Looking ahead to today's World Cup semi-final featuring Holland and Argentina.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Holland v Argentina
Arena de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo
Kick-off: 21.00 BST

Tonight’s second semi-final between Holland and Argentina is a repeat of the 1978 final.

Argentina won that match 3-1 and eight years later, inspired by Diego Maradona, lifted the trophy for a second time. Holland, meanwhile, will be attempting to reach their fourth final – having lost the previous three.

The winners face Germany, who reached the final after thrashing hosts Brazil 7-1 in a remarkable performance on Tuesday.

There is a growing feeling in Argentina that this is their year. The omens certainly look good. The match falls on 9 July, which just happens to be Independence Day in Argentina.

Further inspiration may come with the passing of legendary Argentina-born forward Alfredo Di Stefano this week.

Holland, though, led by the experienced Louis Van Gaal, are a tournament-hardened side, and will desperate to make amends for their dismal showing against Spain in the 2010 final.

Neither side has been hugely impressive over the course of the tournament. Argentina have won each of their matches at Brazil 2014 by a single goal margin, while Holland required two late goals to overcome Mexico and were taken to penalties by Costa Rica.

Key men: Messi v Robben

Nevertheless, despite an occasionally bumpy ride to the semi-finals, both teams have proven match winners at their disposal in Lionel Messi and Arjen Robben.

Both have been in excellent so far, with Messi scoring in each of Argentina’s first four matches, while Robben has three goals to his name. William Hill are offering 13/2 on both players scoring tonight. All of their sports betting offers are available here.

Inevitably, given his status as the world’s best player, much of the pre-match build-up has focused on Argentina’s Messi.

The forward, who has been in outstanding form in Brazil, insists he is relishing the burden of expectation.

“I am feeling positive pressure,” Messi said.

“It’s a great honour to be captain of Argentina. I want to pay back the trust given in me leading Argentina to the World Cup.

“As a player winning a World Cup is the best there is,” he said.

“It’s something you dream about when you are a kid and it never disappears.

“I have asked my Barcelona team-mates Xavi, (Andres) Iniesta and (Gerard) Pique what it is like to lift the trophy, and they couldn’t explain it.

“We will do everything to make this dream a reality.

“To play a World Cup final with the great atmosphere of the Maracana is something that every player dreams of, but first we have to make sure we get there.”

This is not just the Lionel Messi show, though. In Arjen Robben, Holland have their very own match-winner.

Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella has told his players to keep an eye on the flying Dutchman tonight.

“He is player who can throw you off balance in a one-on-one, so we have to be especially careful with that, have players close, that is to say as grouped as possible,” said Sabella.

“When he picks up speed, it is much more difficult to take the ball away from him,” he told a news conference on the eve of the semi-final.

Stats
  • Argentina’s victory over Holland in the 1978 final is the only time they have beaten them in eight meetings in all competitions The Dutch hold the upper hand, having won four and drawn three of the other encounters.
  • This is Argentina’s first World Cup semi-final since 1990, when they went on to lose to Germany in the final. They have never lost at this stage, having played four and won four.
  • Lionel Messi has created 19 goalscoring chances in this World Cup, the most of any player.
  • Holland have lost just two of their 12 World Cup games against South American teams, not including penalty shootouts (the 1978 final and 1994 quarter-final v Brazil).
  • Holland’s 0-0 draw against Costa Rica was their first goalless draw in World Cup knockout stages. This ended a run of 11 World Cup knockout stage matches for the Dutch without a clean sheet.

Team News 
Van Gaal is expected to keep faith with keeper Jasper Cillesen, despite replacing him with Newcastle United’s Tim Krul, ahead of the penalty shoot-out against Costa Rica in the quarter-finals.

But there is concern over the fitness of Robin van Persie, who missed training on Tuesday with stomach problems and is considered doubtful.

Meanwhile, Argentina will be without Ángel Di María – the winger has not recovered from a thigh injury suffered in the quarter-final win over Belgium.

Sergio Agüero, who has missed the last two matches with a thigh injury, is available, although he may have to settle for a place on the bench.

Possible teams:

Holland (Possible, 5-3-2): Cillesen; Kuyt, De Vrij, Vlaar, Indi, Depay; Wijnaldum, Sneijder, Blind; Robben, Van Persie.

Argentina (Possible, 4-2-3-1): Romero; Zabaleta, F Fernández, Garay, Rojo; E Perez, Mascherano; Palacio, Messi, Lavezzi; Higuaín.

Referee: Cuneyt Cakir (Turkey).