Maxi Rodriguez’s blast of a penalty sent Argentina to the World Cup Final on Wednesday night in Sao Paulo, with the Newell’s Old Boys player powering his attempt past Dutch ‘keeper Jasper Cillessen to send the hoards of Argentinian fans in attendance into delirium. The goal capped off a one-sided penalty shootout that was dominated by Argentina following a dull 120 minute encounter that saw no goals scored on behalf of either side, with Argentina controlling the match early before the Netherlands grew into the game as time wore on. The victory propels Argentina into the Final on Sunday in Rio de Janiero where they will meet the machine that is Germany for the World Cup crown, while the Netherlands have a Saturday date with a still distraught Brazil in the capital of Brasilia to decide third and fourth place.
In reality, this second Semi-Final was never going to equal or even come close to equaling the mesmerizing football that took place in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday, but even the most pessimistic of football fans couldn’t have predicted a World Cup Semi-Final between two historically rich footballing nations to be so dull. Neither side appeared inspired in any way for the first 45 minutes, despite a precious berth in the World Cup Final being on the line. But perhaps it was because of this massive prize at stake that the two sides began the game so cautiously, with only a single shot on goal between them in the first half, the lone chance falling to Argentina’s Lionel Messi, whose free kick was caught comfortably by Cillessen.
This fact was nothing new to the Netherlands, who had already enjoyed three matches at this World Cup in which they entered halftime without a shot on goal, but especially on this occasion they seemed out of ideas against an Argentinian defense that was exposed in their final Group Stage match against Nigeria, but hasn’t been taken advantage of since. The Orange weren’t helped by the fact that striker Robin Van Persie never got into the match in the first half, with the Manchester United man still feeling the ill-effects of the stomach bug that had plagued him a couple days prior. Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder also were unable to conjure up anything prior to the interval, as Argentina had great success attacking down the left side of the Dutch defense, specifically against defender Bruno Martins Indi, who had a torrid time trying to contain both Messi and Ezequiel Lavessi and was booked for his troubles right before the break.
Louis Van Gaal got his troops a bit more fired up for the second half and made a positive change by taking Martins Indi out in place of Daryl Janmaat, but again the Dutch looked tentative in attack as they never went right at Argentina, content to just pass the ball around the horn and hope that Van Persie or Robben would wiggle free and find gobs of space behind the Argentina back line. That plan never came to fruition however as Argentinian ‘keeper Sergio Romero dealt with all threats from the Dutch quite easily while again the best chance of the half fell to La Albiceleste with Gonzalo Higuain finding the side netting from a great angle after a fantastic through ball by Enzo Perez.
Nigel de Jong, who made a shock return to fitness just to start the match, was recalled by Van Gaal on 62 minutes in favor of the previously unused Jordy Clasie, while Argentinian boss Alejandro Sabella brought Rodrigo Palacio into the fray in place of Perez, along with the fit Sergio Aguero for Higuain after 81 minutes. Each side made their final moves during the uneventful 30 minutes of extra time: The Dutch taking off the ineffective Van Persie for Klaas Jan Huntelaar while Argentina threw on Rodriguez for Lavessi. This series of changes meant that ‘keeper Tim Krul would not play a part for the Netherlands in the penalty shootout, unable to reprise his role as hero from their shootout win against Costa Rica in the Quarterfinals. That meant that Cillessen (0 for 12 lifetime in saving penalties at senior level) would step into the firing line for the Netherlands with a World Cup Final spot on the line.
The shootout went out of the Dutch shooters’ hands immediately as Ron Vlaar (who had a splendid game in defense) promptly had his attempt denied by Romero before Messi easily faked out Cillessen to put Argentina up 1-0. Both Robben and Ezequiel Garay made their nation’s second kicks to preserve Argentina’s shootout lead, before the drama reached its climax when the usually reliable Sneijder saw his effort turned away tremendously by Romero. Aguero and Dirk Kuyt then both converted to set Rodriguez up with his golden chance, one he grabbed hold of by the horns as Cillessen couldn’t keep up with the strike’s pace as Argentina snuck their way into the Final, where they will eye a 3rd World Cup title at the Maracana against Germany, who seek their fourth come Sunday night.