Wednesday, at Arena Corinthians, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Argentina defeated Holland 4-2 on penalties after extra time, in a dour, scoreless game.
Dutch coach, Louis van Gaal, had set two objectives for his team—stop Lionel Messi and score one goal, ideally an early one. He achieved the first but at the cost of allowing Argentina to erase both Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben in return. He did not achieve the second objective, but the South Americans did not score either.
In a game that literally resembled a chess match being played for a draw, Holland, who had 56% of possession, passed the ball back more often than forward. The Argentine team took less shots on goal today than Angel di Maria alone did in his match against Switzerland. In today’s 120 minutes the two teams combined for 15 shots on goal, with only five of them being on target and only two even smelling like they could have caused harm.
If the Germany-Brazil game was a shocking scoring fest this game was a slow motion slugfest between heavyweights wary of each other’s potential knockout punch. There was little positive to say about the match as neither team risked more than five players outside of their respective defensive shells at any time in the entire contest. Neither goalkeeper had more than a couple of saves, and the statistics of futility far outpaced any other.
Robben touched the ball five times in the first half. Touched. He did not possess the ball near or in the box once in that time. Argentina’s highlights were Sergio Romero’s two saves off poorly taken penalties and the fact that each of their four penalty takers scored, two barely. Messi, for all he accomplished, could have stayed home.
Argentina’s La Prensa had a banner headline that said: “Another date with history: Romero was the hero during the penalties with Holland and Argentina is in the final.”
Amsterdam's De Volkskrant newspaper took issue with Coach van Gaal’s tactics and said: “Lack of courage killed the Oranje in a monstrosity of a competition.”
Now we move on to a third place game Saturday between a physically whipped Dutch team and an emotionally destroyed Brazilian one—what a surprising match that will be. Perhaps the good fortune for both Argentina and Brazil, is that they will not meet each other under their current playing conditions. Neither set of fans would want to see their teams dismantled by the other.
On Sunday, the world championship will be contested between a team that has scored eight goals all cup long and another that scored seven in one match. There are four days between today and Sunday’s final, which will give players a chance to recover, but the Europeans seem to have all the answers and advantages going in while the Argentines look like they are crawling into their last match. In the history of the cup only one South American team, Brazil, has won the cup in Europe. Germany has a chance to return the favor. On paper, the Germans should sleepwalk over the Argentines. That is, at any cup but this surprising one.
Again, the cup of surprises game us another one today, who would have thought that these two particular teams, with so much talent and tactical know how, could possibly combine for such purposeful futility in order to reach a World Cup final?