After Brazil were shellshocked in the first semifinal match yesterday, Argentina and Netherlands come up to the stage today to play their semifinal duel. Lionel Messi is the prime candidate for the Golden Ball award, but if and only if he leads Argentina to the throne. Can he do a Maradona? Everyone is expecting him to. He's the only remaining top player in the competition as Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar bowed and made their exit.
Being Lionel Messi is not easy. Whatever he does, Diego Armando Maradona has done it before and the little wizard will live in his shadow until he does something amazing. Even if he wins the trophy with Argentina - Maradona has done it before. Messi can only join him on the throne for now but can't top him.
Messi has been unrecognizable and looked jaded in the group stage, but was that just a very wise move, saving his energy for the most important matches? Could be. In any case, Lionel Messi is the leader of this defensive team and he brought them to the semifinals with his key goals scored when the team was in desperate need of his magic. Two matches to go, Messi has to do it two more times and he'll finally earn the right to be put in the same sentence with the much more famous number 10.
On the opposite side are Netherlands, a side which may not be too happy with the 1-7 yesterday as their 1-5 against Spain will not be remembered as the most shocking result in this tournament. But they're here and have a chance to win the title after losing in the 2010 final. Louis van Gaal redesigned this team of average players plus Robben and Van Persie and managed to progress through this extremely difficult tournament which saw many favorites go home early.
Arjen Robben is the leader of this team, with Robin van Persie being quiet for several matches now because he was caught off side repeatedly, but if the offside traps start failing he'll suddenly wake up. Wesley Sneijder picked up his game as the tournament progressed, and now he seems to be ready to be the key player in central midfield. The other players are doing well also, but only because of Van Gaal's good tactics. In reality they're average players who happen to be overperforming in this tactical setup and in this tournament.
This will be a duel between defensive Argentina and offensive Netherlands. So far, the more stable team always won the knockout stage match, and in this case that would be Argentina. They haven't played spectacular matches but are reminiscent of the German machine. They're unattractive and criticized, but they're winning. Netherlands are a more romantic side not only concerned with winning matches but preoccupied with doing so in a beautiful way. All similar teams have exited the tournament already and they're the only such team remaining in the competition. They look like the bronze medal candidate, teams like this usually end up third, but they could hurt Argentina and then do something amazing in the final. The talent is definitely there.
The match between Argentina and Netherlands is played in Sao Paulo tonight at 21.00 UK time, 17.00 local time. Cuneyt Cakir from Turkey, one of the top referees in the world, will officiate this match. As opposed to yesterday's duel, FIFA decided to break the rule that a European referee can't officiate a match in which a European team is involved. Not that it matters with fantastic and professional referees such as Cakir.
The stage is set for another spectacle. Can Argentina and Netherlands top what happened yesterday? Highly unlikely, as Mineirazo - the tragedy in Estadio Mineirao - will be remembered as the most shocking result of all time. But something memorable will happen tonight as well.
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