From Ground Zero: Argentina set final date with Germany at Maracana

Zee Media Bureau/Shobhan Saxena from Sao Paulo

It was supposed to be a Brazil versus Argentina final at the Maracana. But the Brazilian died on Tuesday as the Germans crushed them 7-1 at Belo Horizonte. But the Argentinians sneaked past the Netherlands on Wednesday after a tense round of penalty shootouts after a goalless draw. Now, they meet the Germans at the World Cup final on Sunday (July 13).

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Playing in front of 67,000 football fans on a rainy day, the two teams remained locked at 0-0 in a lacklustre game that lurched into the extra time. But then it ended as a thrilling duel of penalty shootouts, with Argentina beatingt he Netherlands 4-2.

The hero of the day was Argentinian goalie Romero who blocked two spot kicks. The Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal bet against the penalties, contrary to what he had done in the quarterfinals. He used all his three substitutions to put the team on offense, instead of saving one for Tim Krul, the goalkeeper who saved two spot kicks in the game against Costa Rica.

As compared to the first semi-final that ended in a disaster for the hosts Brazil, today’s game was very different. It was a tough game. With Messi marked very tightly, the Argentinians failed to attack as much as they wanted. And with the Argentinian defence working well, the Dutch failed to score as well.

It was a game of cat and mouse, with both the coaches working more on their defences than attacks. It was also a roller-coaster game. If Argentina was better in the first half, the Netherlands took control of the game after the break. In the second half, the best chance of the game came to Robben who broke into the Argentinian penalty area, but he was blocked at the last minute by Mascherano.  

It was a game in which the Netherlands continued their tradition of playing as never before and lost as ever. It was also a game in which Argentina maintained the taboo of having never lost a World Cup semifinal. The match on Sunday is the biggest replay of the World Cup final. It will be the third time that Germany and Argentina will fight for the title. Each team won once: in 1986, it was Argentina; in 1990, it was Germany. 
Though Messi didn’t do much today, but the game has paved the way for him to put his name in history. If he lifts the trophy on Sunday, there is no doubt that Messi will become a national hero. Though he has been elected four times the world`s best player, he has yet to win a major title for his country. In the two World Cups that he has played, the Argentinian team never went beyond the quarter-final. Now, Messi and Argentina will get a chance to prove themselves at the Maracana.

Who will emerge as hero on Sunday is not known yet, but today’s hero was certainly was Sergio Romero, 27, who stopped two penalties and assured Argentina win 4-2 and enter the World Cup final after 24 years. After the game, Romero went in search of Louis van Gaal to celebrate the victory. The reason he went looking for the Dutch coach is that in 2007, Romero played for Alkmaar in the Netherlands and trained under the command of the famous Dutch coach. 

During his stay at the Dutch club, Romero was helped by Van Gaal to improve as a goalkeeper. "I thanked Louis because he helped me a lot in my early in the Netherlands. I did not speak Dutch. But as he spoke Spanish, he guided and helped me with everything. He also taught me to grow," Romero said.

Romero, Messi and their teammates now have a daunting task of beating the Germans whose confidence is very high after the mauling they gave to Brazil. The Sunday game will not be just a clash for the title, but it will also be competition between the European and South American style of playing. The Germans, with their technical perfection and tactical thinking, are looking much stronger. But the individual brilliance of Messi or excellent defending by Romero may win the day for Argentina.

May the best side win at Maracana, the temple of football!

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