Going, going Gon

  • By: Ian Ogg
  • Last Updated: July 9 2014, 21:05 BST

Ian Ogg previews Wednesday's World Cup semi-final between Argentina and the Netherlands.

Gonzalo Higuain can fire Argentina to the Final
Gonzalo Higuain can fire Argentina to the Final

Argentina v Netherlands, semi-final, Sao Paulo, 2100 BST

Argentina's victory in the 1978 final is their only win against the Netherlands in eight meetings but they have progressed from all three of their World Cup semi-finals and lost just once in their last 16 World Cup games.

They have yet to go behind in this tournament and are now outright favourites in some books but they haven't really shone and several Belgians have come out to denigrate their chances with Daniel van Buyten commenting that ' a team like Germany would easily beat them'.

Manager Marc Wilmots labelled them ordinary while Jan Vertonghen told Goal: "I think Argentina will crash out of the tournament against Netherlands in the semi-finals. I really think so,"

"Netherlands are very strong and play some good football. They are always calm on the ball and have the quality to eliminate Argentina."

Whether they had watched the Dutch struggle past Costa Rica at that point I don't know but Arjen Robben has been in sensational form for the Oranje with some Dutch commentators favourably comparing him to Lionel Messi.

Those two players have the ability to light up this semi-final but of more importance could be the tale of two centre-forwards who suffered injuries in their domestic seasons.

Robin van Persie threatened on a number of occasions in his quarter and had one gilt-edged opportunity to send the Dutch through but couldn't take it whereas Gonzalo Higuain scored an excellent goal in a display that earned him the man-of-the-match award.

Higuain has a superb strike rate for the national side with 20 goals from 36 caps and the Napoli hitman now looks to be match-fit after labouring in the early rounds.

That should take some of the pressure off Messi and provide Argentina with a much-needed cutting edge, although the absence of the in-form Angel di Maria is an obvious blow.

The 26-year-old is twice the price of his more famous team-mate in the goalscoring markets and they are prices that merit serious consideration with so much of the Dutch gameplan likely to focus on stopping Messi.

It's been a slightly odd tournament for a Netherlands side that announced themselves with a brilliant defeat of Spain but subsequent efforts haven't matched the verve of that victory and they have, arguably unfairly, been criticised as a result.

They've had a harder route to this stage than their opponents with Chile and Mexico to overcome as well as the European Champions and a case can certainly be argued that they shouldn't be outsiders for this game or for the tournament as a whole.

As a nation they have flattered to deceive before and there seems to be an expectation that that will be the case again but Louis van Gaal appears to have fostered a greater unity in a squad that appears to have found strength in unity rather than individual flair.

In fairness, they were a shade unfortunate not to get the job done in 90 minutes against Costa Rica with an inspired Keylor Navas helping to keep them at bay and I think a case can be made that they represent some value in this match and to lift the trophy.

However, while I may have expected them to be shorter in the betting, I don't actually expect them to get the better of Argentina as I think Robben's performances have papered over the cracks to some extent.

The same could be said of Argentina and Messi of course but they were impressive against Belgium and could be growing into this tournament.

It will obviously be a concern if Robben is able to run at Martin Demichelis and likely left-back Marcus Rojo is not the quickest either but Alejandro Sabella is sure to have devised a suitable gameplan and his side have proved fairly tight defensively.

Their unadventurous tactics have reportedly been criticised at home but they are tactics that have been working well enough so far with three clean sheets from the five games, all of which have been won by a single goal, and they are unlikely to change that now.

They are around 3/1 to progress via a one goal margin, a price that makes some appeal, but I'll play this with a straight bat.

Given the Dutch are longer than I expected, it goes without saying that Argentina are a shade shorter so we'll cut our cloth accordingly with regards to the stakes.

I'll take them to get the job done in 90 minutes but it would be no surprise to see this game go to extra-time so I'll throw in a saver there and a first goalscorer bet on Higuain at a tempting price.

Verdict: Argentina 1 Holland 0

Opta facts:

10 of the Netherlands' 12 goals in this tournament have come after half-time. Netherlands' last four goals in this tournament have come after the 75th minute.

Lionel Messi has created the most goalscoring chances in this World Cup: 19.

Argentina have won both their knockout stage games in this tournament 1-0; they have twice before won by this scoreline in the knock out stages of the World Cup (1986 and 1990).

Netherlands' 0-0 draw against Costa Rica was their first goalless draw in World Cup knockout stages. This ended a run of 11 World Cup knockout stage matches for the Dutch without a clean sheet.

Argentina have scored with 11% of their shots from outside the box, the best rate at the 2014 World Cup.

Netherlands are the only team to have conceded more than one penalty at the 2014 World Cup.

  • Posted at 1050 BST on 08/07/2014.