Zee Media Bureau/Dattaraj Thaly
Argentina take on Netherlands in the second semi-final of the 2014 FIFA World Cup at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo. A rampant Germany await the winner of this match, while the loser takes on a deflated Brazil team for a third place play-off.
Argentina were declared favourites before the tournament started. The Dutch, though, earned that tag as the tournament progressed. The South Americans have not steam-rolled opposition en route the semi-final. Instead, they have managed to do just enough to win games.
Lionel Messi, who has been often criticised for his failings with the national team, has clearly been the stand-out performer for Argentina. Be it his goals at critical moments in the group stages or his assist to Di Maria in the Round of 16, from Argentina`s perspective, this has been Messi`s World Cup.
Lionel Messi is clearly the boss in his camp. They say, a head-coach or manager is the captain of the ship. This may not be true in the case of Argentina. Alejandro Sabella was even forced to change his preferred formation with five at the back, to the one his captain was comfortable, a 4-3-3. Lionel Messi is the Argentina`s metronome.
Netherlands announced themselves at the World Cup in their first match when they annihilated the defending champions Spain 5-1. Apart from Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie, head-coach Louis van Gaal walked away with the plaudits for his tactical genius.
Unlike Argentina, despite several big personalities in the dressing room, this group knows that Louis van Gaal is the boss. He has managed to quell dissent in the camp and established his authority. Arjen Robben has been the man of the tournament for the Dutch so far, but the brand of football played by the team has a stamp of van Gaal.
The new Manchester United manager exhibited two instances of tactical brilliance to show that the Spain result was no fluke. He took off his captain, Robin van Persie, against Mexico in the final minutes and replaced him with Klass Jan Huntelaar, who scored the winning goal from the penalty spot.
When his team were dragged into a penalty shoot-out by Costa Rica, van Gaal replaced his number one goalkeeper with Tim Krul just before the impending penalties. Despite his poor penalty saving record for Newcastle, the substitute pulled off two saves to send the Dutch through to the semis.
The semifinal contest is being billed as the battle of the left foot – Messi`s versus that of Robben`s. That match-up is definitely one to look out for, considering the form both players are in. But what this game might actually boil down to, is how Louis van Gaal decides to play against Lionel Messi. The outcome of that duel may define who goes on to face Germany at the Maracana on 13 July.