The second of the blockbuster World Cup semi-finals gets underway in Sao Paulo on Wednesday, with Louis van Gaal’s injury-hit Netherlands side looking to keep Lionel Messi and company quiet – not an easy ask. Our experts Mohamed Moallim and Joel Richards go head-to-head to preview the action. For one of them, it will be the end of the road…
Mohamed Moallim on Netherlands: Tim Krul, who specifically came on after Netherlands-Costa Rica went to penalties, will start on the bench, despite his heroics. A decision he fully supports as Jasper Cillessen is Oranje's 'number one'. Nigel de Jong, who only a week ago was ruled out for the remainder of the World Cup, has returned to training with an outside chance of featuring. Ron Vlaar and Robin van Persie, though, are doubts. Louis van Gaal is expected to return to the pragmatic 5-3-2, which served him well against Spain and Chile – after fielding 3-4-3 over the weekend.
Joel Richards on Argentina: Angel Di Maria is ruled out of this clash, so Alejandro Sabella is forced to change the side that beat Belgium. Enzo Perez is expected to be his a replacement in midfield. Sergio Aguero is back fit but is expected to start on the bench, while left back Marcos Rojo returns from suspension. Sabella meanwhile, as has been his wont in this competition, has been considering switching tactics and is deciding between sticking with the backline or swap to a back five to cope with the Dutch attack
Mohamed Moallim: It was Groundhog Day: third game Oranje started as favourites, only to struggle, with victory being snatched thanks to an inspired piece of substitution by Van Gaal – Australia (Depay), Mexico (Huntelaar) and Costa Rica (Krul). The atmosphere, togetherness, in the camp is a contrast to previous tournaments and stands them in good stead when they face Lionel Messi and company.
Joel Richards: Despite the promise of free-flowing attack, albeit more because of the talented attackers in the preferred starting eleven rather than the team's actual strategy, in this tournament Argentina have advanced to the semi-finals winning by only by the slightest of margins. Facing an ambitious Belgium side that went forward in the quarters, Argentina looked improved on previous performances in the competition with more space in which to work. Gonzalo Higuain's goal proved his instinct is intact. Yet Sabella's team could only manage a single goal, their third 1-0 win in this World Cup and a full house of victories by a single goal. Injury and caution have led to constant tinkering of the side that has found itself most comfortable when sitting deep and looking to counter attack.
WHAT THE MANAGER SAYS
Netherlands’ Louis van Gaal: "In terms of team spirit and togetherness, this is the best group I've worked with. So I don't need to check on them, at all. They know exactly when they have to take their responsibilities. It's not about me or the staff but taking responsibility".
Argentina’s Alejandro Sabella: "After 24 years this is a good tribute to this squad. They will go down in history as one of the best four teams in the world and we will see if they can go one step more."
Mohamed Moallim: Van Gaal's assistant coach, and Oranje's former all-time goal scorer, Patrick Kluivert posed the question: "Stopping Messi? How do Argentina stop Arjen Robben?" To say the winger from Bedum is in the form of his life is an understatement. Javier Mascherano is wary of the Dutch counter-attacking threat, calling it "the best", central to it will be Robben. If the Dutch are to reach their fourth World Cup final then he'll need to be at his mercurial best.
Joel Richards: We've seen Leo Messi dominate the headlines, Angel Di Maria step up when needed with a vital goal, and Sergio Romero chip in with a couple of key saves in goal. But with two clean sheets in the knockout phase, and with the rear guard requiring protection from Holland’s arsenal, Argentina will hope vice-captain Javier Mascherano will continue his form in the centre of midfield and continue in his 'Little Boss' role.
Mohamed Moallim: Robin van Persie, since returning from suspension against Mexico, has looked a shadow of the player who announced himself with spectacular diving header – subsequently adding two more tournament goals – with the stakes high don't count against a determined Van Persie. He is priced at 3.65 to score at any time.
Joel Richards: Pretty simple. Leo Messi to score any time at odds of 2.38. He hasn't scored in the past two matches but started with four group stage goals. Given his record, perhaps a dabble on him scoring in the last 15 minutes.
Mohamed Moallim: Netherlands 2-1 Argentina at odds of 12.50
Joel Richards: Netherlands 1-1 Argentina at odds of 6.50 (Argentina to win in extra time)
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