Netherlands vs Argentina match report World Cup 2014: Messi and Robben fail to shine as Sergio Romero breaks Dutch hearts

Netherlands 0 Argentina 0 (Argentina win 4-2 on penalties)

Sao Paulo

The greatest player of his generation has his place in football’s greatest game. Lionel Messi will walk out at the Maracana stadium on Sunday to take on Germany in the World Cup final, an underdog for once in his life but given the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of the finest players ever to have played the game.

NETHERLANDS VS ARGENTINA - AS IT HAPPENED

This semi-final victory over the Netherlands on penalties was not Messi’s finest two hours on a football pitch. It was one for the dogs of war and it took extra-time and then a shoot-out for Messi and his team-mates to see off a Dutch team that showed little or no ambition

It was a game that was played out in stark contrast to the jaw-dropping circumstances of Germany’s victory over Brazil the previous evening. But Argentina are there, they have made it to Rio de Janeiro, in a rematch of the 1986 and 1990 finals - and once again they have a maestro at No 10 to pin their hopes upon.

Video: Netherlands vs Argentina match report
Read more: Mascherano tracks Robben's tricks
De Jong sets tone as muzzled Messi meets match
Van Gaal decides against Krul substitution

It was far from a classic but shot through with tension from beginning to end, this World Cup semi-final went to extra-time without a meaningful chance at either end. The game’s great attacking players –Messi, Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben – were forced to take bit-parts in a match played out between two cautious defences and two zealous midfields.

 

It went to extra-time without Van Gaal’s side mustering a decent shot on goal. For the Manchester United fans who have followed their new manager’s tactical nuances throughout this tournament, there was another new departure here. In 90 minutes he forbade his team to do much more than contain. It was Argentina who tried to take the game to the Netherlands.

It was not quite as gruelling to watch as the Netherlands’ attempts to win the world Cup final four years’ ago but it was not far off.

It told you all you needed to know that one of the game’s few outstanding players were Vlaar, the Netherlands’ centre-half who patrolled the defence, and Messi in particular, with a certainty that had not always been evident in his time at Aston Villa. Javier Mascherano, who looked like he might have been briefly knocked out in the first half, was superb, never more so than when he blocked a late run and shot by Robben

As for Van Persie, he was substituted halfway through the first period of half-time looking shattered but without having had a sight of goal. The introduction of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was the last of the Netherlands’ three substitutes.

Mascherano makes a crucial block on Robben Mascherano makes a crucial block on Robben A pragmatic man, Van Gaal was not too proud to send out a Netherlands teams that was primarily set-up to neutralise the threat of Messi – as much as any team can – rather than try to exploit the explosive attacking force of Robben and Van Persie. It meant that the first half drifted by with very little of note from the Dutch, and just seven touches of the ball for Robben.

One of them was a half-volley lashed well wide on 13 minutes and as he came off at half-time, the Bayern Munich man looked like he was starting to get fed up with it all. Project Stop Messi meant sacrifices all around the men in orange shirts, including deploying Nigel De Jong almost exclusively to track Argentina’s mesmeric No 10.

Messi has an effect on people that few sportsman do. As the television cameras tracked him walking into the tunnel area before the game, Van Gaal could be spotted with his staff and then moving over to catch Messi’s eye and offer his hand. On the pitch, the Dutch never left Messi’s side and they were so fearful of what he might do to them that they were very reluctant to leave their own half.

The Argentina players celebrate the victory The Argentina players celebrate the victory It was frustrating for Argentina who made all the running before the break with very few clear chances on goal to show for it. The defender Ezequiel Garay put a brave header wide from Ezequiel Lavezzi’s cross. Messi had a good, low free-kick saved. But other than that the No 10 sent much of his time traversing the centre of the pitch looking around for the opportunity that would set him free to run at the Dutch.

He warmed up towards the end of the first half and drew two fouls from the defender Bruno Martins Indi, both of which were worthy of a booking, The Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir let the Feyenoord defender have the first one but he could not spare him any longer when Martins Indi wrapped an arm around Messi’s waist as the Argentine ghosted past him.

Bookings for opponents are crucial for Messi. The more who are on them, the fewer there are prepared to risk the tactical foul to stop him. In the first instance he whisked the ball away from a Dutch shirt on the right wing and was heading for goal before Martins Indi collided with him. Even the best defenders find themselves obliged to foul him on occasions. The key is to do it only once, and only for a booking.

Van Gaal’s reaction to Martins Indi’s booking, picked up seconds before half-time was immediate. The defender did not come back out for the second half and was replaced by another Feyenoord team-mate, the defender Daryl Janmaat. There was to be no risking the man on a booking with Messi scampering about, although he did a good deal less of that in the second half.

It was beset by tension but, still, what a drab old game in the rain in Sao Paulo with De Jong following Messi around like a bad undercover detective and Van Gaal’s team showing little or no interest in bringing Robben and Van Persie into the game. After the hour, De Jong trudged off to be replaced by another Feyenoord man, Jordy Clasie who was assigned the Messi-watch for the rest of the game.

There was a strong performance from Vlaar who made one crucial tackle on Messi on the edge of the box on 54 minutes a challenge that had to be immaculately timed or risk another of those dreaded bookings. Although the Dutch had little imagination going forward, when they did win free-kicks in dangerous positions they failed miserably to deliver. Both Dirk Kuyt and Sneijder struck dead balls from the left straight out of play.

In 90 minutes it was hard to remember a chance of any note. Higuain got a foot to a near post cross and put it wide, although he had been flagged offside. Eventually he gave way to Sergio Aguero, playing for the first time since the last group game against Nigeria.

In those final minutes of normal time, the Dutch turned the screw and it took a brilliantly perceptive tracking run and block from Mascherano to prevent Robben from getting a shot on goal when he ran through onto Sneijder’s flicked pass. The margins were tight and having let the Dutch near their goal so rarely that would have been the most extraordinary steal.

Messi gave the final address to his team-mates before extra-time. He created the best chances of that period, dinking a ball over the top for the substitute Rodrigo Palacio who headed it straight at Jasper Cillessen. A back-post cross to Maxi Rodriguez, another substitute, produced just a scuffed shot. They held the nerve for the penalties

PENALTIES: 2-4

Netherlands: Vlaar saved; Robben scored; Sneijder saved; Kuyt scored

Argentina: Messi scored; Garay scored; Aguero scored; Rodriguez scored

Netherlands (3-5-2): Cillessen; Vlaar, De Vrij, Martins Indi; Kuyt, Wijnaldrum, Sneijder, De Jong, Blind; Robben, Van Persie.

Subs: Janmaat/Martins Indi ht, Clasie/De Jong 62, Huntelaar/Van Persie 96

Argentina (4-3-1-2): Romero; Zabaleta, Demichelis, Garay, Rojo; Biglia, Mascherano, Perez; Messi; Higuain, Lavezzi.

Subs: Palacio/Perez 81, Aguero/Higuain 82, Rodriguez/Lavezzi 100

Booking: Netherlands Martins Indi, Huntelaar Argentina Demichelis

Referee: C Cakir (Turkey)

Man of the match: Mascherano

Rating: 4

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
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 air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

My George!

Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world