RIO DE JANEIRO -- The good news for Argentina is that the game is played on the field and not on paper.Follow @SlamSports
If the game was played on paper, Argentina should probably not bother to show up for their World Cup semifinal against the Netherlands Wednesday in Sao Paulo.
Given how most of the Argentine players have performed so far in this World Cup, it’s impossible to believe there is any way they can defeat the Netherlands, who have been solid throughout the competition.
But this has been a World Cup that’s been unpredictable and at times downright shocking. What many people thought would happen, often didn’t.
That’s the good news for Argentina. There is always hope.
Here are some things to think about before the semifinal:
Position comparisons: The Dutch hold an advantage as far as depth goes in every position. As far as outright talent, the only position that is equal is at forward were Lionel Messi carries a heavy load. The Dutch, though, have Arjen Robben, Robin Van Persie and Wesley Sneijder to give them depth. They get a pretty good push forward from midfielder Dirk Kuyt.
Injuries: Both teams have injuries with the key loss for Argentina being Angel di Maria. Di Maria was beginning to play well and would have taken some pressure off Messi. But he won’t play and it will be up to Gonzalo Higuain, who scored his first goal in more than a year for the national team against Belgium, to carry some of the offensive load. The Dutch have a key injury as well. Hard-as-nails midfielder Nigel de Jong is out with a groin injury and replacement Leroy Fer is also hobbling.
Managers: So far Dutch manager Louis van Gaal has been the manager of the tournament, especially with his cold-blooded replacement of starting goalie Jasper Cillessen with Tim Krul before the penalties against Costa Rica. Argentina's manager Alejandro Sabella has been average. If it comes to a manager’s decisions, then Holland has the edge.
Scoring: The Netherlands has had no problems scoring goals in this tournament. Did Costa Rica change Netherlands' magic scoring touch? Hardly. The Dutch went 120 minutes without scoring against them but they had 67% of the possession and took 20 shots at net. Sneijder hit the post twice and van Persie had a shot deflected onto the bar. If Netherlands do that against Argentina, they’ll score at least two.
Key matchup: If Netherlands do have a problem, it may be in the midfield with de Jong hurt and Fer not 100%. The tough task in the game may fall on Georginio Wijnaldum to play against Lionel Messi. If that does happen you know the Dutch will give him some help.
What if penalties: It will be interesting to see if van Gaal does the same thing with his goalkeepers if the game goes to penalties. Neither Dutch goalie would comment on that situation at a press conference but if you were a betting person, take van Gaal doing what was successful the first time.
Gas in the tank: Netherlands have used a lot of energy in getting to this point in the tournament. While they are an experienced, smart team, they are not young with most of their regular players in the 30-year-old range. It shouldn’t be a factor but sometimes games that go to extra time take a lot out of a player and he doesn’t realize it until he begins to play the next game. As for Argentina, they haven’t travelled as far in this tournament.
Underrated players: For the Dutch it’s defender Daley Blind. He’s been strong at the back and doesn’t mind coming forward when he has to. When Argentina played Belgium, everyone expected Eden Hazard to run like crazy over the Argentine defence. He didn’t because he was controlled by Pablo Zabaleta.
Who wins: One hopes it’s a good game and the fans win but on the scoreboard Netherlands will join Germany in an all-European World Cup final in South America.
Netherlands 3, Argentina 1
It all comes home to roost for the South American teams in the semifinals. Netherlands is a much better team than Argentina or any team Argentina has played to date.