Argentina to meet Germany in World Cup final
Sergio Romero the hero as goalkeeper saves two Dutch penalties after goalless 120 minutes
All night long through what was a disappointing semi-final, the Argentine fans revelled in the manner the host nation had exited this World Cup. Eventually their players rubbed local noses in it by delivering the result no Brazilian had wanted to see.
Argentina moved one step closer to a third World Cup title and on the turf of their closest and most bitter of rivals.
It took spot kicks to do it after the first scoreless draw ever at this stage of the competition; the contrast with the night before could scarcely have been more stark.
In the end, though, Argentina converted all four of their penalties courtesy of Lionel Messi, Ezequiel Garay, Sergio Aguero and Maxi Rodriquez, while Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder had their efforts saved by Sergio Romero who did really well to stop the second one.
Whatever about their nerve, the South Americans will have done little enough over the course of the 120 minutes here in Sao Paulo to dispel the lingering doubts about their overall quality. They have a few days to worry about that, though, and it certainly seemed a question for another time as the celebrations kicked off at the Corinthians Arena.
The game had no chance of matching Tuesday’s for drama but it should have had little trouble being a more engaging encounter. The teams were certainly more even, but for long stretches they seemed content to poke and prod at each other while concentrating on keeping things tight at the back.
It had started cautiously with the Netherlands reverting to the 3-5-2 they started this tournament with and their opponents reacting by effectively withdrawing Ezequiel Lavezzi into midfield to counter their width there.
Everybody’s emphasis was on containment and it generally went well with Vlaar playing a starring role as the Dutch, having so little other attacking talent to worry about, swamped Messi everytime he got the ball.
Alejandro Sabella’s men largely cut off the supply to the frontmen by pressing their opponents quickly and high up the pitch, taking particular care to target Sneijder.
So much close attention helped to ensure that things got a little tetchy at times. Nigel De Jong, sufficiently recovered from his groin strain to play for an hour, and Javier Mascherano were, as you’d expect, in the thick of things and the Argentine, in particular, busied himself with the task of keeping those around him on their toes, but neither was a major offender.
Martin Demichelis, on the other hand, was certainly lucky not get a booking through the first half after a fairly wild kick at Sneijder.
Bruno Martins Indi finally ran out of second chances with the lenient Turkish official late in the half when he got the game’s first yellow for a check on Messi, one reason he didn’t return after the break, having been replaced by Daryl Janmaat.
That was one more card than we had had clearcut chances up until that point. Robin van Persie had thought for a moment he had a decent penalty shout but Stefan De Vrij had come back from a long way offside before flicking the ball on for the striker.
At the other end, there were a couple of half chances and Argentina always looked capable of causing Daley Blind problems down their right but until very late on neither keeper had anything much more to deal with other than a few high balls which Jasper Cillesssen caught and Romero punched, perhaps in an attempt to make things just a little more exciting.
It was less than scintillating stuff.
Arjen Robben was one of the players most likely to liven it all up but, tightly marked too, he took a long time to make any sort of impact. When he finally got to run at opponents with the ball at his feet for the first time early in the second half, he should have sent Van Persie clear but, typically, the 30 year-old chose instead to cut inside Demichelis and on to his left foot. Lucus Biglia intervened at the crucial moment and stole possession away.
As things wore on, the game opened up but the pattern changed little and after Janmaat had done well to prevent Gonzalo Higuain getting a close range header in, it was nearly the end of the 90 minutes when Argentina finally had an actual shot on target. That was from a long way out with Marcos Rojo’s firmly struck effort flying straight at the Dutch goalkeeper.
Minutes later, Robben nearly nicked it for his side when play was switched quickly from right to left. Dirk Kuyt, who like the Bayern player, did score from the spot in the shootout, combined with Sneijder to play Robben in but Mascherano tracked the run brilliantly and got a vital touch to shot and put it behind.
Finally, the contest was coming to life but it would take more time to find a winner.
The Dutch made the brighter start to extra time but still struggled to manufacture a breakthrough. Twice in its second period, their opponents looked set to but first Rodrigo Palacio then Maxi Rodriguez made life a little too easy for Cillessen. The penalty takers, though, would finally change all that.
Argentina: Romero; Zabaleta, Demichelis, Garay, Rogo; Perez (Palacio, 71 mins), Biglia, Mascherano, Lavezzi (Rodriquez, 101 mins); Higuain (Aguero, 72 mins), Messi.
Netherlands: Cillessen; De Vrij, Vlaar, Martins Indi (Janmaat, half-time); Kuyt, Schneider, De Jong (Clasie, 61 mins), Wijnaldum, Blind; Robben, Van Persie (Huntelaar, 96 mins).
Referee: C Cakir (Turkey).