilled their potential on the international stage. They’re teams that have boasted some of the greatest players to have ever played the game and yet they have only won two World Cups between them.
Nonetheless they do have an illustrious history when it comes to the World Cup and have played out some contests that have been rife with iconic moments.
The two met in the 1978 final—a game regarded by many as one of the greatest finals ever—in front of swathes of Argentinean supporters; Mario Kempes inspired the Albiceleste to victory that day. They locked horns in the quarter-final 20 years later too, when a stunning late goal from Dennis Bergkamp made the difference that day.
They’ll write another chapter in their World Cup rivalry in 2014, as the two battle it out for a spot in the final on July 13 at Brazil’s iconic Maracana. Here are all the details you need ahead of what promises to be a gripping contest.
Alejandro Sabella will be without Angel di Maria for this one after the midfielder limped off in the quarter-final against Belgium. The Albiceleste boss has been handed though, with the news the Sergio Aguero is available to play. Argentina will also welcome Marcos Rojo to the squad; he missed the clash with Belgium due to suspension.
Louis van Gaal will be hoping that Ron Vlaar and Leroy Fer can both shake off knocks to be fit for this one. In a positive to the Dutch boss, Nigel de Jong was able to take part in training ahead of this clash despite reports suggesting he was set to miss the rest of the tournament. There are also concerns about Robin van Persie, who is a doubt for the semi-final with a stomach problem.
How do the Dutch stop Lionel Messi?
Argentina’s No.10 has been simply superb throughout the course of this tournament. He’s been at his scintillating best despite enduring a domestic campaign that was punctured by loss of form and fitness, and it’ll be intriguing to see how Van Gaal looks to stifle the influence of the Barcelona man.
The Dutch have been tactically flexible throughout the course of this tournament, with Van Gaal making a host of subtle changes during the competition in order to tailor the Oranje’s game towards shutting down their opponents. So just as the Netherlands boss has done in every game so far, you suspect he’ll have a master-plan to stop Messi too.
Van Gaal could instruct a player like Daley Blind or De Jong to do a man-marking job on Messi, but that would potentially compromise the cohesive, collective defensive shape that the Dutch have instilled this tournament. So expect the Dutch to work exceptionally hard to cut off Messi’s supply line, and close off those little pockets he loves to drift into.
With that in mind, if De Jong was fit to play some part in this clash it’d be a major plus for the Netherlands. His supreme defensive instincts would be vital in eradicating those gaps between the lines, as would his understatedly astute distribution under pressure.
How do Argentina stop Arjen Robben?
Love him or hate him, there’s been no denying that Robben has been one of the outstanding players at this World Cup. When the Bayern Munich man picks up the ball on the half-turn with space to gallop into, there a few more thrilling sights in football.
While Van Gaal has naturally indulged in a lot of the praise for this Netherlands’ team effort, it’s often been the brilliance of Robben that has heaved the Oranje over the line. While the Dutch’s performance levels have fluctuated throughout this tournament, Robben’s standards have never wavered; he’s looked simply unstoppable at times.
Unstoppable he may be, but if Argentina are set to qualify for their first World Cup final in 24 years they’ll need to at least contain the 30-year-old forward. Firstly, they’ll need to strike a better balance in midfield that we were witness to against Belgium. In that sense, the injury to Di Maria could actually be a blessing in disguise, as the much more conservative duo of Lucas Biglia and Enzo Perez look likely to accompany Javier Mascherano in the Argentinean midfield.
They’ll have to be sharp in their defensive work and halt any sniff of a Dutch counter-attack. Because if the Oranje can swiftly transition the ball through defence, through midfield and into Robben, Argentina will find themselves in big trouble. Costa Rica resorted to hacking the Dutchman down to keep him under wraps in their game; you suspect Sabella would have no issues with his players employing a similar strategy.
What system will Van Gaal go with?
The million dollar question! Van Gaal has started every game with three central defenders, but the personnel and the manner in which the rest of the players have operated in front of that trio has varied from game to game.
So we should expect a back-three from the Netherlands again, with Dirk Kuyt likely to start at right wing-back after he’s put in a host of performances bristling with defensive industry and attacking endeavor. But aside from those four spots, this team could start in a myriad of different combinations. Robben, Van Persie—fitness permitting—and Wesley Sneijder are all guaranteed starters, but the positions they will occupy will certainly be intriguing.
Take an educated guess, expect Memphis Depay and Robben to start ahead of the two wing backs, with Sneijder sitting a little deeper in midfield alongside one of Giorgio Wijnaldum, Jonathan De Guzman or De Jong. That’ll give the Dutch a nice blend of defensive steel, energy, dynamism and counter-attacking potential.
The first goal will be absolutely vital here. Whichever team gets it can afford to sit back a little, soak up pressure and use their attacking quality to strike on the counter. With that in mind, not to mention the prize at stake, expect a very tight game with neither team overly keen on throwing too many men forward in the early stages.
Ultimately, it could come down to a shootout between Messi and Robben. And while the latter of the two has had a wonderful tournament, his influence is a lot more likely to be negated in a game where space is at a premium than the Barcelona man.
That’s why I think the Albiceleste will just have enough to edge through this one and continue their dream of a first World Cup win in 28 years.
Prediction: Argentina 1-0 Netherlands