The Netherlands and Argentina will meet at the Arena de São Paulo on Wednesday to determine the second finalist at the 2014 World Cup.
Argentina are the only team in the semi-finals who have won all five of their matches to get here. No team has kept more clean sheets than Alejandro Sabella’s side although each of their wins have all been by one goal.
Dutch manager Louis van Gaal brought on Tim Krul at the end of extra-time in what turned out to be a master stroke as the Newcastle United goalkeeper kept out two Costa Rica penalties to help the Netherlands reach the final four.
Question marks have to be asked how the Dutch failed to score in 120 minutes despite having 67% of the possession and firing 20 shots in on goal. Wesley Sneijder did hit the frame of the goal twice and Robin van Persie had a close range attempt deflected onto the bar. Simply put, on another day, it could well have been a rout.
Lionel Messi has not scored in either of Argentina’s two knock-out ties but he did assist their late extra-time winner against Switzerland in the second round and was denied in stoppage time by an excellent save from Thibaut Courtois in the semi-finals.
Despite not creating many chances, Argentina’s 1-0 win over Belgium was arguably their best performance of the tournament as they limited Belgium to very few clear openings.
Nigel de Jong was initially ruled out of the tournament through injury but returned to light training on Monday. As did Leroy Fer. Both are serious doubts as is centre-back Ron Vlaar. Louis van Gaal played Daley Blind in his holding midfield role against Costa Rica, but one would expect he has a much tougher task this time around.
Memphis Depay and Dirk Kuyt started the wing back roles and dropped back to make it a back five early in the game on the few occasions the opposition threatened in the previous round. With the Argentina attacking threat, Van Gaal may opt for more defensive-minded players in those positions.
Ángel di María is out with a thigh injury picked up in the first half of Argentina’s quarter-final victory. Sergio Agüero is back in training and likely to start. Marcos Rojo returns from suspension.
We’ve counted on Ron Vlaar being fit for this game to continue the same back three that has worked successfully through the tournament. The two wide midfielders will drop back to support them when out of possession. Whether Dirk Kuyt is one of them remains to be seen.
Argentina can bring in Sergio Agüero up front to partner Gonzalo Higuaín ahead of Lionel Messi. This formations sees Ezequiel Lavezzi dropped and three central midfielders to help win and maintain possession for Alejandro Sabella’s side.
Arjen Robben vs Marcos Rojo
The Bayern Munich forward was determined to find a winner versus Costa Rica in the last round and was denied by some solid defence. Marcos Rojo is back from suspension which should mean he’s fresh but his defending hasn’t been so secure. Robben should be able to successfully take him on and win free kicks down that right wing.
Lionel Messi vs Georginio Wijnaldum
If Nigel de Jong or Leroy fair aren’t fit, someone has a big job in that centre midfield to keep Lionel Messi quiet. Four years ago the Dutch had de Jong and Mark van Bommel fouling the opposition in that role, who’s going to the hero for the Oranje in Brazil?
Sergio Agüero vs Bruno Martins Indi
Should Sergio Agüero start the Netherlands will need to keep him quiet, or hope he gets another injury. Bruno Martins Indi doesn’t look the most secure defender in the world and opposition players have been getting past the Feyenoord defender perhaps much more easier than his team mates would like. Also vulnerable to giving away a clumsy or silly free kick – this should be one of the areas which Argentina look to exploit. Will need help from Daley Blind in front of him.
Soccerlens prediction: Netherlands 3-1 Argentina
The Dutch may have left it late to dispose of the plucky Costa Rica in the quarters, but I think they will make short work of this decidedly poor Argentina side, who have been surviving so far on both Leo Messi’s brilliance, and the profligacy of their opponents. Louis van Gaal is one shrewd operator, and I can see the soon-to-be Manchester United boss outfoxing Alejandro Sabella, who looks out of his depth.
Key World Cup links:
Netherlands World Cup 2014 Team Page.
Argentina World Cup 2014 Team Page.
World Cup 2014 Matches – Fixtures & Results
World Cup 2014 Player & Team Stats
World Cup 2014 Group Tables
Watch live World Cup matches online.
Our main World Cup 2014 news page.
The Official Soccerlens World Cup Predictor Game.