The nearly 62,000 fans filling the Arena de Sao Paolo will be on their edge of their seat Wednesday evening when the Netherlands meet Argentina to see who joins Germany in the 2014 World Cup final.
For the Dutch, Wednesday’s match marks the sixth time since 1974 that the tiny nation, with a land area half the size of Connecticut, has made the World Cup semifinal. In three of the previous five semifinal appearances, Oranje have made the final but one each occasion have come up empty.
This will be Argentina’s fifth semifinal appearance in the World Cup but only their first in the last 24 years. All four previous trips to the semifinal stage resulted in an Albiceleste victory and twice (1978, 1986) they went on to win the tournament.
Both nations arrived the semifinal unscathed but not untested. After a comfortable Group Stage, the Netherlands needed two goals in the final six minutes to overturn a 0-1 deficit to Mexico in the Round of 16 before drawing with Costa Rica 0-0 and winning on penalties (4-3). As for Argentina, it’s been five matches played with single goal victories in each match.
Argentina manager Alejandro Sabella has made two changes from the side that started against Costa Rica, replacing the injured Angel di Maria with Enzo Perez and swapping Jose Basanta for Marcos Rojo in defense. Dutch manager Louis van Gaal has elected to start the recently ill Robin van Persie and has made one change to the starting XI that defeated Belgium, bringing in Nigel de Jong for Memphis Depay in the midfield.
Argentina: Romero; Zabaleta, Demichelis, Garay, Rojo; Biglia, Mascherano, Perez; Lavezzi, Messi, Higuain
Netherlands: Cillessen; Vlaar, De Vrij, Martins Indi, Blind; Kuyt, Wijnaldum, De Jong, Sneijder, Robben; Van Persie (c)
Messi’s Tournament To Lose: With Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar out of the tournament, has this become Lionel Messi’s tournament to lose? Hard to argue that the way hasn’t been paved in gold with the 27-year-old healthy and in the prime of his career. Doing so would go miles not only to getting doubters of his ‘best ever’ status off his back but to replacing Diego Maradona as the country’s hero. Before that happens, though, he must lead his team past a stingy Dutch side.
Robben’s Status In World Football: After a brilliant last few years at Bayern Munich, Arjen Robben’s scintillating performances in this World Cup have the winger deserving recognition as one of the top players in the world. But where does he fit? Certainly behind Ronaldo and Messi but quite possibly ahead of guys like Zlatan Ibrahimovich, Franck Ribery, Radamel Falcao and, dare we say it, Neymar. Harsh? It’s debatable. But the number one reason Holland are in the semifinal is Robben and if he somehow manages to put his team into the final, well, it’s tough to argue that he isn’t firmly in the Top 3 with his eye on next year’s Ballon d’Or.
Van Gaal turns his dogs wild on Messi, hacking him to shreds, while Robben puts in a 10+ mile effort with just three blatant dives.
With a little help from guys like Gonzalo Higuain, La Pulga & Co. persevere setting up incredible scenes for Sunday’s final at the Maracana.