Argentina will meet old rivals Germany at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium on Sunday in the third of their World Cup final encounter after 1986 and 1990. This will be record for the same two teams playing each other in a FIFA World Cup final. Coming to the semifinal after beating Costa Rica, in the quarterfinal game the other day, it was a back-to-back penalty shoot-out match for the Dutch. Goals dried out in the second semifinal of the World Cup 2014 after the previous day’s goal-fest between Brazil and Germany after 90 minutes of full time and 30 of the extra time. Players on both sides got utterly exasperated in a tense crunch game that had to be decided by penalty shoot-outs and Netherlands got unlucky in the end after pressing Argentina towards the closing minutes of extra time. Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero saved two penalties and took the match away from the disappointed Netherlands.
After a good start, in which Argentina had a higher percentage of ball possession, Netherlands began to raid the Argentinian half but were prevented from mounting any attacks on the goal. In the 19th minute, Argentina earned a free-kick but Messi’s attempt landed in the goalkeeper’s hands. The match became a drab, and in parts, Argentina’s game looked a bit like Brazil’s yesterday. But luckily for them, Netherlands didn’t play like Germany. Louis van Gaal made a strategic error by concentrating too much in marking Messi. This took away the edge out of the Dutch attack. Only Arjen Robben played a sparkling game but he did not get much support from his colleagues. Especially colorless and totally ineffective was the Dutch captain Robin Van Persie. He was replaced by Klaas Jan Huntelaar. This substitution came with a two-pronged handicap for Van Gaal; one it did not lend any effective advantage as the game was reaching the closing stages and two it meant that having already exercised his third substitution option, Van Gaal couldn’t have sent reserve goalkeeper Tim Krul, who was Netherlands’ savior in the last game against Costa Rica. The routine of needless exertion from sides continued and all this labor and grind could not bring the goal. 20 minutes after Persie left the field in the first half of the extra time, the match ended in a goalless draw and the outcome rested on the penalty shoot-out.
The Netherlands had the first option in the shoot-out. As Ron Vlaar placed the ball on the spot, Sergio Romero kept himself poised. He guessed rightly and dived to his left just as the Vlaar’s shot merely touched the goalkeeper’s gloves and fell away. With Messi making no mistake for Argentina, the balance tilted in favor of the South Americans. Arjen Robben opened the account for Argentina but Garay brought it back to 2-1. Sniejder took Netherlands’ next shot but an acrobatic Romero saved another goal and a hush fell in the Dutch camp. Argentina made it 3-1, when Sergio Aguero’s shot went sailing into the goal. Although, Netherlands’ Kuyt brought the score to 3-2, Argentina finished the match, when Maxi Rodriguez sent his shot into the goal.
The ecstatic Messi led his team in jubilation as the screaming Argentinians began running on the field, taking off their shirts and waving to fans. In the final against Germany, Messi will face his real challenge. He has been unfortunate in having two of his previous World Cup campaigns thwarted by Germany. In Germany’s 2006 World Cup, Argentina lost to Germany in the quarterfinals as the 19-year old Messi watched the game from the benches. Then in the 2010 South Africa World Cup, the same Germany beat Argentina again in the quarterfinals. Messi will do his best to obtain his redemption at Maracana on Sunday.