Robben, Messi last of a dying breed

Lionel Messi of Argentina (left) and Netherlands' Arjen Robben (right) meet in the semifinal match...

Lionel Messi of Argentina (left) and Netherlands' Arjen Robben (right) meet in the semifinal match at the World Cup on Wednesday, July 9, 2014. (Reuters)

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:19 PM ET

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - One is the paradigm of the A-type personality.

Highly competitive, impatient, shows frustration quickly and easily as well as being highly aggressive and demonstrates a short fuse.

When things don’t go the way Dutch forward Arjen Robben wants them to go on the field of play, millions watching in the stadium and on television is party to his displeasure even if the ball is nowhere near his feet.

The other player is the paradigm of tranquility, at least on the outside. He too is highly competitive but he rarely shows frustration or impatience.

He is more like a B-type personality who doesn’t mind waiting until the last second to get things done.

Unlike the demonstrative Robben, the only time millions watching in the stadium and on television notice Argentine forward Lionel Messi, is when the ball is near his feet.

They are two different personalities. They play a different style of soccer. They are certainly on different ends of the likeable scale.

Robben barely moves the needle. If he doesn’t get the ball when he wants it, it isn’t unusual to see him flapping his arms angrily like a giant condor, a sour expression on his face.

He’s also earned the reputation of being a "diver," one of the most distasteful handles a soccer player can earn.

Messi is like a little urchin. He’s the kid next door that visits for milk and cookies. He’s the guy you’d like to see your daughter bring home as a friend.

If one of his teammates does something wrong or misses a pass, Messi moves on as if nothing happened. There is no death stare or worse public condemnation of a teammate.

The two super players will meet Wednesday in Sao Paulo with a spot in the World Cup final on the line for Argentina and Netherlands.

With Neymar on the sideline with an injury and Brazil knocked out by Germany, Messi and Robben become the two best forwards at this tournament and by a long way.

They are remarkable players to watch. They don’t share much in terms of personality and deportment on the field of play, they share great soccer skill reserved for but a few players.

They also share a soccer art form that is quickly being lost.

Robben and Messi attack the opposition with the ability to dribble the ball like few players in the world today.

Lesser players do what they can to avoid a defender. They opt to take the ball wide of the defence and then attempt to cross the ball to the centre of the penalty area. Since this is what everyone in the park expects, the ball either gets blocked at the point of attack or headed clear if it does get into the area.

Then there’s the take a shot from 25-yards and hope it finds the net option. Usually it winds up in the stands.

Messi and Robben are among the few great dribblers left in the world.

They don’t see defenders in front of them. They see the pylons they used as kids when they were being taught to dribble. Messi and Robben drive at players, whether there are one, two or three there at a time. Their exquisite ability to keep the ball near their feet makes it difficult for defenders to stop them.

Defenders are beaten or forced to commit a foul.

There is beauty and strength in watching the best players in the world force their will on a defender, whatever that will is.

When Messi takes on a defence, he’s just as apt to finish the move by breaking down the defence with a killer pass.

When Robben gets the ball, he hangs onto it determined to finish what he started.

Bert van Marwijk, former coach of the Netherlands national team, believes that Robben has been the better player at this tournament. Van Marwijk coached the Dutch at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

"Argentina have got Messi, we've got Robben," he said in an interview with a Dutch television broadcaster. "And quite frankly, I think the better player is Arjen.

"When I see how Robben is playing in this tournament, I have to admit I'm a little bit jealous. There's a big difference to 2010.

"Four years ago, Arjen was injured just before the start of the tournament in a friendly against Hungary. He was carrying the injury for the whole tournament and was never really 100%. But this year he's been unstoppable."

Robben’s game isn't only about scoring and controlling the play around the penalty area. Robben's work-rate has been shockingly heavy at this World Cup. In the penalty-kicks win over Costa Rica, Robben covered the field from one end to the other, and from side-to-side. He repeatedly chased down Costa Rican players who escaped from tired Dutch defenders.

It was as complete a game as seen at this World Cup.

Many believe that Robben may be on the best form of his life and no matter what Messi produces the Dutch will just be too good for the Argentines.

That's dangerous thinking. Messi may not be all over the field but he conserves his energy, waiting like the predator he is for the opportunity to pounce on a small opening or a little mistake. When it arrives, he rarely misses the chance to capitalize.

There is a great deal at stake on Wednesday. The Dutch hope to make their fourth World Cup final with a chance to win it for the first time. The Argentines will look for a chance to win their third World Cup.

The bonus for soccer fans comes with being able to enjoy the spectacle while watching Messi and Robben, two of the best players in recent memory.


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