|Argentina's Lionel Messi (R) and Ezequiel Lavezzi (C) celebrate their victory after a semifinal match between Netherlands and Argentina of 2014 FIFA World Cup at the Arena de Sao Paulo Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on July 9, 2014. Argentina won 4-2 on penalties over Netherlands after a 0-0 tie and qualified for the final on Wednesday. (Xinhua/Zhou Lei)|
SAO PAULO, July 9 -- After a flat 120-minute of play, Argentina beat the Netherlands 4-2 in penalty shootout, thanks to impressive saves from keeper Sergio Romero, in the World Cup semifinal here on Wednesday.
The 27-year-old Romero denied two penalty kicks from Dutch defender Ron Vlaar and playmaker Wesley Sneijder in the first and third round while his teammates converted all the four kicks to claim the victory after both teams tied 0-0 at the end of extra time.
Dutch coach Louis Van Gaal did not repeat the successful goalkeeper substitution strategy in the quarterfinal penalty shootout win against Costa Rica, which saw reserve keeper Tim Krul come into the pitch in the last minute of extra time and block two kicks in the following penalty duel.
Van Gaal used the final substitution chance six minutes into the extra time, replacing skipper Robin van Persie with Schalke 04 forward Schalke 04 Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, while leaving Krul on bench for the whole match.
The Netherlands skipper Van Persie was included into the starting 11 despite complaining of a stomach problem on Tuesday. Meanwhile, their midfielder enforcer Nigel de Jong, who has been expected to miss the remainder of the World Cup after sustaining a groin injury in the 2-1 round of 16 victory against Mexico last Sunday, also managed an early return to start for the Oranje.
Argentinian coach Alejandro Sabella kept Man City striker Sergio Aguero on bench and started Ezequiel Lavezzi instead. Benfica's midfielder Enzo Perez replaced injured Real winger Angel di Maria while Chelsea transfer target Marcos Rojo started for the Albiceleste as left full-back.
Both sides played cautiously as Netherlands' Arjen Robben and Argentina talisman Lionel Messi were both strangled with tight defence. The Netherlands' first and only shot in the first half came in the 13th minute when Wesley Sneijder cut a mis-directed Argentina pass outside of the box but his powerful volley went wide.
One minute later, Perez was brought down at the edge of the area and Messi' freekick was held by Dutch keeper Jasper Cillessen. And it was also the only shot on target for the Albiceleste, which earned a total of three shooting chances throughout the first 45 minutes.
In the 24th minute, central defender Ezequiel Garay met a corner kick from Lavizzi but his diving header flew over the crossbar.
Argentina led 53-47 in terms of ball possession and Dutch defender Bruno Martins Indi received a booking just before the interval as he pulled Messi before the Barca star managed to break through in the right flank.
After the break the Dutch boss made the first substitution of the match, bringing in Daryl Janmaat to replace Indi. The change witnessed a bit of a reshuffle in the Dutch defending line as their starting left back Blind, who was under tremendous pressure in the first half, moved inside to replace Indi and veteran right back Dirk Kuyt went to the left to make place for Janmaat.
This change could be seen as a sign of Van Gaal's determination to tighten the defence first before launching attacks. The Albiceleste, on the other hand, were also worried about the Oranje's fast breaks and refused to provide too much space in their back yard.
In the 75th minute, Argentina broke defence in the right flank and Perez slipped in a through pass to meet a dashing Gonzalo Higuain. The Napoli striker's poke shot caused thunderous cheers from the stands but it was not a goal since the ball nestled in the wrong side of the side-netting.
In the last minute of the regular time, Robben burst into the area from middle but his close range left-foot effort was blocked by Javier Mascherano.
Both team remained patient in extra time with Argentina's substitute Rodrigo Palacio and Maxi Rodriguez each wasting a chance to score a winner.
Palacio's header inside the box was just too tame to threat a well-positioned Cillessen in the 115th minute while two minutes later Messi chipped a ball to the far post but Rodriguez's volley scuffed into the ground and was easily caught by the keeper.
Argentina will face Germany in the final in Rio on Sunday since the Germans thrashed the hosts Brazil 7-1 in the other semifinal on Tuesday. The Netherlands will have to vie for the third place with Brazil in Brasilia on Saturday.