Yesterday, we saw Germany advance to the 2014 FIFA World Cup finals by completely destroying Brazil in their semi-final match up. Today, we’ll find out who gets the honor of playing them for all the marbles. It’s either going to be Holland, who have never won the World Cup, but have finished second three times (1974, 1978, 2010); or it’s going to be Argentina, who have won the whole thing twice (1978 and 1986). Let’s break down the matchup, and I’ll tell you who I want to win this game.
First of all, we have to talk about the storied World Cup history that exists between these two nations. The two have faced each other in World Cup play four other times, so fans should have enough in the banks to drum up some real vitriolic hatred for the opposing squad. Their first meeting was in the second round of Germany ’74, when Holland smacked Argentina around 4-0. The great Johan Cruyff scored twice, and it was a slaughter. Just four years later, the Albicelestes, playing on their home soil and led by the legendary Mario Kempes (pictured below) and his two goals, got their revenge on the Oranje in the final in 1978, winning their first World Cup in extra time
The two wouldn’t meet again until 20 years later, when Holland’s Dennis Bergkamp scored an incredible last-minute game winner to knock Argentina out of the quarter-finals. In 2006, they faced off in group play and drew 0-0, but Argentina was knocked out of the World Cup as a result. With that kind of history, to say that fans of these teams know each other well might be an understatement.
Kempes scores his second goal, as Argentina bests Holland in the 1978 final.
This should, by all means, be a good game. On paper, these are two of the most exciting teams in this tournament, and two that were definitely looked upon as favorites coming into it. Holland is led by Manchester United’s own Robin van Persie and Bayern Munich’s Arjen Robben. If you don’t know who these guys are, just stop reading this right now. I’ll wait…
OK I think they’re gone. Anyway, these two have been the heart of this Dutch team, and the source of most of its firepower, for much of the last two World Cups. Both men are now 30, which means they and probably need to win it all this year if it’s ever going to happen for them. You also can’t forget Wesley Sneijder, another 30 year old who plays for Galatasaray of the Turkish League. While van Persie and Robben have the ability to drive to the box and put balls past any goalie in the world, Sneijder is more of a sniper who loves to score goals from a distance. After van Persie and Robben terrorized the group stage, it has been Sneijder who has taken more of an offensive role in the knockout stage, scoring one goal on 11 shots in the last two matches. He would have scored more, but hit the woodwork twice against Costa Rica in the quarters.
One of those three guys is going to score against Argentina (assuming van Persie is over his stomach bug), although they aren’t the only options. The real wild card for Holland could be their coach, Louis Van Gaal. He seems to have pushed all the right buttons for the Dutch so far, including subbing goalies specifically for the penalty kicks against Costa Rica–a move that worked brilliantly, as sub Tim Krul stopped two Tico penalties and made himself a douchey villain type in one highly successful afternoon.
For Robben and van Persie, it might be now or never.
That brings us to Argentina, and the great Lionel Messi of Barcelona. There’s no doubt, after watching this World Cup, that Messi is the best player in the world that has never been suspended for biting an Italian defender (lo siento, Argentinos!). Messi has the ability to completely change a game by pulling spectacular plays out of thin air. He also works harder and takes more lumps than just about anyone to ever take the pitch, which makes him one of the toughest players in the world too. He can score goals all by himself, or set up teammates brilliantly, and he should draw two or three defenders on him at all times. That being said, Argentina lost one of the best young forwards in the world in Real Madrid’s Ángel Di María to a leg injury, which takes away one of Messi’s favorite collaborators. Considering the Albicelestes lost Manchester City’s Sergio “Kün” Aguero (who has been cleared to join the team, but might not play) to an injury earlier in this cup, their “Big 4” has turned into a “Big 2,” with Napoli’s Gonzalo Higuaín the only other healthy attacker available to help Messi. Argentina will probably turn to Benfica’s Enzo Perez, who came in after Di María was injured. Can he, or someone else step up? If not, there’s going to be a lot more pressure on Messi to get the job done in this one, because he’ll have to basically win the game himself. He’s good enough to do it though, and a solo performance by Messi could be beautiful to watch.
No matter who wins, I think we’re in for a highly contested matchup that won’t leave fútbol fans disappointed. In the four meetings between these two teams since 1998, counting friendlies, there have been 10 yellow cards and three men sent off. Holland, has committed more fouls in this World Cup, with 91, than all but two other teams (Costa Rica and Brazil). Argentina, meanwhile, have been fouled almost 17 times per game, which is the fourth highest average among the nations in this tournament. Here’s an ovbious thing to look out for: the Dutch are going to hammer Messi all game long. A, they have to somehow keep him off the ball and try to smother his play-making abilities; and B, they’re clearly giant brutes and he’s a tiny, tiny man. I hope the refs are paying attention, cuz they might be handing out more cards than a blackjack dealer (hit me!).
I’m not particularly sure who I want to root for here. On the one hand, as a Uruguayan, I’ve been taught to hate Argentina all my life. On the other hand, there’s nothing really that likable about the smug dutch team, including the “I admit to diving, but not when it’s actually called a penalty by the ref” King of Smug, Arjen Robben. Also, the dutch seem to live by the old addage, “Always a bridesmaid.” Why should they beat Argentina if they’re just going to lose to Germany? I just don’t like the players on this team. I’ve said all along that I want a South American nation to bring home the cup. Unfortunately, I’ve been left without a choice. It feels really wrong, and dirty, and I might have to hop in the shower and plunger my face a la Ace Ventura just to make the bad feelings go away, but I’m throwing my support behind the last South American nation left in this tournament–at least through Sunday. After that, I’ll totally hate them again and possibly more than ever. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go clean my skin with a brillo pad and set my hair on fire.
Here’s What ThreeForAWin Thinks:
Featured image courtesy of: Skysports.com
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