Following Germany’s demolition of host nation Brazil to make the 2014 World Cup final, today’s match decided which nation would play them for the winner’s trophy. Argentina were looking for their first World Cup final since 1990 but up to this point had been less than impressive with star striker Lionel Messi not really making as big a positive impact as many thought pre-tournament. The nation that stood in the way of them and that World Cup final was the Netherlands, who were cruising in the group stages but a masterstroke from Louis van Gaal to change keepers for the penalty shootout just got them past surprise package Costa Rica. This match-up was a repeat of the 1978 World Cup Final which Argentina won 3-1 after extra time, and the South American team were hoping for the same outcome second time around.
The match started in a cagey fashion with defenders of both sides coming out on top against the attacking players, therefore chances, especially from open play, were at a premium in the opening stages. Therefore it was little surprise that the first real chance was from a Lionel Messi free kick, and the three time Ballon d’Or winner struck it well, but the Dutch goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen did well to get down low and hold it to his chest. For a World Cup semi-final the first half was abysmal, with Argentina slightly edging it by virtue of the fact the Netherlands had thus far failed to stretch and test their defence. Arjen Robben, who many have praised as being the most influential Dutch player in the World Cup so far, was not given any real service from his team-mate, nor a pass for that matter; in the first half he had just four touches of the ball, a woeful statistic that highlighted the forgettable nature of the match as the half time whistle blew.
The second half was a slight improvement over the first, with Argentina having the better chances once again. A brilliant pass from Enzo Perez that bisected the Dutch defence fell to Gonzalo Higuain no more than six yards out and supporters in the stadium thought he had scored, but his volley had actually hit the side netting and the chance was wasted. Then, against the run of play, the Netherlands nearly scored to take the win when a ball from Dirk Kuyt was picked up on the edge of the area by Robben, but as he ran towards goal, Javier Mascherano executed a perfect sliding tackle to put the ball out for a corner. Neither team could find the decisive goal so the match went to extra time.
In sharp contrast to the multitude of goals in the first semi-final, the game didn’t really come to life until extra time, with both sides having opportunities as the defences tired. Robben finally had an meaningful attempt on goal with a left footed shot from well outside the area but was straight into the arms of the Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero. Rodrigo Palacio then had a golden opportunity to win the match after breaking the offside trap but, with the ball at the perfect height for a solid header, he didn’t make sufficient contact and the attempt went tamely into the arms of Cillessen. Messi, who was being less of an influence than many had predicted before the match, made a darting run towards the byline before putting a perfect cross in that fell at the feet of Maxi Rodriguez, but he rushed his shot and it bounced, allowing Cillessen to once again make an easy save. However the match remained goalless when the referee blowed his whistle so a penalty shootout would decide the outcome of this match. After Romero made a brilliant save to deny Ron Vlaar and then an even better one to keep out Wesley Sneijder’s effort, Rodriguez had the chance to win the match. He went on to hit the back of the net, despite Cillessen getting something on it, to book Argentina their first World Cup final since 1990.
So the two teams who would fight for the World Cup trophy were set in stone; two time winners Argentina would play three times a winner Germany in what looked, on paper, to be an exciting match to decide what has been a World Cup full of drama, shocks and brilliant football.
Even the most creative players like Lionel Messi couldn’t make an impact in a game devoid of chances.
Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero made two brilliant saves in the penalty shootout, including from Ron Vlaar.