The first meeting of two genuine contenders to win the World Cup resulted in an absorbing though ultimately disappointing 0-0 draw in Frankfurt.
Both teams were below strength and neither seemed prepared to exert themselves unnecessarily in pursuit of the win. Argentina, had the better chances, especially before the break, but Holland defended resolutely and rarely looked threatened by their highly-rated opponents.
Argentina now go on to face Mexico in the second round, while Holland face an all-European clash against Portugal.
There were some new faces on show for the eagerly-awaited Group C clash. Injuries and yellow cards persuaded Holland coach Marco van Basten, to rest Mark van Bommel, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Arjen Robben, Joris Mathijsen and John Heitinga. In came Kew Jaliens, Tim de Cler, Khalid Boulahrouz, Rafael van der Vaart and Dirk Kuyt in a new-look Dutch side.
Lionel Messi made his first start of the World Cup for Argentina with Carlos Tevez also coming in to the attack at the expense of Hernan Crespo and Javier Saviola. Also starting for the first time in Germany were Gabriel Milito and Leandro Cufre.
The first clear chance fell to Argentina, and inevitably it was Riquelme who created the opening for Cambiasso, but the midfielder’s marauding run was stopped in its tracks by a fine last-ditch tackle by Ooijer.
Tevez also went close after a spell of Argentina possession on the edge of the Dutch penalty area. However, the ball was swept forward to the other end where Kuyt robbed Burdisso and had the opportunity to square the ball for Van Nistelrooy, but the Feyenoord striker chose to shoot from a narrow angle, forcing a smart save from Abbondanzieri.
The contrast in styles between the two teams was evident in the early stages, with Argentina playing a patient, probing game, while Holland were more direct in their approach play.
Riquelme came close to breaking the deadlock when he fired in a low free-kick which was deflected onto his own post by Boulahrouz. Moments later Maxi fired a half-volley inches wide of van der Sar’s post as Argentina began to gain the ascendancy.
The game entered a scrappy period in the run up to half-time but the mediocrity was briefly interrupted by a run and shot from Messi that van der Sar did well to hold.
As the half-time whistled blew, both teams could be relatively pleased with their efforts. Holland, with a weakened side, had worked hard to restrict their opponents, while Argentina, without really breaking sweat, had shown glimpses of the form that had destroyed Serbia & Montenegro.
After the break Riquelme fired just wide after some wonderful interplay with Messi as Argentina showed no signs of being content to settle for a point. Holland, meanwhile, introduced promising teenager Babel for van Nistelrooy, whose anonymity during the game was a reflection on the paucity of chances created by van Basten’s side.
As the second half progressed it was the respective defences which appeared to be gaining the upper hand as neither side appeared capable of breaking the deadlock. The defensive stranglehold was almost destroyed when Tevez unleashed a powerful drive from the edge of the area, but van der Sar produced a wonderful save to deny the Corinthians striker.
Holland launched a flurry of attacks late in the game, forcing a succession of corners, but the Argentinian defence held firm, and in truth, never looked like being breached.
The game petered out towards the end and both teams seemed content to play out time, safe in the knowledge that their participation in the knockout stages had already been secured.
Not a lot was learnt from this game that we didn’t already know. Holland look a tough nut to crack, although their lack of invention going forward may ultimately undermine their challenge.
Argentina, even playing at a leisurely pace, still look the side most likely to dethrone Brazil in 18 days time.
Argentina: Abbondanzieri, Burdisso, Ayala, Milito, Cufre, Mascherano, Maxi, Cambiasso, Riquelme, Messi, Tevez.
Subs used: Coloccini 24 (for Burdisso), Cruz 69 (for Messi), Aimar 79 (for Riquelme).
Bookings: Cambiasso 57 Mascherano 90.
Holland: Van der Sar, Boulahrouz, Ooijer, Jaliens, De Cler, Sneijder, Cocu, Van der Vaart, Van Persie, van Nistelrooy, Kuyt.
Subs used: Babel 56 (for van Nistelrooy) Landzaat 67 (for Van Persie), Maduro 86 (for Sneijder).
Bookings: Kuyt 28, Ooijer 43, De Cler 48.
Referee: Luis Medina Cantalejo (Spain)