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
Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
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

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders