World Cup Diary / Dutch Retreat Helps Argentina Advance

The first-ever goalless World Cup semifinal was even more tedious than it sounds.

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Argentina fans celebrate in Rio de Janeiro, July 9, 2014.
Argentina fans celebrate in Rio de Janeiro, July 9, 2014.Credit: Reuters

Shall we just talk some more about Brazil? It may be more polite than drawing attention to the tedious semifinal between Argentina and Netherlands, won by the South Americans on penalties after a painfully dull 0-0 bore. This was the kind of game that used to have Americans shaking their heads as to why the world had fallen in love with such a thrill-free sport.

It wasn’t just the lack of goal action on Wednesday night – there have been exciting 0-0 draws in this World Cup. It was more the lack of ambition on show; the desire not to lose outweighing the desire to win. If the game was any more pedestrian, the players would have needed a crossing guard to get them off the pitch.

It would have been more entertaining to watch 120 minutes of penalties and then a five-minute match than what we actually sat through. Although, this really shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone who’s seen Argentina in action this tournament. And also the Netherlands in the knockout stages.

As the diary noted after its 1-0 Round-of-16 win over Switzerland, Argentina keeps failing upward. It’s not put in a convincing performance all tournament, yet here it is in Sunday’s final, to be played in the iconic stadium of its biggest rival. If it beats Germany, Brazil’s misery really will be complete.

Can it beat Germany, though? The evidence suggests it has less chance than a rocking horse in the Kentucky Derby, but it’s sure to put up more of a fight than its neighbour managed on Tuesday evening.

The truth is, when Leo Messi is marked out of the game, the Argentinians have zero creative ability. The players work hard, but they’re spear carriers led by one genuine genius. Yet Messi didn’t manage to touch the ball once in the Dutch penalty area throughout the 120 minutes and rarely threatened to conjure up a piece of magic. He’ll face a similar challenge against Germany in the final, and must hope that Angel di Maria recovers in time. Or that Sergio Aguero shrugs off his recent injuries and looks more like the player who scores for fun at Manchester City.

Even in defeat, Dutch coach Louis van Gaal managed to claim some of the credit for Argentina’s win. Speaking about Argentine goalkeeper Sergio Romero, whom he had previously managed at AZ Alkmaar, Van Gaal had the chutzpah to say this: “I taught Romero how to stop penalties, so that hurts.”

If only the coaching genius had been able to impart some of that knowledge to Jasper Cillessen, who failed to stop any of the Argentine penalties, despite some of them being eminently saveable. In fact, the young Dutch keeper has yet to save a penalty in his professional career, so Van Gaal’s decision to sub in reserve goalkeeper Tim Krul in the previous round makes even more sense now. Actually, given the way this game seemed destined for penalties after about, oh, two minutes, Van Gaal arguably erred by not making sure Krul was on the pitch at the game’s end.

And so Argentina moves on to Rio, while the Netherlands faces the unenviable task of hanging around to play a completely meaningless game against Brazil for the honor of finishing third. Argentina and Germany, meanwhile, will make history by facing off for the third time in the final, following previous meetings in 1986 and 1990. The Germans will go into Sunday’s game as big favorites, which will suit Argentina just fine.

The diary will return on Sunday to preview the final and cast some final insults at the anaemic Dutch and Brazilians.

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