MATCHDAY PREVIEW – The second semi-final at Brazil 2014 features another tussle for supremacy between Europe and South America, with the Netherlands and Argentina renewing acquaintances in Sao Paulo. The two teams most famously contested the Final in 1978, when Argentina won 3-1 after extra time to record their only success in four FIFA World Cup™ meetings with the Oranje.
Their hopes of posting a second could well depend on Lionel Messi, who has driven the team forward in Brazil and regularly made the difference, with a haul of four goals and one assist so far. Performing a different role than he does for Barcelona, Messi pulls the strings for La Albiceleste thanks to his exceptional ball protection, devastating bursts of speed and precision passing.
He will have to make do without injured lieutenant Angel Di Maria, but the player whose absence will arguably be felt most is Nigel de Jong. Missing his favourite midfield enforcer, Louis van Gaal could be tempted to change his system, deploying a pair of holding players to keep Messi quiet.
If he does, Van Gaal will be hoping his team can retain their attacking edge. Seven different players have found the net for the Netherlands at Brazil 2014, and two of them have hit a trio of goals – including the in-form Arjen Robben.
The Bayern Munich winger has been caught offside 21 times overall, but he is never afraid to try his luck in front of goal and brings energy and intensity to the forward line. That said, it would be short-sighted for either side to focus on Messi and Robben alone, with the likes of Robin van Persie and Gonzalo Higuain having already shown their pedigree in Brazil.
Netherlands-Argentina, Arena de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, 17.00 (local time)
Did you know?
Refereeing record: The man in the middle for the Netherlands' quarter-final against Costa Rica, Uzbekistan's Ravshan Irmatov, officiated his ninth World Cup game, beating the old record he shared with French former referee Joel Quiniou, Uruguay's Jorge Larrionda and Benito Archundia of Mexico. The match was Irmatov's fourth at Brazil 2014, following on from the five he oversaw at South Africa 2010.
Settling the score: The Netherlands could finish the tournament having avenged all three of their World Cup Final defeats. Already victorious against 2010 rivals Spain, their next game brings them face to face with 1978 opponents Argentina, ahead of a potential showpiece with Germany that would evoke memories of 1974. The semi-final will also be the Oranje's 750th international outing, with their record so far yielding 377 wins, 167 draws and 205 losses.
Narrow margins: Argentina have had to work hard for their wins at Brazil 2014, edging each of them by a single goal. Those slender successes have nonetheless earned them a fifth semi-final spot, and their first in 24 years. La Albiceleste have yet to lose at this stage of the competition, lifting the Trophy in 1978 and 1986, and finishing runners-up in 1930 and 1990.
Mia and Jorgelina: Sidelined due to injury, Di Maria will not get the chance to celebrate a goal in the eye-catching way he has greeted each of his recent efforts, by forming a heart with his hands. That gesture of love is dedicated to his wife Jorgelina Cardoso and their daughter Mia, who was born three months prematurely on 22 April last year. For several weeks, Mia's parents kept vigil at her bedside to help her in her ultimately successful fight for life. A year on from that testing time, Jorgelina left a moving message on Instagram: "Today, you are a healthy, strong and fun girl… You came into this world to teach us that we should never give up and to show us that, if we want, this world can be as pretty as a bouquet of roses." Nicknamed Angelito, Di Maria is clearly not the only 'Little Angel' in his family.
None, single yellow cards having been erased after the quarter-finals.
Check it out
The Netherlands passed with flying colours when put to the test in their penalty shoot-out with Costa Rica. Meticulously prepared, the Dutch sprung a surprise when Van Gaal swapped goalkeepers at the last moment, but it proved to be a stroke of genius.
Huge credit is also due to the Oranje's penalty takers, and perhaps no one was more determined to bury his effort than Dirk Kuyt. Speaking to FIFA.com, the 33-year-old reflected on a win his side wanted at all costs.
Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon may have been left packing their bags at the end of the group stage, but this World Cup has hardly been short of superb goalkeeping performances. A whole new generation of talented No1s has risen to the fore in Brazil, led by Guillermo Ochoa and Keylor Navas, while the likes of Manuel Neuer have continued building their reputations. Who, though, has been the best keeper of the tournament and why? Have your say on FIFA.com.
Lastly, get yourself in the mood for the action in Sao Paulo by watching our video highlights of past meetings between the Netherlands and Argentina.
On this day
No fewer than 63,998 spectators packed into Dallas' Cotton Bowl on 9 July 1994 for perhaps the most incredible quarter-final in World Cup history. The drama was relentless between ambitious duo Brazil and the Netherlands, and particularly in the second half, as the teams retook the field with the scoreline still 0-0.
Bebeto fed Romario to open the scoring soon after the restart and added the second himself with a fine piece of skill, but Dick Advocaat's men struck back almost immediately when Dennis Bergkamp reduced the deficit. Aron Winter then drew the teams level, before Branco – starting in place of the suspended Leonardo – settled the tie with a powerful free-kick from 25 metres out.
Through to the semi-finals, Brazil eventually downed Italy on spot-kicks in the showpiece, Dunga burying the decisive penalty to end the Seleção's 24-year wait for the Trophy.
Play and win
You now have just 24 hours left to make your selection for the adidas Golden Ball winner and perhaps win your very own piece of World Cup history. One lucky predictor – drawn at random from all of the correct entries – will receive an actual match ball used during the 2014 World Cup Final at the Maracana on 13 July. So register your choice now!
En Sao Paulo!!!! pic.twitter.com/uK2PCuYi5y
— Javier Mascherano (@Mascherano) July 8, 2014