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World Cup 2014
 

World Cup: Argentina reach final after penalty shootout win over the Netherlands

Published on Jul 10, 2014 7:18 AM
 

JUST when it looked like it could not get any worse for Brazil, it did on Wednesday night. A day after watching their national team lose their semi-final match against Germany 1-7, Brazilians had to stomach another gut-wrenching football outcome - Argentina are through to a World Cup final on Brazilian soil.

Brazil's neighbours and bitter football rivals overcame the Netherlands 4-2 in a penalty shootout after efforts from Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder were saved by Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero.

Said Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella: "It is a great joy. It was a very difficult, very close match. I'm happy. We're in the final. We'll see what we can do with one day less recovery time (compared to Germany) and after penalties. But we'll give everything: humility, hard work, 100 per cent. We'll see if that's enough for us to win." 

This time, there was no goalkeeping heroics from the Netherlands, which had substitute goalkeeper Tim Krul to thank as his saves proved the difference in their penalty shootout quarter-final win over Costa Rica.

The Dutch had made all three changes in 120 minutes as coach Louis van Gaal attempted to win it in extra time. But where Dutch goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen failed - Lionel Messi, Ezequiel Garay, Sergio Aguero and Maxi Rodriguez all scored from the spot - Romero succeeded, and booked his team a date with Germany on Sunday.

Only Ajren Robben and Dirk Kuyt found a way pass him, and that, only in the shootout after both teams failed to score after both regulation and extra time.

A day after the Brazil vs Germany anomaly, the footballing world came back down to earth, with a match that characterised such key matches - keen tactical battles which are often low-scoring events.

The match kicked-off on a sombre note, with a moment's silence observed for former Argentina great Alfredo di Stefano, who died on Monday. He was 88.

But it hardly picked up after that, despite Argentina,  taking the field with black arm bands in honour of their fallen great, playing the more positive football.

Both sides combined for at least three goals a match in their previous World Cup meetings in 1974, 1978 and 1998. But it was plain to see that the 2014 meeting was not going to go the same route, with van Gaal and his Argentina counterpart Alejandro Sabella keen not to make the same mistakes that Brazil did 24 hours earlier.

That there were only four attempts between the two teams in the first half showed the safety-first mentality. In total, there was only one short on target in the opening 45 minutes, that too from a Messi free kick.

The Argentina skipper and Dutchman Robben struggled to get into the game, with both key players kept on a tight leash by opposing defences. Everywhere the pair went, at least one opposing player followed. Even attacking players like Sneijder were not spared defensive duties when Messi was on the ball.

With little to cheer for in the match by way of it being a sporting spectacle, Argentina fans made their voices heard, despite the combined efforts of Brazilian and Dutch fans trying to drown them out. After Brazil's loss against Germany on Tuesday, the last thing Brazilians wanted was to see bitter rivals Argentina in the Sunday's final at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro.

But even the 63,267 fans soon grew tired of the football on offer. And as rain fell shortly after the hour-mark, so did the jeers and whistles, the crowd trying to will the 22 men on the pitch to play more positive football. Yet it hardly improved, with Messi badly over-hitting a free kick, and Sneijder trying to outdo the Argentinian at the other end with an almost identical terrible effort.

It was not until the 75th minute that the first real chance of the game was conjured. Enzo Perez's galloping run on the right channel and cross was meant for Gonzalo Higuain. But despite the forward's best efforts, he could only find the side netting. It was to be his last contribution of the match as he made way for Aguero.

But it was the Netherlands which came closest to snatching victory at the death, Robben's attempt on goal in stoppage time just denied by the outstretched leg of the brilliant Javier Mascherano.

In extra time, Argentina substitute Rodrigo Palacio came closest with a close-range header. But it was largely more of the same and as both teams settled for a shootout - and the subsequent Krul ending for the Netherlands.

marclim@sph.com.sg

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