World Cup semi-final preview: Netherlands v Argentina

The Oranje face La Albiceleste in the second World Cup semi-final at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo on Thursday, July 10, from 6am (AEST).

Head to head

The Netherlands and Argentina have provided us with some stunning fixtures over the decades. The two have met on eight separate occasions, including five World Cup clashes.

Argentina, in their sole victory over the Dutch, claimed the 1978 World Cup final through a thrilling Mario Kempes winner in extra time.

Netherlands got their revenge in an equally heart stopping match when Dennis Bergkamp stole the show and put the Dutch through to the 1998 World Cup semi-finals.

Overall, the Netherlands have the upper hand with four wins, although Argentina’s 1978 triumph carried the most significance.

The game

There are plenty of similarities between the Dutch XI and Leo Messi’s men. No one needs to be reminded of the talent in the Argentinian frontline, while the Netherlands is home to arguably the best counter-attackers in the World Cup.

However, the more interesting contrast between the teams is the relative weaknesses of their defences. A spot in the final could come down to which manager can organise his team better. After all, the managers have had a huge impact on the knockout stage so far, shutting down any free flowing football.

If it does come down to the men in charge, it is hard to look passed Louis van Gaal. The new Manchester United mentor has been brilliant all tournament, finding a way to win games with his tactics even when his boys weren’t the best team on the park. Argentina hasn't looked completely convincing, winning every game by only one goal, and if anyone can take advantage of their frailties it will be the Dutch maestro. 

Alejandro Sabella has been quite impressive himself, managing to keep Argentina’s defence organised and tight. He has got the best out of Messi so far this year, but he has his work cut out for him if he is to keep out an unpredictable Dutch front four.

Memphis Depay and Arjen Robben are unbelievably quick on the break and, with Robin Van Persie’s genius in the box, the questionable Argentinian defence will have their hands full. They dealt with Belgium’s attack exceptionally well but on Thursday morning.

In tomorrow’s opponents, however, they have a completely new and more difficult mountain to climb, as the Dutch seek to shrug off the unenviable title of the “best team to never win the world cup?”

The big issue

The Netherlands thrive on the counter-attack, which will worry Argentina’s XI who, at first glance, look extremely offensive minded. La Albiceleste’s defence, under Sabella’s watchful eye, have been extraordinarily consistent with two clean sheets in the knockout stage. They may have to dig deeper against the best attack they have come up against in the tournament so far.

The game breaker

 Who will shine?

Robben v Messi: who is the World Cup’s best dribbler? Each of these players has outshone the rest of their squad at certain periods in this tournament. The difference between the two teams could come down to which superstar is given more space to flaunt their speedy skills. 

Prediction: Netherlands 1 - 0 Argentina

Germany’s battering of Brazil aside, the knockout stage has been overly cagey and, while we all hope for the opposite, it is likely this trend will continue as the two opposing managers focus on fortifying their weak defences and slowing the play down.

*Picture of Lionel Messi and Arjen Robben taken for the #allin or nothing campaign by @adidasau.