Netherlands v Argentina: A view from the opposition

After Germany’s 7-1 demolition of Brazil on Tuesday, it comes down to Argentina and Netherlands to battle it out for the other spot in the World Cup final.

Argentina ended the dreams of one half of the BeNeFoot team, so it’s up to Arjen Robben & Co. to get revenge on the Albiceleste for that as well as that horrible 1978 World Cup final in Buenos Aires.

Ahead of Wednesday’s game, BeNeFoot spoke to Argentinian football expert Rupert Fryer to get the lowdown on Alejandro Sabella’s men.

In the Netherlands there has been much fuss about the Messi vs Robben duel. How has it been perceived in Argentina?

Robben was described by one prominent Argentina journalist this week as an SUV, which I think was supposed to highlight his combination of class and athleticism. Former Bayern Munich teammate Martin Demichelis was among those warning Argentine defenders to ensure they make as little contact as possible with the flying Dutchman, for obvious reasons. There has of course been talk of Robin Van Persie too, but Robben has been identified as the biggest threat. Argentina have long been most susceptible in the full-back positions, so Robben’s brilliant form is a major concern.

Those stars are seen as two of the most decisive players in the world at the moment, what will Alejandro Sabella do to try and contain Arjen Robben?

With Angel Di Maria missing, Enzo Pérez is the favourite to replace him – the Benfica midfielder, who played under Sabella at Estudiantes, was excellent when called upon against Belgium. On Tuesday he was leading a fan poll in Argentine sports daily Olé as the preferred replacement. Perez would provide much more support to left-back Marcos Rojo than Di Maria would, and would be the ideal choice to double-up on Robben and prevent him coming inside onto that left-foot. Lucas Biglia played deep alongside Mascherano in the quarter-final, which left the latter with a little less ground to cover. With Biglia likely to retain his place, it means Mascherano can pay more attention to Robben cutting in from the right. Maxi Rodriguez is also in contention to come in, but with the team training behind closed doors on Monday, the talk is not only about whether it will be Perez of Maxi, but whether Sabella will keep his 4-4-2 or revert back to the 3-5-2 which saw Argentina make a poor start against Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Conversely, what would be the best way for Van Gaal to try and keep Messi quiet during the game – is it even possible?

Perhaps he should ask Diego Simeone. The usual tactic of attempting to crowd him out will probably be the way forward for the Dutch. The absence of Di Maria in midfield certainly leaves Messi without one his preferred colleagues for the quick interchanges that can see him breeze past a swarm of onrushing defenders. That probably makes the absence of Fernando Gago an even bigger concern. Gago’s ability to find Messi in pockets of space and, most importantly, to get him receiving the ball on the font-foot has been vital to Messi’s magnificent form since Sabella took charge.

Sergio Aguero has been out for the last couple of matches, but is rumoured to start against the Netherlands. Will he, besides Messi, be the one to watch or do you expect other surprises to pop up?

Many Argentines certainly hope so. Being deprived of the on-field relationship between Messi and Aguero has been a loss for football fans so far this tournament. They are very close off-the-pitch and when they’ve clicked under Sabella, some of the results have been breathtaking. Aguero will certainly add another dimension to the Argentine attack but, at the time of writing, we’re unsure as to whether he will start or not.

Javier Mascherano was very humble in his press conference about the Netherlands. Do the Argentinians consider themselves underdogs in this battle?

They wouldn’t call themselves underdogs, but they know they are facing their biggest test of the tournament so far. There has of course been lots of talk of the 1978 final, and everything it evokes, but much of the talk has been consumed by Argentina getting to their first World Cup semi-final in 24 years.

How is Sabella’s reputation in Argentina and do you think he is able to spring one or two tactical surprises against the Dutch?

He has done that which nobody before him managed: getting something like the best out of Lionel Messi. And that has earned him a lot of admiration. There is an acceptance that this is not necessarily a vintage Argentine side operating according to the principles of ‘la nuestra’, but Sabella is a pragmatist who has – certainly prior to the tournament – probably got the most he can out of those available. For all Argentina’s brilliant attacking players, they have suffered a real lack of quality options at the other end of the pitch, right the way down to their goalkeeper who couldn’t even get a game for his club side this season. The banishment of Carlos Tevez will always leave him his critics in Argentina, but it was undoubtedly a shrewd decision which has most certainly paid off. Tactically, I doubt we will see anything new from him, but we are still unsure as to exactly which formation he will go with: 4-4-2, 3-5-2 or 4-3-3.

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