Semifinal Preview: Netherlands vs. Argentina
Given the history of each team, it should come as no great surprise to find the Netherlands and Argentina in the running for the 2014 World Cup final. Tomorrow’s game will determine who shall advance to meet Germany in the final, making the contest between the Oranje and La Albiceleste an emotional affair and a must see as the top scorers from both teams battle it out to claim the victory. Both have qualified for their fair share of Cups, and both have made it to the semi finals on more than one occasion. Argentina may have claimed two victories and the Netherlands zero, but every tournament is different and every match unique.
The most memorable meeting between the two teams occurred during the 1978 World Cup when they met for the final. After an intense full time, Argentina walked away as champions with a 2-1 victory over Holland in overtime. Since then, they have added another title to their record in 1986, and have made it to the semifinals a total of four times in 16 world cup appearances. The Netherlands, in comparison, have only qualified for the cup 10 times, and boast no wins, despite making it to the finals three times (1974, 1978, 2010). Wednesday’s match will be the sixth meeting between the Netherlands and Argentina in the history of the cup, with both teams having won two games each and earning a draw during the 2006 group stage.
It is hard to say which team is more likely to win since they are both great in different ways. Not only that, we have yet to see Argentina play to their full potential this tournament, leaving fans to wonder if this will be the game where La Albiceleste kick it up a notch and play to their potential. Between injuries and suspensions, Argentina has yet to begin its first choice starting roster. However, they have made it work to their advantage, beating out the likes of Nigeria, Switzerland, and Belgium in order to make it to the semifinals. While this is not a huge surprise, as they are South American favorites, it is impressive given their relatively unremarkable performances in each match.
The Netherlands are another story, with an exceptionally great roster and one hell of an opening game against Spain. If we judge on that performance alone, I would be nervous to be Argentina when the Oranje come a calling with revenge on their mind. In addition to their offensive strength, the Netherlands more than proved their remarkable stamina and ability to play a fast-paced game all the way to a shoot out when they beat Costa Rica in overtime during the quarterfinals. If there will be any weakness Wednesday, it will be in the ability of the defense to successfully occupy Messi and prevent any chance whatsoever for him to have a direct shot on goal.
Each team also has players with injuries that could challenge how well they are able to both lead an attack and defend against one another. Most notably, one of the Netherlands’ star goal scorers, Robin Van Persie, could miss out due to a stomach issue. As the captain, it would come as quite a shock not see Van Persie on Wednesday’s roster and would put a higher pressure on Arjen Robben to make up for his absence. Both players have three goals each to their names, which is exactly half of the total goals scored by the Oranje this world cup. Also on the fence to play is defensive midfielder Nigel de Jong, who suffered a groin injury against Mexico and has yet to return. De Jong was given a 2-4 week recovery window, yet when the coach was asked about his chances of playing in Wednesday’s match, Louis van Gaal responded, “If his reaction is good and he can play, then the miracle can come true.”
As for Argentina, they make be in luck as Marcos Rojo comes off suspension to replace Jose Basanta. Rojo started in all four of Argentina’s matches before being unable to play against Belgium due to a second yellow card against Switzerland. He earned his first world cup goal against Nigeria, aiding the 3-2 win that landed Argentina at the top of their group. His performance will have to fill the gap left by midfielder Ángel Di María, who will be unable to play due to a thigh injury sustained during the 1-0 quarterfinal victory against Belgium. Not only is he a great presence to have defensively on the field, Di María also scored the winning goal for Argentina that eliminated Switzerland during the Round of 16.
Just as viewers will notice the lack of presence from injured players, they will feel the energy brought to the pitch from two of the biggest names in modern fútbol: Lionel Messi and Arjen Robben. Messi leads the 2014 chart with four goals in five games. Robben is only one behind with three goals and has shown no intent to slow down any time soon. Georginio Wijnaldum and Wesley Sneijder, midfielders for the Netherlands, might have to consider playing deeper than they generally have in order to manage Messi’s access to the ball and minimize the space available for him to make a move. A contributing factor to Messi’s success against Belgium was the fact only one man was marking him, giving him more space than usual to make runs and create shots on goal. The Netherlands will have to be very proactive in preventing him access to the ball, with their best defense being a strong attack.
Both teams have a reasonable chance at coming away with a victory as long as they play to the best of their ability. Each have top quality strikers who will be starting, a hyperaware midfield that is capable of making quick, progressive plays, and a defensive tactic that has challenged each of their opponents thus far. Even though many tout Argentina as slight favorites, I am favoring the Netherlands to outlast the experienced champions and secure yet another chance at taking the title for their first time.