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When And Where
4 PM ET, Arena Corinthians, São Paulo, Brazil
Last Match: 1-0 win vs Belgium
Just like in the Germany/France game, Argentina scored early and held on to win 1-0. The ball took a fortunate bounce and landed on the foot of Gonzalo Higuaín, who rifled a shot into the net. Higuaín later struck the post, which led to a comically near-fatal falling experience from Argentina manager Alejandro Sabella. Probably out of shock that Higuaín was playing so well, since he has been a non-factor for Argentina in the World Cup up to this point.
However, there was some bad news for Argentina coming out of this win. Star midfielder Ángel Di María left the game injured and has been ruled out of the semifinal matchup against the Netherlands. As huge as it is that Higuaín stepped up his play, it is equally as impactful to have Di María out. Honestly, it's not equal. Argentina relies heavily on the speedy midfielder and it is going to be tough to try and pick up his productivity. Di María also led the team in shots, which makes it even more imperative that Higuaín continues his good play.
Key Player: Gonzalo Higuaín
Obviously Lionel Messi is Argentina's engine, but Higuaín is their most important player going into their game against the Netherlands. We all know what we are going to get from Messi, but Higuaín is a mystery. After a decent first match, he was MIA in their next three matches, only to totally redeem himself against Belgium. He scored a goal and was constantly around the ball. It is that type of aggressiveness that Argentina would love to see again. And with Di María out, his importance increases.
Why They Will Win
Lionel Messi seems to be a man on a mission. His pace with the ball has been incredible. His decisions and play-making has become crisper as the World Cup has went on and he has four goals to go along with it. He is the central figure in the Argentine attack and with Higuaín picking up his play, the Argentinian offense is extra dangerous. Pablo Zabaleta has been a steady rock on defense and needs to keep the back line in check against an aggressive Dutch attack, which was drawn offsides 13 times against Costa Rica. Argentina needs to watch that tape and try to mirror that sort of defending, if they can. The only hiccup towards victory is Ángel Di María missing the match.
Last Match: 0-0 vs Costa Rica (advanced 4-3 on penalties)
What a grind against Costa Rica. The Dutch had their chances to score and dominated possession. Costa Rican goalkeeper Keylor Navas made a plethora of quality saves and Wesley Sneijder cracked one off the bar. For the first 90 minutes, it was an Oranje attack.
However, in extra time, the game surprisingly evened up a bit and Costa Rica had their chances to notch a goal, but to no avail. Wesley Sneijder did hit the woodwork again late in extra time, because once just wasn't enough. For the second consecutive match, Costa Rica went to penalties. In a genius move by Netherlands manager Louis van Gaal, starting goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was subbed out for Tim Krul. Krul laid down some good ole smack talk and went on to guess correctly on all five Costa Rican attempts. An incredible run by Costa Rica ended in the quarterfinals with a valiant effort against a great Dutch squad. Hold your heads high, Costa Rica. For the Netherlands, they look to make consecutive appearances in the World Cup final.
Key Player: Arjen Robben
Robben's speed has been on display for the Dutch in the World Cup. He has been flying, and diving, all over the place. His feet might be the quickest in the world. Even in the 120th minute against Costa Rica, the 30-year-old did not seem to be fatigued, which talks to the level of his fitness. That fitness will have to be on point again versus Argentina. He can be a difference-maker with his blazing speed on the ball and he creates so much havoc wherever he goes, especially in the box. He knows where to move with his quickness and is excellent at putting defenders in compromising positions, which leads to fouls (and dives). Oh, and there's his left foot that we talk about endlessly. It's really good and almost unstoppable. That's even with everyone knowing he only goes to the left, to the left.
Why They Will Win
They have been here before. They have the experience from the last World Cup to build on to get there again. They have Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie, which is possibly the best duo in the world. Throw in Wesley Sneijder and move over Rush, we have a new holy triumvirate. The Dutch have grit and they know how to grind. Argentina is in uncharted territory with these players in the semifinals, so those intangibles could be the difference between advancement or a place in the third place match against a distraught Brazilian squad.
Who You Should Root For
Having the world's best player play in the World Cup final on South American soil is nearly a Hollywood script. Nearly. If this was Hollywood, they'd be playing Brazil in an all South American final. But Brazil forgot to show up yesterday, so that noble scenario is dead like your favorite Game of Thrones character. Also, you don't want to see an Argentina/Brazil matchup in the 3rd place game. That would be sad and depressing. An unfitting and somber ending to the two prestigious footballing nations. To be so close to an all South American final, yet so far. Yeah, we don't need to see that.
And for me at least, I still am holding a grudge with how the Netherlands played in the last World Cup final against Spain, where they practically played like bullies.
Argentina wins 1-0
On paper, the Netherlands may have the more solid squad, especially with Di María out for Argentina. However, the Argentines have Messi and home field, to an extent. No, the home field clearly didn't help Brazil yesterday, but Argentina has also looked better than Brazil this World Cup. Argentina has won every match thus far, but each win was by merely a single goal. Suffice it to say, they haven't been dominant.
But their play in the knockout games have been better than the group stage, which is always a good sign. Their defending has been more solid and they have gotten goals from players not named Messi. With Di María out, Argentina is supposedly going to gamble on Sergio Agüero's health and play him today. He injured his groin in their final match of the group stage against Nigeria and hadn't played great in the World Cup to begin with. Being thrown right in the fire of a semifinal matchup seems tough, but the Argentines are ready to pull all strings in hopes of advancing to their first World Cup final since 1990.
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