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
Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
science
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before