Lionel Messi was stifled, the Dutch did not attempt a single shot on goal, and two of the most offensive teams in the World Cup finished in a scoreless tie before Argentina beat the Netherlands 4-2 on penalty kicks behind keeper Sergio Romero’s two brilliant saves.

For the first time ever, a World Cup final game went to penalty kicks after finishing 0-0 after 120 minutes. Both teams appeared cautious and tentative, neither wanting to make a tactical mistake that could cost them a ticket to the World Cup Final in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday. Argentina, led by Messi’s confident first penalty kick prevailed and will face Germany for the right to hoist the cup.

In a stunning turn of events before the match, both Robin Van Persie who was expected to be out of this game with the stomach flu, AND Nigel de Jong who was ruled out for the remainder of the World Cup with a torn groin are in the starting lineup for the Netherlands.

For Argentina, Sergio Aguero who was expected to be fit to play is out of the starting lineup for La Albiceleste and Ezequiel Lavezzi is starting in place of Angel di Maria.

Lionel Messi got a free kick opportunity in the 14th minute that was right on target, but a diving save by Dutch goalie, Jasper Cillessen kept Messi out of the net in the first half.

Messi Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates after burying his penalty kick in the back of the net. Reuters

The first yellow card was issued to Holland’s Bruno Martins Indi in the 45th minute of the match for a tough challenge on Messi. Messi took the free kick from well outside the box, but fired it directly at the Dutch keeper.

In keeping with the trend, Martin Demichelis was booked at the start of the second half for a physical tackle on Arjen Robben. It was an ongoing theme for the match for both superstars to deal with physical play and rough challenges.

Nigel de Jong gave his injured groin all he could and was substituted out in the 62nd minute for Jordy Clasie.

The match had some excitement in the 75th minute when Robin Van Persie attempted a bicycle kick inside the box that flew over the net, Argentina countered immediately and Argentina thought he had scored the go ahead goal by Higuain off of a great pass into the box, but Higuain was called offsides.

After further replay of the disallowed goal, it appeared that Higuain was actually onsides and the goal should have counted. It was a tough break for Argentina, and another wrong call made by an official in this World Cup that would have a direct impact on the outcome of the match.

Argentina made a double switch with ten minutes left to play in regulation when they brought in forwards Rodrigo Palacio and the injured Sergio Aguero for Enzo Perez and Gonzalo Higuain. It was an offensive move for Argentina’s coach, Alejandro Sabella who now would play two strikers with Lionel Messi for either the final ten minutes of the match, or final 40.

Arjen Robben was seconds away from giving the Dutch a last second win in Sao Paolo, as he made a brilliant move in the box and came charging down the left side of the goal with only him and Argentina keeper Sergio Romero in site. But as he reared back for the strike, Argentina’s Javier Mascherano slid in out of nowhere to make the save of the match. Thanks to Mascherano, the game would advance to extra time.

As extra time started, many questions arose: After playing extra time against Costa Rica, would it weigh on the Dutch in this match? With only one substation left, would Louis Van Gaal use it on Robin van Persie who’s recovering from a stomach virus or save it on his penalty kicks expert, Tim Krul?

The latter questioned was answered when Van Gaal substituted out Robin Van Persie in the 96th minute and handed the Captain’s armband over to Robben. Klaas Jan Huntelarr the hero against Mexico came on in Van Persie’s place. The move meant that if the game were to go to penalties, the Dutch would be unable to bring in their penalty specialist, Tim Krul. One had to wonder if this risky move would end up costing the Dutch.

Argentina used their third and final substitution when they removed Lavezzi in the 101st minute and brought on Maxi Rodriguez in his place.

With five minutes left to play in extra time, Palacio had the chance to win it for Argentina when he found himself wide open for a header in the box. Unfortunately, he got under it a bit and it softly landed in the hands of the goalie.

Moments later, Messi made a run down the right hand side of the pitch and sent a beautiful cross into the box where Rodriguez attempted a very pedestrian shot off the inside of his right ankle. Another great opportunity missed for Argentina.

As most pressure packed, tension filled wars of attrition go, the match would come down to penalty kicks it was just the fifth time in World Cup history that a semifinal match game down to penalty kicks.

Sergio Romero denied Holland’s Ron Vlaar on the Oranje’s first shot. Superstar, Lionel Messi chose to go first for Argentina and buried it in the back of the net for Argentina. Robben chose to follow Messi for the Netherlands and also was able to convert.

Romero did it again when he denied Wesley Sneijder on a great leaping save to his right. Argentina’s Maxi Rodriguez became the hero when he nailed the fourth and clinching penalty kick to the back of the net, sending Argentina to the World Cup Finals.

Sergio Romero Argentina's goalkkeeper Sergio Romero celebrates after stopping two penalty kicks to help beat the Netherlands Reuters

For Holland, it’s a touch break for a team that played so great in this year’s World Cup. Defying the odds, the Dutch can hang their heads high as they made it to the final four for the second consecutive World Cup. Arguably the greatest soccer nation to never win a World Cup, the Netherlands are bridesmaids once again. They will take on Brazil in the third place game on Saturday in Brasilia.

As for Argentina, the win on Wednesday marks their fourth victory in as many appearances in a semifinal match and they will now face Germany for the seventh overall time in the World Cup. The final will be held in the infamous Maracana in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday.

 

Game Notes:
The loss for the Netherlands marks just the third time they have lost to a South American team in the World Cup. The match marked Lionel Messi’s 92nd game played for Argentina, one more than Diego Maradona. The 0-0 score after regulation and extra time marks the first time that has ever happened in a World Cup semifinal.