Netherlands 0-0 Argentina (2-4 pens): The end of the Oranje Dream
Priya Ramesh is an Indian-born Dutch football fan who grew up in Amsterdam and now lives in Singapore. She is a freelance football writer and has a fondness for people called ‘Frank’. You can follow her on Twitter @Priya8Ramesh.
A starry night in the Arena do São Paulo on the 9th of July saw Louis van Gaal’s men finally succumb in their quest for the World Cup, cruelly prolonging years of hurt to another four.
Team news yielded good news for the Dutch – with Ron Vlaar, Robin van Persie and Nigel de Jong all deemed fit to start, thus restoring the spine of the team.
Both de Jong and Vlaar featured heavily as the game began, with Lionel Messi keen to rise to the occasion, pulling strings for the Albiceleste. But the little Argentinean had to drop deep to do so, with De Jong sticking to him.
Javier Mascherano went to ground clutching his head after a collision with Georginio Wijnaldum but opted to continue on for his team. The Barcelona man went on to put in a fantastic shift, arguably keeping his side in the tournament.
The first half yielded no notable chances for either teams barring a Sneijder strike early into the game and a free kick from Messi before Ezequiel Garay headed over.
The Dutch left flank was frequently targeted due to Daley Blind’s lack of pace in recovering from attacking positions and the booked Bruno Martins Indi’s struggle in holding Ezequiel Lavezzi and Pablo Zabaleta. At half time, Daryl Janmaat was brought on for Martins Indi, with Dirk Kuyt moving to left wing-back and Blind slotting in at left centre-back, Janmaat taking up his natural right-back position.
Arjen Robben came to life more in the second half, with frequent runs at the Argentine defence – especially after Jordy Clasie came on for De Jong, allowing more ball retention and purposeful passing in midfield.
At the other end, both Vlaar and young Stefan de Vrij put in amazingly solid displays throughout the match; Vlaar took it upon himself the responsibility of keeping Messi in check, which he did very well.
As extra time loomed, the last chance to decide the game fell to Robben, who was put through magnificently by Sneijder but was denied by a brilliant tackle from Mascherano.
Extra time saw the substitution of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar – a hero in the round of 16 against Mexico – for the largely ineffective Van Persie who is still without a first World Cup goal in the knockout stages. This was the final sub for the Netherlands, which meant there was no chance for Tim Krul to replicate his heroics.
Extra time wore on, with Argentina having the better chances – a mishit Maxi Rodriguez volley and a tame Rodrigo Palacio header were both saved by Jasper Cillessen, which condemned the game to penalties.
Having been understandably upset at being subbed off before the shootout against Costa Rica, it was now Cillessen’s moment to measure up to the test now.
Vlaar – who had been absolutely fantastic during the match – went first but saw his penalty saved by Romero. Messi fooled Cillessen into moving the wrong way and calmly slotted home while Robben did the same for the Dutch and Garay smashed his penalty home to give the South Americans a 2-1 lead.
The all-important third penalty fell to Sneijder, who struck the ball well but was denied by one of the saves of the tournament by Romero. Sergio Aguero and Kuyt scored for their respective spot-kicks but the match was well over by then. The winning penalty was to be taken by Maxi, which was judged correctly by Cillessen but his wrist could only offer so much resistance as the ball proceeded to the back of the net anyway.
Van Gaal was understandably upset and said Oranje had gone out in “the worst way possible” but also joking that he taught his opponent today – Romero – all about penalties when he was at AZ as well as the fact that he would have brought Krul on again if he’d had the chance.
The disappointment was more than palpable in the players’ words after the match.
Sneijder said, “I don’t really know what to say right now, if you don’t mind. This hurts, especially when you’re one of the people to miss.”
Meanwhile, Robben had a slightly more optimistic view: “I think we should change our mindset quickly, we’ve done amazing. At the moment I feel disappointment, but we’ve done our best. From the bottom of my heart, if you see how everyone was behind the team, I think we can all be very proud of these boys.”
But coming off most broken was Vlaar; “I know I had a good game, but in the end you stand here with empty hands. It hurts so much, it is a dream that burst. I’ve done so much to get here.”
Heartbreak for Oranje but nonetheless it has been a tournament to look back on and be proud of. Not many gave them a chance, even predicting a group stage exit, but Van Gaal and his entire Dutch contingent, technical staff and all have done the nation proud.
It’s easy to look back and ponder over the ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys’ but it should not overshadow the effort and heart shown by the Dutchmen, who will surely be a force to be reckoned with at the next European Championships in 2016.