2014 FIFA World Cup: Day 23 Recap

Argentina charge the field after their penalty shootout against the Netherlands
Argentina charge the field after their penalty shootout against the Netherlands

After yesterday’s cavalcade of goals, the soccer universe had to expect a correction. Argentina and the Netherlands, two of the most capable offensive teams in the World Cup, should have been combining for eight goals, rather than conspiring to spend two hours scoring none. But blame the Netherlands for that—they couldn’t even bring themselves to shoot the ball in the direction of Argentina’s goal until the 90th minute, and even then Arjen Robben’s 12-foot strike was blocked by a defender. If the Dutch can’t get a shot on goal, it’s because they aren’t trying.

Argentina, on the other hand, were hunting a win from the opening minutes. Lionel Messi took a free kick from just outside the Netherlands’ penalty area and stuck it right through the wall, but Dutch keeper Jasper Cillessen was waiting to snatch it up. Less than 10 minutes later, a corner kick found the head of Argentina’s Ezequiel Garay, but Garay’s head also met the foot of Dutch defender Ron Vlaar—the head and foot stayed in play while the ball sailed harmlessly over the goal.

Argentinian midfielder Javier Mascherano took a serious bump on the head from Georginio Wijnaldum, appearing dazed as stumbled to the pitch afterwards. Of course, FIFA and its constituents care not about head injuries—unless there’s blood, then it must be treated immediately—so back out on the field Mascherano went. That actually turned out very well for his team, though, as it was his boot that turned Robben away in the final minute of regulation time.

Extra time solved nothing, but did provide a couple more scoring chances for Argentina: first Maxi Rodriguez chipped a pass to Rodrigo Palacio, but Palacio’s header didn’t come close to fooling Cillessen, then Rodriguez got a shot of his own, attempting to volley a cross from Messi in the waning minutes but mostly missing the ball.

The shootout set everything right with the game, though. For some incomprehensible reason, Vlaar was sent to shoot first for the Dutch and was summarily rejected by Argentine keeper Sergio Romero—just the second time in the match Romero had to put hands on a shot. As expected, Messi, Robben and Garay scored the next three shots in a row, but Wesley Sneijder was also turned away by Romero’s steady hand. After Sergio Aguero and Dirk Kuyt netted their attempts, it was appropriately left to Maxi Rodriguez to seal the deal. Rodriguez didn’t hesitate, smashing a shot that Cillessen saw, touched, and still couldn’t keep out of his goal.

Sunday’s 2014 FIFA World Cup final will feature Argentina against Germany in a rematch of the 1990 championship, a match that was won by then-West Germany. Hosts Brazil meet the Netherlands on Saturday to determine third and fourth place in the tournament.

Drew Berner

Drew Berner is a freelance writer born and raised in Toronto and specializing in entertainment, sports and politics. He occasionally collects vinyl records, enjoys hate-watching the Blue Jays, appreciates good beer and great scotch, and goes to sleep each night with 120 lbs. of Great Dane draped over him (it’s a lot more comfortable than it sounds). Follow him on Twitter @DrewBerner for photos of huge dogs, observational humour and assorted sports rage.

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