When the Netherlands clash with Argentina in the second 2014 World Cup semifinal for the right to play Germany for the trophy, it’ll be more than just a matchup between Lionel Messi and Arjen Robben, with the word revenge hovering all above it.
Revenge from the view point of the Dutch, who lost to Argentina in 1978 in the final after 120 minutes. Argentina have a more recent memory of losing to the Oranje, with that famous Dennis Bergkamp goal in the 1998 quarterfinals to pull of a 2-1 win.
Messi is the name for Argentina. It was always going to be the one name on everyone’s lips, but especially with Angel di Maria out of the match, maybe also from the rest of the tournament. There hasn’t been one consistent attacking player for Argentina aside from Messi, who has also scored four goals so far and has added one crucial assist to pull Argentina through in the round of 16.
Arjen Robben is on the other side. There’s also revenge for him, but it’s more of an individual one. Robben has been the best player in the tournament overall, not just for the Netherlands. It hasn’t been just his goals and assists, but his ability to completely take over a match, and be a constant threat to a defense for 120 minutes. He has made up for the fact that Robin van Persie hasn’t really played well since the group stage. He might also not be fit enough to play the full 90 minutes due to a stomach bug.
No Nigel de Jong for the Netherlands could be something of a problem. It’ll make Wijnaldum and Wesley Sneijder a bit more defensive in their approach, as they’ll be forced to be very watchful of Lionel Messi. One of the keys to stopping the best player in the world has to do with helping out defenders from the defensive midfield. Without the aggressive De Jong, it might come at the expense of their attack.
Sergio Aguero might be coming back, but aside from Messi, the keys for Argentina will be the ability of players like Ezequiel Lavezzi and maybe Lucas Biglia, if he starts, to add some sort of unexpected creativity. Argentina’s defense should hold on quite well, but simply expecting Messi to do it all on his own isn’t exactly the most promising of approaches to such a big match.
This won’t be another Brazil – Germany. These are two sides that have hardly made mistakes during this tournament, and have been far from impressive in the knockout stages. They both rely on two soloists, geniuses, to pull them through, but it might be the contribution of the less heralded players that determines who joins Germany in the final.