Argentina will play Germany in the World Cup final after a penalty shootout win over the Netherlands.
Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder had penalties savedafter a goalless draw in a game of few chances and little drama until the shootout. Argentina scored all four of their penalties to condemn the Netherlands to playing Brazil on Saturday in the third/fourth place play-off.
What had been an intriguing and delicately poised first half became a damp squib after the break, the game crumbling into a midfield stalemate with little to excite the Sao Paolo crowd.
Nigel de Jong and Robin van Persie were both fit to start for the Netherlands despite de Jong having initially been ruled out of the tournament with a groin injury and van Persie said to have been suffering from a stomach complaint.
Argentina were without Real Madrid midfielder Angel Di Maria, who was injured in the quarter-final win over Belgium, drafting in Benfica’s Enzo Perez in Di Maria’s place, while Marcos Rojo returned from suspension.
The match began at a frantic pace, matched by the noise coming from the Sao Paolo stands. Wesley Sneijder had the first sight of goal before a Lionel Messi free-kick tested Jasper Cillessen, but they were the only real chances of the first-half.
Netherlands started well but after a series of corners, Argentina’s Ezequiel Garay sent a header over the crossbar, getting a kick in the face for his troubles. Javier Mascherano was in the wars as well, going down after a clash of heads and looking rather dazed, but the Barcelona man played on.
The early tempo of the match didn’t last, although the play was watchable throughout. Gonzalo Higuain and Ezequiel Lavezzi made frequent threatening runs for Argentina while Messi was lively, but genuine chances were few and far between as the half-time whistle went.
What had been a fascinating first half degenerated into a scrappy second with defences prevailing at both ends of the pitch. For most of the second half the goalmouth action extended no further than a Higuain poke wide from a Perez cross.
Argentina introduced Sergio Aguero with 10 minutes to play but the Manchester City man had little impact and couldn’t prevent the tie entering extra time, while the goal nearly opened up for Arjen Robben in injury time but a super last-ditch challenge from Mascherano meant the game remained goalless after 90 minutes.
A Robben drive was the first shot of extra time but the Bayern Munich winger was peripheral and frustrated. Messi was barely any more involved, well marshalled by the Dutch defence. Aguero could have gambled on a Rodrigo Palacio cross but the ball evaded him as the Oranje defence was, for once, almost breached.
Stefan de Vrij sent a long-range effort wide while Palacio’s tame header was saved, the Inter forward unable to get above the ball and put any pace on the attempt, Cillessen claiming easily. Maxi Rodriguez hit a volley into the floor and failed to exert the Dutch goalkeeper.
The game was by this point in something of a tailspin towards penalties, with neither side truly committing to try and avoid their fate being decided from 12 yards. And it was Argentina celebrating after their perfect penalties, with Vlaar and Sneijder left ruing what might have been.
Netherlands 0-0 Argentina
Argentina win 4-2 on penalties
Netherlands: Cillessen; Vlaar, De Vrij, Martins Indi (Janmaat 46); Kuyt, de Jong (Clasie 62), Wijnaldum, Blind; Sneijder; van Persie, (Huntelaar 96) Robben
Argentina: Romero; Zabaleta, Demichelis, Garay, Rojo; Mascherano, Biglia; Lavezzi (Rodriguez 111), Messi, Perez (Palacio 81); Higuain (Aguero 82)
Ref: Cakir (TUR)