Argentina into final after dire showdown with Holland
A day after German masterclass, second World Cup semi ends in stalemate and penalties
Argentina will face Germany in the World Cup final in Rio on Sunday after beating the Netherlands in a penalty shootout last night.
In terms of drama the game was light years away from the first semi-final and remained goalless – and largely eventless – for a full 120 minutes. Even the penalty shoot-out was a straightforward affair, with Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder missing penalties for the Dutch to sent Argentina through to their first World Cup final since 1990.
What a contrast the two semi-finals of Brazil 2014 proved to be. During Germany's astonishing demolition of Brazil on Tuesday, breathless commentators struggled to keep up with the pace of the drama and scratched their heads in the search of new superlatives with which to describe the events unfolding in front of the world.
During the second-half of this tie, one unfortunate broadcaster optimistically ventured: "Something's going to happen soon."
Sadly, he was wrong. The Dutch, who started the tournament with such aplomb as they thrashed Spain 5-1, lacked any sort of attacking bite. Robin van Persie proved a peripheral figure until he was hauled off, and it was not until the 99th minute that they achieved their first shot on target, through the uncharacteristically tame Arjen Robben. Although Javier Mascherano also made a fine tackle in injury time just as the Dutch winger was preparing to shoot.
Meanwhile, Vlaar was a rock in the heart of the Dutch defence, and Nigel de Jong stuck so closely to Messi that the Argentine superstar did not even touch the ball in the opposition penalty area during the 120 minutes. The tactics may have been effective, but they made for an increasingly ghastly spectacle.
During the second-half, torrential rain poured down on the stadium. Many spectators ran for cover, and if they were unable to see the pitch they did not miss much. Gonzalo Higuain touched a Perez cross into the side-netting but the stalemate simply refused to be broken.
Seven of the 14 knockout games at this tournament have gone to extra time, the most since 1990. But any hope that the extra 30 minutes would open the tie up were dashed as events on the field continued in much the same vein.
By the time penalties arrived Holland had not scored a goal in 240 minutes, and Argentina had managed just two in 330 minutes of knock-out football.
And so to penalties. Romero saved Vlaar's opening kick and, when Sneijder missed their third, the writing was on the wall for the Dutchmen. Robben and Dirk Kuyt scored but Argentina remained on-target, with Messi, Ezequiel Garay and Sergio Aguero finding the net before Maxi Rodriguez's kick sent Alejandro Sabella's side to Rio.
Germany will be favourites for the final but the regimented, icy way in which Argentina kept the Dutch at bay last night means nothing can be taken for granted ahead of the tournament climax.