By Ken Boehlke
Argentina vs. Netherlands (F1 vs. B1)
2 way line – Argentina PK (-145) Netherlands PK (+125)
3 way line – Argentina (+130) Netherlands (+220) Draw (+210)
Outright Winner – Argentina (-140) Netherlands (+120)
Total – Over 2 (-120) Under 2 (+100)
Side: Gonzalo Higuaín finally broke out of his daze and used a bit of improvisational magic to break through and give Argentina the only goal they would need to head through to the semifinals. However, the Argentinian effort was not exactly the non-Messi reliant style most believe is the only way they will continue on in the tournament. After scoring the goal, Argentina fed the ball to Lionel Messi and let him control the play. When Messi got it he did a great job of holding possession and taking Belgium out of its game. The game almost seemed to come to a complete halt when Messi was on the ball as the Belgians didn’t appear willing to challenge him in fear that he would win the one-on-one battle and catch them out of position. Instead, he sat on the ball and picked out safe passes that did not always advance the ball but they did keep the potent Belgian attack at bay. In the second half Ángel di María suffered a muscle injury that will keep him out of the match with the Netherlands.
For the first time in the tournament Argentina will face a side that’s primary goal is to get up the field and attack. While Belgium have the players that could get forward, they played a rather passive game against Argentina with just a few educated trips into the attacking third. Holland will not be so kind on the Argentina defense that has been stupendous thus far. The Dutch will use Arjen Robben’s speed and Robin van Persie’s scoring ability to attempt to get after the Argentinian defense. The key in this match for Argentina will once again be how often they can find Messi in space. It’s about time that instead of wishing for something new, and simply embrace the Messi-centric game. If they can find room for Messi in the center of the field, and specifically in the attacking third, the loss of di María shouldn’t have much effect. However, if the Dutch take the Swiss approach and double-team Messi the entire match, it’ll be up to Higuain, Ezequiel Lavezzi, and the likely di María replacement Fernando Gago, to provide the offense. Holland has been better defensively, but in the tournament they’ve show weaknesses all over the back. In the match with Belgium, Argentina came out in the second half in an ultra-defensive 4-5-1 formation. They simply cannot do the same if they once again jump out on top against the Netherlands. This exact strategy was deployed by Mexico in the Round of 16 and Holland, specifically Robben, feasted. Argentina have to stay the course the entire 90 minutes and attempt to control the ball and methodically push the ball forward. The same slow pace they used against Belgium can be effective again as long as it’s used in the midfield, but the moment they drop into a defensive shell, they’ll be under siege and they won’t be as lucky as the Ticos were. All in all, the game will once again rest on Lionel Messi’s shoulders. It’s worked so far, but this is without question the best team the South American co-favorites will have seen so far.
The Netherlands pushed and pushed and pushed, but they just could not break down the Costa Rican defense. Multiple balls off the posts, numerous shots blocked, and players consistently offside stifled what could have been three or four goal output. Instead they were forced to penalties with the Ticos and used a brilliant sub from the Iron Tulip, Louis van Gaal, to eventually triumph. Goalkeeper Tim Krul was inserted with just seconds left in the match to try his hand at the penalty shootout. It turned up aces, and the Netherlands advanced. However, the offside problem is certainly concerning as they head into the semifinal with Argentina. They were flagged for the infraction 13 times in the match and must figure out how to remain onside in the match against Argentina. Luckily, Argentina does not play an offside trap nearly as often as Costa Rica. The counter-attack of the Netherlands was also neutralized as the Ticos refused to commit numbers forward. This will certainly not be the case against Argentina. The Oranje should be able to go back to their strong suit and allow Argentina into their half and then break with Arjen Robben once the ball is turned over. Wesley Sneijder had a fantastic match against Costa Rica and he must do the same, if not more, in the semifinal.
The biggest weakness in the Argentinian defense is their inability to handle quick combination play through the central defense. Sneijder and van Persie should have the technical ability to ask questions of the center backs and attempt the exact same attacking style that earned Nigeria two goals off Argentina. Expect van Gaal to back off the offensive squad that’s included Dirk Kuyt as a wingback and Memphis Depay as a starting attacker. He’ll likely head back to something similar to the side that upset Spain in the group stage opener. Holland will want to stay compact and organized at the back but have the understanding that once the ball is taken off Argentina they must launch into counter-attack mode instantly. Argentina has been good defensively, but they’ve been caught with their hand too deep in the cookie jar a few times thus far in the tournament. Expect to see Robben continue to dominate his flank and try to link up with van Persie when the ball enters the box. If Sneijder and Georginio Wijnaldum can move the ball quickly from the center of the field to the attacking third, Argentina will have to provide its best defensive game to keep them out. Pick: Outright Winner – Argentina (-140) [Bonus bet: 3 way 90 minute bet – Draw (+210)]
Total: Argentina scored quickly then attempted to control the midfield in front of an abundant defensive line, while the Netherlands sent everyone they could find at Costa Rica yet still couldn’t score. Neither of those styles is likely in this match however. Argentina will continue to hold the ball in the midfield, but the Dutch will invite them into the attacking third a little more than Belgium did. Once they get there, it will be interesting to see how often the seventh and eight players make runs into the area. The Dutch defense has been better than advertised coming in, so it may be necessary for Argentina to commit men to the attack, but the Dutch counter-attack is incredilby potent and pushing just one too many players up could cost Argentina their World Cup dreams. Therefore, it’s much more likely that Argentina attempts to play through Lionel Messi, and hope he can provide the magical goal scoring moment all on his own. Argentina will prepare for the counter-attack and should have answers for Robben’s pacey runs down the wing. The Dutch had scored a least two goal in regulation in every one of their first four games, but were stymied by Costa Rica in the quarterfinal. At the same time, Argentina has only allowed three goals over five matches themselves. The total reflects the much lower scoring knockout rounds, and unfortunately the most likely outcome is exactly two goals. Pick: Under 2 goals (+100)