We witnessed soccer history yesterday in Germany’s 7-1 destruction of Brazil. The Germans were worth every bit of that scoreline – in fact, Mesut Özil’s late miss and Oscar’s even later consolation goal mean 7-1 might have flattered Brazil – and the specter of a final against Joachim Löw’s new Wunderteam hangs over today’s match.
But both nations competing this evening have their own place in the sport’s history: Holland is home to totaalvoetbal and Johan Cruyff, while Argentina can point to a pedigree of two World Cup victories and two of the game’s greats in Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi. Messi has been a player-of-the-tournament candidate in his first five matches, but so has Holland’s Arjen Robben (pictured above), the unstoppable dribbler and incorrigible diver. Which superstar will inspire his team to progression to the final against Germany?
What’s At Stake
The Dutch will be dreaming of ditching the dubious distinction of being the best team in World Cup history that has never won the tournament. The current Dutch squad includes an interesting mix of promising young defenders (Bruno Martins Indi, Stefan de Vrij, Jasper Cillessen, Daley Blind, et al) and proven but aging attackers (Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Robin van Persie). That seems backwards – teams usually try to complement staid experience at the back with youthful creativity up front – but it’s worked for the Netherlands so far. Still, this is the last chance for the current crop of forwards before a reload must happen.
Argentina have a perfect record in three previous World Cup semifinals. They won two of the three ensuing finals (Argentina 1978 and Mexico 1986) and lost the other to the (West) Germans in the 1990 final. Supporters of Argentina are deeply invested in this World Cup for several reasons: Messi needs Cup success to cement his place among the all-time greats, South America needs to continue its habit of winning each of the previous seven World Cups held in the Americas, and winning a final in Brazil’s most famous stadium would give the Argentines a fabulous leg-up in their rivalry with the neighbors to the north.
Holland’s Louis van Gaal has tweaked his formation throughout the tournament, settling on 3-4-3 with three outright forwards (Robben, van Persie, and Memphis Depay) for the quarterfinal against Costa Rica. Costa Rica play with a three-man/five-man defense (three centerbacks and two wingbacks), so van Gaal’s plan was to deny the Costa Rican back three the benefit of having an extra man, forcing the wingbacks deep to help out. It worked, and the Ticos were unable to support their forwards from the wings, but Argentina offer an entirely different challenge.
In the absence of the injured Angel di Maria, Alejandro Sabella’s men will play a flexible 4-2-3-1, with two wingers (Ezequiel Lavezzi and Enzo Perez) dropping deep often to create a 4-4-1-1 and either Gonzalo Higuaín or Kun Agüero up top ahead of creator Messi. Against only one forward, the Dutch back may be inefficient – leaving the midfield short-handed against Argentina’s Lucas Biglia and Javier Mascherano – so Depay will probably come off for an extra midfielder, leaving Robin and Robben up front with Sneijder behind in a playmaker role. That means two midfielders (the comically-named Georginio Wijnaldum and the deranged and violent Nigel de Jong) behind Sneijder; their main task will be keeping an eye on the wonderful Messi.
Players to Watch
Holland: Wesley Sneijder. Robben has been the Netherlands’s best player and his powerful dribbling is something to behold. But Sneijder is growing in confidence, having hit the woodwork twice late against Costa Rica. As always, he’ll be tasked with picking out the passes to the Dutch forwards today.
Argentina: Lionel Messi, the number ten. His lightning-fast feet and mind are legendary, but his ability to slow the game down around him will also be invaluable today as the Netherlands look to stretch the match and counterattack.
Jon Champion and Stewart Robson. Champion has bounced around from network to network, working for ITV, Setanta, the BBC, and other outlets. He called the 2010 World Cup for ITV; he’s also the voice of popular soccer video game Pro Evolution Soccer. Robson, who is now bald, is one of those gruff-voiced English ex-players for whom teams always lack “just that little bit” of class and need “injections of pace.”
Today will be the eleventh match for this team, which has stayed together since the Cup began June 12th.
Match-specific Drinking Games
Targets: Take a drink any time Messi or Robben is fouled. How drunk? Steady buzz. Robben knows how to draw fouls and the Dutch know stopping Messi is key to stopping Argentina.
Looming: Drink whenever Germany or yesterday’s historic semifinal mauling is mentioned. How drunk? Hospitalized.
Searching: Take a shot whenever an Argentina player crosses the ball and doesn’t find a teammate. The Argentines have the most unsuccessful crosses in the tournament so far (86). How drunk? Dizzy.
Holland: Genever gin. As if I needed another reason to support Argentina.
– Read my general World Cup watching guide.
– Check out Zonal Marking, my favorite tactics website.
– See a commentary schedule or a review of each commentator.
– See where I’m getting my national drink recommendations.
– Check out other match previews involving these teams: Argentina vs. Switzerland, Holland vs. Mexico, Holland vs. Chile, Argentina vs. Iran, Australia vs. Holland, Argentina vs. Bosnia & Herzegovina, Spain vs. Holland
Picture credit: telegraph.co.uk