Netherlands 0 Argentina 0 (2-4 on pens): Playing it safe proves costly
Louis van Gaal does not seem the type to have too many regrets.
However, one wonders if the Dutch maestro regrets abandoning everything that made Holland so exciting in the group stages for a shot at finals glory.
The team which so easily defeated reigning world champions Spain 5-1 was one that played with sheer abandon going forward, matched only by an insatiable hunger to win the ball back as high up the pitch as possible.
The team which hung on for penalties in this morning’s semi-final against Argentina was the exact opposite.
Happy to concede the initiative and get numbers behind the ball and almost too scared to attack in waves as it did to such effect to get to the semi-final stage for fear of leaving Lionel Messi with an empty half to run into, the Dutch became the antithesis of everything that made them so exciting.
To be fair to the Oranje, the Argentineans were every bit as dogged in defence, and it was not an odd sight to see 10 blue and white shirts behind the ball, but it was in possession that Argentina set itself apart.
They were ultimately unsuccessful in open play, but Messi, Marco Rojo, Lucas Biglia and Enzo Perez showed a lot more attacking intent in trying to open up a stubborn Holland defence.
Interestingly, Wesley Sneijder (18/25), Arjen Robben (18/21) and Dirk Kuyt (15/23) ranked the highest of the players on the park for completed passes in the attacking third, but the majority of these came from sideways or backwards passes.
A quick look at the passing maps from both sides clearly shows which team made more attempts to penetrate the defensive line.
For that reason, van Gaal’s team did not deserve to make the final.
Regardless, making the semi-final represents an outstanding achievement for a side whose own media doubted could make it out of the group stage, and a win in the third-place play-off against Brazil would be more than most would have thought possible.
Still in it
For Alejandro Sabella, Messi and the rest of Argentina – destiny awaits.
The dream Brazil v Argentina final has not come to fruition, but a date with the Germans is fascinating in its own right.
A rematch of the 1990 final, Argentina has a monumental task ahead in opening up a German defence that has not given anyone a sniff thus far.
Sabella’s side is thoroughly more organised than the Brazilian rabble Germany beat so easily, but overall the Germans have proven a team with more avenues to goal.
Messi was severely restricted by the Dutch, a price van Gaal paid for with the attacking ingenuity of his side, but it’s hard to see Germany going into full lock-down mode.
The little Argentine might just revel in the extra few yards that is afforded him, and wouldn’t it just be fitting if he delivered the South American nation its first World Cup triumph since Diego Maradonna?
Few would disagree.