World cup 2014

Fifa World Cup 2014

Netherlands v Argentina: Semi-finalists looking to soothe the pain of past failures

The Dutch are still raw from their final loss in 2010, while the South Americans have not reached a title match since the 1990 tournament

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 July, 2014, 11:38pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 July, 2014, 3:15am

Fuelled by decades of hurt, Lionel Messi's Argentina and Arjen Robben's Netherlands will carry competing motivations into their tantalising World Cup semi-final showdown at Sao Paulo's Corinthians arena.

Argentina, who last reached the final in 1990, will be determined to pay homage to former great Alfredo di Stefano, who died on Monday aged 88, while arch-rivals Brazil could by then be awaiting in the final.

The Netherlands, meanwhile, are eager to rediscover their group-stage swagger and prove they are finally ready to claim football's greatest prize after agonising final defeats in 1974, 1978 and 2010.

We're in a place where Argentina hasn't been for a long time. These opportunities come only so often and you can't let them go by
Javier Mascherano

"The semi-finals are fantastic, but we know what it feels like to lose a World Cup, and we would love to win," Dutch utility man Dirk Kuyt said.

"Argentina are a world-class team and they deserve to be in the last four. But we want to measure ourselves against the best, and not only measure, but win. That's why we're here."

The second of Holland's final losses came at the hands of Argentina, who won 3-1 as hosts at a Monumental Stadium in Buenos Aires broiling with the menace of military dictatorship.

It is, however, the only time in eight encounters that they have bettered the Netherlands, who memorably won a 1998 World Cup quarter-final in Marseille thanks to a majestic last-minute goal by Dennis Bergkamp.

Di Stefano never graced a World Cup, either for Argentina or his adopted Spain, but another Argentine great embraced by the Spanish can tighten his grip on this year's tournament.

Messi met with quarter-final heartbreak at his first two World Cups, but in Brazil the Barcelona superstar has played with a decisiveness that suggests he may be about to definitively make his mark on the game's biggest stage.

Messi has held on to the captaincy since the Copa America in 2011 when Javier Mascherano was sent off late in regulation time in the quarter-final against Uruguay, but Mascherano remains the inspirational voice in the locker room.

Known as jefecito, or "Little Boss", the defensive midfielder has fired up Argentina for what has become their best World Cup run since 1990.

"We're in a place where Argentina hasn't been for a long time," Mascherano said. "These opportunities come only so often and you can't let them go by."

Dutch danger man Robben is also in scintillating form, but for all the stars on show, the game in Brazil's sprawling financial capital will also be a painstakingly prepared tactical battle.

The Netherlands needed penalties to see off Costa Rica in the last eight and as the panache that saw them crush Spain 5-1 in their opening game begins to ebb, it is their coach who has taken centre stage.

Louis van Gaal was heralded for a decisive tactical switch against Mexico and then pulled off a masterstroke against Costa Rica by sending on reserve goalkeeper Tim Krul, who saved two penalties in the shoot-out.

The future Manchester United manager has played with a three-man defence in three of Holland's five games to date and his innovations mean that his team sheet will be awaited with great anticipation.

One name unlikely to feature, however, is centre-back Ron Vlaar, who is a serious doubt with a knee injury. Joel Veltman is in line to come into central defence alongside Bruno Martins Indi and Stefan de Vrij, unless Van Gaal opts for a back four.

Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella, whose side beat Belgium 1-0 in the quarter-finals, is without influential midfielder Angel Di Maria because of injury, but left-back Marcos Rojo is available again after suspension.

Gonzalo Higuain's goal against Belgium showed that Argentina are not entirely dependent on Messi, but Mascherano has warned his side they face an evening of knife-edge tension.

"We know that we are going to play against a team that is at its best when playing on the counter-attack, because of the pace they have in attack," said the Barcelona player.

"We need to make sure we don't lose the ball unnecessarily. Concentration will be key, along with the way we set our stall out and we will need to be patient when making decisions."