Netherlands vs. Argentina: 50-50 Challenge

ByElko Born and Sam Kelly via ESPN logo
Thursday, July 10, 2014

It's a repeat of the 1978 World Cup final as the Netherlands face Argentina in Sao Paulo on Wednesday, with just one more match between the teams and a place at the Maracana. The Netherlands reached the final in 2010 while Argentina, winners 36 years ago, are in the semifinals for the fourth time in their history. Elko Born (Netherlands) and Sam Kelly (Argentina) preview the clash.

Sum up your tournament so far

Elko Born: The tournament has been a dream so far, with everything going right at exactly the right moment, from Robin van Persie's wonder goal in the first match to Arjen Robben's form and manager Louis van Gaal's audacious substitution against Costa Rica.

There is almost a feeling the match against Argentina can hardly go wrong. Should the Argentines take the lead then surely Robben or Van Persie will step up or Van Gaal will come up with more magic.

Sam Kelly: Historic. It's not been as free-scoring as Argentina would have liked and it's been very nervy at times, but the Rubicon has been crossed; for the first time since 1930, Argentina have reached a World Cup semifinal without either being the host nation (1978) or having Diego Maradona in the squad (1986 and 1990). And for the first time since losing the 1990 final -- the third World Cup final out of four that Argentina had featured in -- they've got past the quarters.

It's not been all sunshine and roses. They've lost Angel Di Maria for the semifinal at least and there might be a minor concern about some of the finishing on Saturday, because in truth given how the game went, Argentina should probably have beaten Belgium by more than one goal. But key changes were made and worked, and key players who hadn't previously stepped up (I'm looking at you, Gonzalo Higuain) did so magnificently. Everything might finally be coming together.

World Cup history between the two countries

EB: There is, of course, Dennis Bergkamp's classic goal in the quarterfinal of the World Cup in 1998. But the most memorable match between the Netherlands and Argentina was played in 1978, when the countries faced each other in the final of the World Cup.

The Netherlands, still disappointed from narrowly missing out on the ultimate prize in 1974, lost 2-1 after extra time and were once again left empty-handed. This, as you can imagine, has not been forgotten. Among fans and in the media, the word "revenge" is being tossed around.

SK: This will be the fifth meeting between these nations at the World Cup. The Netherlands have won two -- a 4-0 win in Gelsenkirchen on their way to the final in 1974, and a 2-1 win in Marseille in 1998, decided by that brilliant Bergkamp effort as Elko says. The most recent meeting, during the 2006 group stage, brought the only competitive draw between the sides, a 0-0 in Frankfurt.

Argentina's sole World Cup win -- indeed, their only win, because they've never won a friendly -- against the Netherlands was the 3-1 extra-time victory (it had finished 1-1 after 90 minutes) in the Estadio Monumental in the final of the 1978 World Cup. For most Argentines, 1978 is a tainted victory due to the military junta's attempts (very possibly successful) to swing things the home side's way. As such, taking out the Netherlands this time round could also be painted as a win over one of the darker parts of Argentina's own history (off the pitch as well as on it).

What are your expectations for the rest of the tournament?

EB: Ahead of the tournament most fans did not expect the Netherlands to get very far. Consequently, reaching the semifinal can already be seen as a huge success. But after a series of convincing victories, the Dutch now think they can win the World Cup and with the empowering feeling of confidence now instilled in the Oranje, it is difficult to simply dismiss this assertion completely.

After the lost finals of 1974, 1978 and 2010, will it finally happen? Or is desire clouding judgement too much, and have the Dutch been a little lucky to get this far?

- Macintosh: Van Gaal has gumption to spare

SK: Two very tight semifinals but, just possibly, a more open final. As for how Argentina will do in their final two matches, they need to improve still, but the good news is that they already seem to have begun to step things up somewhat. Excellent in the first half against a Belgium side that offered them more space than they'd had in the previous round, they could have been further ahead but controlled the game pretty effectively even without the ball in the second half.

Of the changes last time, Marcos Rojo should return from suspension to replace Jose Basanta at left-back, but Martin Demichelis will surely keep his place alongside Ezequiel Garay in the centre of defence; Demichelis looked far better than Federico Fernandez, and crucially Garay also looked more at ease with the experience of the Manchester City man alongside him. Given their potential for improvement and the fact they've done so in small bursts so far in the tournament, I think Argentina are narrow favourites for the semi -- particularly with Nigel de Jong injured for the Netherlands.

Key battle

EB: As one of the best footballers of the world, Lionel Messi is the man the Netherlands fear most, and without the injured defensive midfielder Nigel de Jong, the relatively inexperienced Dutch defence will have to be on their guard.

In the case of Messi, though -- and in true Dutch fashion -- the best defence might be the attack. The battle between Argentina and the Netherlands will be a battle between Messi and Robben, the Netherlands' star man up front. On the day of the semifinal, who will perform best? And more importantly: Who will score the most goals?

SK: Messi vs. Georginio Wijnaldum. In De Jong's absence, Wijnaldum (and Wesley Sneijder) seems likely to be asked to sit a little deeper in midfield to counter Messi's threat in front of the Dutch defence. If that sounds risky, it could well be; we saw in the first half against Belgium how much Messi finally enjoyed being given the space that came with having just one man marking him, as he produced some wonderful probing passes, including probably the through-ball of the finals so far to set Di Maria up for the shot from which the winger seemed to pick up his injury.

It's clear -- all but impossible to deny -- that Argentina rely on Messi, and even with their bit-by-bit improvements so far, that's not likely to change here, particularly with Di Maria out of the equation. If Messi gets the space in midfield to pick up a head of steam on the ball, he could be very dangerous -- perhaps decisively so. Elsewhere on the pitch, how Marcos Rojo deals with Arjen Robben on the Dutch right/Argentine left will also prove important.

- Vickery: Argentina fail to thrill


EB: Having seen Dennis Bergkamp's wonder goal against Argentina in 1998 as a child, Robben or Van Persie will feel inspired to do something similar in the dying seconds of the match. The Netherlands will win 2-1.

SK: It's very tight to call, but I'm going for Argentina to edge it by a goal again; if I were Dutch, the lack of bite in defensive midfield would be a worry coming up against Messi, while Argentina's own defensive errors were notably less of a problem with Demichelis stepping into the back line against Belgium.

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