Netherlands and Argentina renew their rivalries on Wednesday as they battle for the right to face Germany in the World Cup final.
After the capitulation of Brazil on Tuesday night in front of a devastated home crowd at Belo Horizonte, perhaps Louis van Gaal’s Dutch high-fliers and Alejandro Sabella’s stuttering Argentina side can cheer up the hosts in Sao Paulo.
These two teams haven’t faced each other for eight years since the drab 0-0 draw at the 2006 World Cup but both bosses are sniffing a final and will be confident despite injury concerns.
Argentina, looking to repeat their victory over the same opponents in the 1978 final (the only time they have beaten the Dutch in eight meetings in all competitions), are missing Real Madrid midfielder Angel Di Maria (thigh) although there is better news over striker Sergio Aguero.
Benfica’s Enzo Perez or former Liverpool winger Maxi Rodriguez are likely to get the nod and, of course, all Argentine fans will be praying Lionel Messi still has some power left in his magic wand.
Messi proved against the Belgians in the quarter-finals that perhaps they are a one-man team. “He was our water in the desert,” said coach Sabella. “When the terrain was dry, he, once again, gave us a chance to breathe fresh air.”
And Belgium boss Marc Wilmots may have described them as “ordinary” but perhaps the signs are there this could be their time as they prepare for their first World Cup semi-final for 24 years. This match falls on 9 July which is Independence Day in Argentina and maybe the memory of Argentina-born forward Alfredo Di Stefano, who died this this week, will also spur them to glory.
However, they face a Dutch team who are on a roll. Dutch captain and all-time top scorer Robin van Persie may be ruled out (stomach bug) but two late goals sinking Mexico and beating Costa Rica on penalties thanks to an inspired introduction of keeper Tim Krul leads to conclusions of intervention from the divine and from a man heading for Manchester United described by many as a “tactical genius”.
Forward Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who came off the bench to destroy the Mexicans, is not a bad man to have for a plan B and Van Gaal will be also buoyed with the sight of midfield enforcer Nigel de Jong training on Tuesday.
Van Gaal said the AC Milan midfielder would be checked Wednesday for possible adverse reactions to his session, “and if they are such that he can play then a miracle will have happened.”
Defender Ron Vlaar and midfielder Leroy Fer also look to set to recover from knocks, but it would seem that whatever troubles are thrown at the Dutch, the cool Van Gaal always has a contingency plan up his sleeve and lucky bracelet.
Van Gaal, who has switched between a defensive 5-3-2 system and traditional Dutch attacking 4-3-3 formation, as well as moving striker Dirk Kuyt to his defence, played down his team’s chances and admitted Messi would have to be shackled.
The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach said: “I don’t think there’s a favourite. In the semi-finals, the teams are each other’s equals.
“If you score so many goals, you have something extra. And Messi always shows it on the biggest stages. He has sometimes had problems for the national team. He wants to change that and we want to make sure he doesn’t.”