Wednesday night’s semi-final sees Argentina take on Holland in Sao Paulo at 9pm, and it’s a clash that will be fondly remembered for one of the greatest World Cup goals, and an excitable Dutch commentator. 16 years later and Lionel Messi goes head-to-head with Robin van Persie in what has the potential to be a cracking contest between two of the tournament’s most exciting sides.
Holland have the edge in these clashes, winning four of their eight matches with the Argies, however they’re the underdogs to make Sunday’s final.
Quick out of the blocks
In their five World Cup games in South America, Argentina have flown out of the traps. And if they’ve hit the ground running, in comparison, Holland have landed with a belly flop Arjen Robben would be proud of.
- In the opening 20 minutes of their World Cup games, Argentina have had 15 attempts on goal, with 56 per cent of them on target
- In comparison the Dutch have managed just three attempts in the opening 20 minutes. Just Korea (two) and Iran (1) have managed less in this World Cup
- During the first 45 minutes of games Argentina have taken 37 shots to Holland’s 19 and created more than double the amount of goalscoring chances – 27 to the Dutch’s 12
Argentina appear to have put a lot on emphasis on attacking early and have scored in the opening ten minutes against Bosnia, Nigeria and Belgium so far in Brazil. Holland have not shown the same early promise and are as lethargic as a geriatric snail in the opening half. Against Mexico and Costa Rica combined, they managed just five shots on goal in the opening half, while Argentina had five shots in just the first half hour against Belgium. They were arguably tougher opposition as well.
Angel Di Maria was a key part of Argentina’s early assaults and he will be a major loss going into the semi-final, however Alejandro Sabella’s side can still take the early advantage in this heavyweight tussle.
Going for goal
Despite their slow starts, the Dutch have been fairly ruthless when they’ve adventured forward. Surprising as it may be, considering Robben’s favourite trick is to cut inside and shoot wildly over the bar, Holland have averaged seven shots on target per game – the only side to average more per match in this World Cup is France. They can still pose a considerable danger to the Dutch, and one man who will provide plenty of bang for your buck is Wesley Sneijder.
- The midfielder has had 11 attempts on goal in this year’s tournament, more than any other member of the Dutch squad
- Although he has scored just once – giving him a conversion rate of just 9.1 per cent – he hit the woodwork twice against Costa Rica in Holland’s quarter-final on Saturday
- Nine of Sneijder’s 11 attempts have come in Holland’s two knock-out games as he starts to have more of an attacking influence. Van Persie and Robben have managed just six shots each in the same two matches
Expect some crunching tackles
This game has a history of having some needle. Despite most of these World Cup rivalries being based on national stereotypes and digging up memories of international wars, there doesn’t appear to be much in the history books that fuels the flames in this one. However that hasn’t stopped some of the tackles in this match being tougher than a chicken breast from Weatherspoons.
- In the four fixtures between these two sides since 1998 there have been 10 yellow cards and three men sent off
- Holland have committed 91 fouls in this World Cup – just Costa Rica and Brazil have committed more. Jeremain Lens and Daley Blind top the charts with nine fouls each, while Nigel De Jong will probably be disappointed to know he racked up just the eight fouls and didn’t get cautioned in this tournament before he was injured
- In comparison Argentina players get fouled, on average 16.6 times per game in this World Cup – the fourth highest average of all the 32 teams.Unsurprisingly Lionel Messi is the one opposition sides target and he has been fouled 11 times so far in the tournament
The Dutch have certainly cleaned up their act since the 2010 World Cup final however it wouldn’t be a surprise if they attempted to ruffle Messi and co up in this semi-final bout. Bruno Martins Indi and Stefan De Vrij aren’t shy in putting the boot in and could be a tempting price to pick up the first booking.
How will this one pan out? It is difficult to tell, and with a World Cup final at stake there’s more pressure here than on Nicklas Bendtner’s agent. The stats suggest Argentina will take the early initiative and could take the lead, however Louis Van Gaal’s Dutch side are unlikely to go down without a fight. Wesley Sneijder will be keen to add to his goal tally for the tournament, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the referee take down more names than Channing Tatum at a singles night.
Holland could upset the odds, Argentina could make their first World Cup final for 24 years. This one could easily come down to spot-kicks.
Argentina to score first: 10/11
Half-time correct score – Argentina 1-0 Holland: 10/3
Wesley Sneijder to score at anytime: 7/2
Wesley Sneijder to score at anytime and Holland to draw in 90 mins: 16/1
The match to be decided by a penalty shoot-out: 9/2