It’s been 36 years since the 1978 World Cup championship showdown between Argentina and Netherlands, and now the two teams are poised to face each other again. Granted, Wednesday’s semifinal showdown is only for the right to move on to the championship game on Sunday, but each team would love to reach the final round and demonstrate their soccer expertise.
The question is which team makes the all-important championship? Sentimental reasons would have given the nod to Argentina, if only because a Brazil win over Germany would have made it an all-South America final. There are plenty of reasons why Netherlands could pull off the victory, however, and reach the championship to make it an all-Europe final.
Argentina, which reached the semifinals for the first time since 1990, like to live dangerously. Three of their games in the World Cup were 1-0 wins over Iran, Switzerland and Belgium, and that win over Switzerland came in extra time. To reach the semifinal, Argentina defeated Belgium on a goal by Gonzalo Higuain eight minutes into the game. The goal stood and Argentina were semifinal-bound.
Lionel Messi, the team’s captain, is the overall scoring leader with 42 goals heading into the semifinal. Higuain and Sergio Aguero also are top scorers with a respective 22 and 21 goals, and together their total is only one more than Messi’s alone. Still, that’s three top scoring threats, and if any of them strike early during the semifinal, the game could tilt heavily in Argentina’s favor. Aguero missed the Belgium match but is available once again against Netherlands.
Netherlands are in the semifinals for the first time since 1998, the year they lost the consolation final. The last time the team reached the final came in the back-to-back tournaments they lost in 1974 and 1978. It would be something if Netherlands reached the finals again for the first time in 36 years, but the question is whether the team has anything left in the tank following a 4-3 win in penalty kicks over Costa Rica. The win over Spain, although impressive, is a little less so every day since we now know Spain had some difficulties that extended past just the opening match.
The question for Netherlands is which goalkeeper shows up to start the game? Will it be the flashy Tim Krul in net or will the team turn to Jasper Cillessen? Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben, who combined for 72 goals this season, are expected to lead the attack line.
Prediction: Argentina 1, Netherlands 0
Argentina have had an uncanny knack to win these one-goal games, so why stop now? Each team has a strong core of scorers, but the deeper bench may belong to Argentina. Look for that squad to knock out Netherlands and send the Dutch to the consolation game.