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
News
peopleHere's what Stephen Fry would say
News
i100
Sport
Serena Williams holds the Australian Open title
sportAustralia Open 2015 final report
Sport
footballLive: All the latest from today's Premier League matches
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee