Argentina vs Netherlands preview World Cup 2014: Argentines beginning to feel fate is on their side

Martin Demichelis justified selection with a towering defensive performance against Belgium

Brasilia

This is not the greatest Argentina team – certainly not a side with the lustre of 1986 – but the sense grows that it might just be their time. The semi-final against the Netherlands in Sao Paulo falls on the nation’s Independence Day, 48 hours from now, and the blue-and-white invasion down there will need to be seen to be believed.

It is hard to overstate the psychological significance of passing beyond the quarter-finals at last. “Finally Sergio Goycochea can rest in peace,” La Nacion wrote after the 1-0 win over Belgium on Saturday, recalling the goalkeeping legend of the 1990 tournament, who saved penalties against Yugoslavia and Italy in the knockout stage and was close to saving the kick which sealed the World Cup for West Germany in Rome. Argentina had not made it to a semi-final since.

The Buenos Aires newspapers counted out yesterday how long their nation has had to wait to reach the last four, where they face the Dutch: 27 games in World Cup finals and 8,771 days.

“Trapped by a script it is hard to plagiarise” was how one put, which is why there is no criticism of the prosaic way they progressed past Belgium – a performance which was rather less than beautiful.

There were certainly divine moments, delivered by Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel di Maria, who underwent tests on a thigh injury yesterday and is a doubt for Wednesday’s match. But the selection of Higuain as man of the match underlined that there was little individualism in the Estadio Nacional. The collective was better than the sum of the parts.

“Today more than ever we were a team,” Messi reflected. “We didn’t create much but neither did they. We ran more than ever, because to get through we had to run that much and be totally committed. We played a game I am not used to doing: to run.” As the columnist Christian Grosso put it: “They did not care whether the bow was wrapped around the tissue paper.”

 The big performance came from Manchester City’s Martin Demichelis, whose selection by Alex Sabella in place of Napoli’s Federico Fernandez was justified. Demichelis is a better defender than his reputation at City has sometimes suggested. One of the challenges of operating alongside Vincent Kompany, as Demichelis has at City, is that Kompany tends to be an individualist, not always the best at defending as a pair, or looking out for his partner.

Martin Demichelis justified selection with a towering defensive performance against Belgium (Getty) Martin Demichelis justified selection with a towering defensive performance against Belgium (Getty)
Demichelis looked secure with Ezequiel Garay in the face of a Belgian’s aerial bombardment, as they ended the game with Romelu Lukaku, Marouane Fellaini and Daniel van Buyten all in the penalty area, looking to punish what coach Marc Wilmots clearly saw as a weak Argentina defence. “We didn’t suffer,” Messi observed, “because our players at the back had a great day and won everything in the air.”

Wilmots did his reputation little good with a subsequent attack on Argentinian negativity and gamesmanship. The South American nation won because they displayed greater balance and skill in the first half and then closed the door. Kompany did not agree with his manager’s claims about the opposition. “No, I don’t want to say this,” he declared. “They have positive players and their players individually can make the difference, they can make something happen. It would be difficult for me to be against them.”

More had been expected from the great young Belgian generation than this. Fellaini (their biggest threat on Saturday), Kevin De Bruyne and Jan Vertonghen were the only Belgians who could look back on the game with no regrets yesterday.

Argentina’s acute desire to give their big neighbour a bloody nose has been given new energy by Neymar’s departure from the tournament and Pablo Zabaleta pointed out that home advantage will not be a bed of roses for the Brazilians this week. “It can be both advantage and disadvantage,” the defender said. “There is pressure, but at the moment everything is going well for Brazil. They have won all their games.”

The hope in Argentina is that the immense Dutch workload will take its toll in Sao Paulo. The Netherlands’ Grand Tour has taken them from Salvador to Porto Alegre, Sao Paulo, Fortaleza, back to Salvador and now Sao Paulo once more. “Miles and heat. These small details sometimes define the big duels,” La Nacion coolly observed.

A Brazil-Argentina final has been the home nation’s worst nightmare. Defeat in the Maracana to the noisy, boastful neighbour would be about as grim as the 1950 final against Uruguay – or grimmer.

“It’s a huge mistake if we start thinking about Brazil-Argentina in the final,” said Zabaleta. “We have to play one more game, so we just need to keep the feet on the ground.” But Argentina believe they know where this is all heading.

Get Adobe Flash player
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
News
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project