Argentina prevailed over the Netherlands in what had been billed as a battle of the best offenses at the Cup. The match ended a scoreless tie and was decided 4-2 in a penalty shootout.
The second semifinal of the World Cup between Argentina and the Netherlands was played in whistling wind and driving rain in São Paulo, and the attacking spirits of the two sides seemed to be as dampened as everything else.
The first half was largely uneventful, with the clearest scoring opportunity for either side not coming until stoppage time when Argentinean striker Gonzalo Higuaín took an excellent pass from Leo Messi and took a shot that glanced off a goal post.
The Dutch kept a clutch of defenders around Messi wherever he roamed, effectively shutting him down as a scoring option. Of necessity, his few effective moments were dishing the ball to teammates.
There was a scary incident in which Dutch midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum knocked heads with Javier Mascherano, and the Argentinean defender stayed down on the turf for more than a minute.
But Mascherano was allowed to play on, without discernable ill effect.
The second half was more of the same, with neither goalkeeper being tested.
Sergio Agüero, the star forward who has seen limited Cup action due to nagging injuries, entered the match in the 82nd minute, replacing Higuaín.
A few minutes later, Agüero was fed the ball by Messi, but his shot was weak and easily blocked by the Dutch defense.
In the first minute of stoppage time, Arjen Robben had the ball apparently by himself against the goalie, Sergio Romero, when Mascherano slid out of nowhere and knocked the ball out of bounds.
In the overtime, the Dutch came out looking sharper, less satisfied to let the game get to a shootout, but apart from a long distance attempt by Robben that Romero covered up, there wasn’t much danger.
In the second overtime, another Argentinean defender, Pablo Zabaleta, spend considerable time on the turf thanks to a blow from the shoulder of Dirk Kuyt.
Zabaleta walked off the field with a cotton gauze sticking out of his mouth and returned to the field a minute later.
In the 115th minute, Maxi Rodríguez looped a perfect pass to Rodrigo Palacio just steps from the goalie, but his rushed header was aimed straight at Dutch keeper Jasper Cillessen’s hands.
A minute later, Messi charged down the right side and crossed the ball nicely to Rodríguez near the far post, who was unable to do any better than knock the ball straight into the ground in front of Cillessen.
The shootout started badly for the Netherlands, with Robben having the first attempt blocked by Romero. It was a fitting end to a frustrating day for one of the world's greatest players. Romero also stopped Wesley Sneijder's penalty attempt.
Rodríguez shot fourth for Argentina, and he sealed the victory without problem.
For the Netherlands, it was a bitter defeat. After losing last Cup’s final against Spain, they will now face Brazil in Saturday’s third-place consolation game.
The final on Sunday will feature Germany and Argentina, teams that have played each other in the second phase of the Cup many times, including the 1986 final, which Argentina won over then West Germany, 3-2.
More recently however, the South Americans have had their last two World Cups ended in the quarterfinals by Germany, 4-0 in 2010, and 1-1 (4-2) in 2006.