Argentina and Netherlands scored one goal between them in their World Cup quarter-final victories and a similarly tight encounter can be expected when they meet in their semi-final in Sao Paulo on Wednesday (21:00 BST on ITV).
Argentina progressed to the knockout stages by topping Group F ahead of Nigeria, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran. An extra-time winner from Angel Di Maria took them past Switzerland in the round of 16, before an early Gonzalo Higuain (pictured) strike saw off Belgium in the quarters.
It would be fair to say that Alejandro Sabella’s side have been far from exhilarating, but they continue to progress and in Lionel Messi have a player capable of turning any match in their favour. The Barcelona forward scored four goals in three matches during the group stage and provided the assist for the winning goal against Switzerland.
Sabella is a naturally cautious coach and it is therefore unsurprising that Argentina have been a little more defensive-minded than they were during the qualifiers, when he admitted that he sometimes found his side difficult to watch due to their openness. The speed of their transitions has been toned down, with more men staying goal-side in case of a counter.
The result is a team that look a little more solid, but have at times struggled to break down well-organised defences. There have been a number of occasions when the forwards have simply been stood in a line, waiting for the ball. Some of Argentina’s best attacking spells have come when the full-backs have got forward to provide a further threat.
A thigh strain has ruled Di Maria out of Wednesday’s match – with Enzo Perez likely to stand in – but Sabella will be able to call on Sergio Aguero, who missed the win over Belgium with a muscle strain. Marcos Rojo returns from suspension.
Netherlands made it through to the last 16 by finishing top of Group B ahead of Chile, Spain and Australia. Two goals right at the death saw them come from behind to defeat Mexico in the round of 16, while they required penalties to see off Costa Rica in the quarter-finals.
The latter victory was notable for Louis van Gaal’s decision to bring on Tim Krul in place of regular goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen for the penalty shootout. Krul repaid his faith with two saves, but while Van Gaal’s decision was very brave, one can’t help but feel he could have made better use of his substitutions to help his side to victory before penalties were required.
Netherlands came into the tournament with even their own countrymen showing little optimism that they would perform well, but that all changed in the wake of their 5-1 thrashing of Spain in their opening match. Van Gaal’s tactical approach is still considered too defensive (and un-Dutch) by many, but results have been enough to persuade the majority.
Van Gaal has generally employed a deep-lying 3-4-1-2 formation, which provides a solid defensive base and gives Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie freedom to roam up front. Robben, in particular, has responded brilliantly, with three goals, one assist and a won penalty. Formational changes (to 4-3-3 and 3-4-3) have been made as and when required.
Nigel de Jong continues to recover well from the groin injury that saw him substituted early into Netherlands round of 16 victory over Mexico, but this match may come just a little too soon for him. Ron Vlaar (knee) is doubtful, but Van Gaal otherwise has a full squad to pick from.
Argentina vs Netherlands Betting Tips Advice
These two countries first met in 1974 and have since locked horns on a further seven occasions. Netherlands have the upper hand, with four victories to Argentina’s two, including victories in the World Cups of 1974 and 1998. Argentina did, however, defeat Netherlands 3-1 in the final of the 1978 tournament. The two teams drew 0-0 in their last meeting in 2006.
Argentina have done little more than what has been required to reach the last four, but will need to improve their level of performance if they hope to defeat Netherlands here and make it through to their first World Cup final since 1990. In the absence of his wingman Di Maria, an even greater share of the attacking responsibility will fall onto Messi’s shoulders.
Netherlands also rely on their forwards to make the difference in a team that is otherwise solid yet unspectacular. They don’t create quite as many opportunities as Argentina, but as they primarily play on the break the chances they do create are of better quality. They also concede fewer shots per match than both Argentina and any other team left in the competition.
It is set to be an intriguing encounter between two evenly matched sides.
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