28 years ago, Argentina won the World Cup beating Germany in the final with Diego Maradona playing a lead role by his inspirational performance all through the tournament hosted by Mexico. 4 years later, the two finalists from 1986 were back facing each other in another final in the 1990 Italy World Cup. Germany took its revenge on the lackluster Argentina team. Diego Maradona was there but he looked a pale shadow of his illustrious past. Argentina’s entry into the final was made possible by chance penalty shoot-out wins in two of their three previous matches. In the next 4 world cups, Argentina failed to reach the semifinal. Now 24 years after their defeat by Germany in the final in Italy, Argentina have reached the semifinal once again. On Saturday, they came 1-0 through against Belgium in a closely fought match that could have gone either way, though Argentina looked better of the two teams. Argentina now plays the Netherlands on Wednesday for the place in 2014 World Cup final. Saturday’s second match featured a fast-paced game, in which Netherlands and Costa Rica finished 0-0 after regulation time. Even the next 30 minutes of extra time, the match still ended goalless. In the penalty shoot-out, Netherlands’ substitute goalkeeper Tim Krul blocked two shots from Costa Rica and with all Netherlands’ players converting from the spot, Netherlands reached the semifinal.
Argentina began well against Belgium in the National Stadium Brasilia. They kept the ball with them in the early minutes and made some promising moves. The scoring opportunity came in the 8th minute, when a deflected pass from Angel Di Maria fell in the path of Gonzalo Higuain. The Argentine striker lost no time in hitting a well-placed volley on the far post with the Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois watching helplessly. With that goal, Higuain ended his long-standing scoreless streak and brought cheers to the thousands of Argentinians in the stadium.
Both teams had their chances but there were two reasons why the targets could not be found. One reason was common to both teams’ excellent goalkeeping and the other was the lack of imagination in creating the openings. In particular, Belgium generally couldn’t progress ahead of the 25 yard line on the Argentinian side. For Argentina, Messi made some dangerous moves but couldn’t convert in the end. Messi’s best chance came in the stoppage time but the Belgian goalkeeper denied him. Eden Hazard, one of Belgium’s best players could not make much difference and he even received a yellow card for wrongfully bringing down Lucas Biglia. Argentina lost the services of Angel Di Maria in the 33rd minute and it is said that his thigh injury may rule him out of the match against the Netherlands. Argentina won the match by their eighth minute goal and will now wait for the Wednesday’s showdown with the formidable Netherlands.
The Netherlands took on the spirited Costa Rica in a later match on Saturday at Salvador. It was a game played at reckless pace but none of the two teams came close to making any real dents. In the first half, it was surprising to see the Dutch players running on the field without purpose. They either made aimless shots or passed the ball to their own keeper. Costa Rica too, could not make any genuine attempt on the Dutch goal. In the second half, however, the complexion of the game changed as Robben regularly ran down on the right flank to create openings. On many occasions, Robben was stopped near the goal line, sometimes, wrongfully. There were regular yellow cards to the Costa Ricans but Netherlands couldn’t benefit from some of the free-kicks awarded to them. The Dutch were called off-sides 13 times. The match went into extra time, when 90-minutes of play couldn’t produce a result. The pattern of play didn’t change, though the Dutch had a few close scoring chances. With penalty shoot-out looming ahead, the Dutch coach Louis van Gaal played a master card. He replaced his regular goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen with Tim Krul, who had not played a single match in the tournament. The goalkeeper switch proved to be a successful strategy in the end. The 6’4” tall Tim Krul dramatically blocked two Costa Rican penalties, while Dutch scored from all their chances. Krul was seen as apparently intimidating Costa Rican players but once he made his second save, Krul became a center of attraction as his team mates mobbed him after the 4-3 shoot-out victory.