In My Opinion

Luis F. Sanchez: Argentina advances to World Cup final after vibrant chess match with Netherlands

 

lfsanchez@herald.com

Argentina will stick up for America in the final match of the 2014 World Cup on Sunday at Maracanã Stadium after defeating the Netherlands on penalty kicks 4-2 in a vibrant chess match that had ended in a 0-0 tie after 120 minutes on Wednesday at the Arena Corinthians.

Argentina had two fantastic heroes to lead it back to the final for the fifth time in its history, three of them against Germany: midfielder Javier Mascherano and goalie Sergio Romero, who gave their country the gift it most wanted on its national holiday.

During the 90 minutes of regulation and the 30 minutes of extra time, Mascherano was the hero in a match where everything had been planned and each action carefully premeditated.

It was not a match of overflowing emotions, and both squads knew there was no room for error.

They arrived at the penalty kicks, and at that moment the second Albiceleste hero, Romero, stood up to stop two shots from the Netherlands while their teammates did not miss a single one.

“At the moment of penalty kicks I just tried to focus on the spot where they were going to shoot, and I read them,” Romero said. “I did my part and complemented what my teammates had done in 120 extraordinary minutes.”

Romero intercepted the shots made by Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder, but could not stop those of Arjen Robben and Dirk Kuyt.

The Argentinians, when their turn came, kicked their shots with their soul, beginning with Lionel Messi and later Ezequiel Garay, Sergio Agüero and Maxi Rodríguez.

Before the penalty kicks, Mascherano called Romero to a side and told him: “Today, you will become a hero.”

And so it was.

When the time came to kick the fourth Argentinian shot, with glory at his feet or more suspense for his team, Rodríguez walked pensively to the spot of the kick while 63,267 fans who packed the stadium got ready to explode with joy or pain.

“When you travel those few meters to make the kick, it’s terrible,” Rodríguez said. “I aimed at his head. Penalty kicks are a lottery, but the one up there was with us.”

There, with the help of “the one up there,” the Albiceleste victory was sealed and so was Clockwork Orange’s fall.

“We’re disappointed. The worst scenario is to lose on penalty kicks,” said the Netherlands’ trainer Louis van Gaal. “There was not a better team on the field.”

The Argentinian team has made it four times to the semifinals and has won all four matches. However, in the finals, it is 2-2 and with Germany 1-1. In its first semifinal in Uruguay in 1930, Argentina defeated the United States 6-1.

This time, however, there were doubts because one of its best players would not be on the field. Angel di María sustained a muscle tear in the victory over Belgium in the quarterfinals Saturday. And also because the Dutch were going to push them to the limit.

Messi, Argentina’s destabilizing figure, did not stand out because he was fiercely guarded in a cascading way. Thanks to the performance of the team, especially its defense, Argentina controlled a rival that has the element of surprise as one of its primary weapons, but could not use it on Wednesday.

“I’m happy for the players, for the Argentinian people and for all of those who contributed to this journey,” Argentina trainer Alejandro Sabella said. “We have already been informed that people are celebrating throughout Argentina.”

For the Albicelestes, the work is far from finished.

“We’re facing the match of our lives, the final of the World Cup,’’ Mascherano said. “This group of players took Argentina where it deserves to be. Hopefully, we will top this moment, but beyond the results, I have no words to express how proud I am.”

Argentina’s triumph allows a final between America and Europe. In 84 years of World Cups, the squads of the Old Continent have never taken the Cup from the New World on Western soil. Argentina will have the opportunity to prevent it again against a German team that seems invincible after surprising everyone by routing Brazil 7-1 on Tuesday.

The hosts will face the Netherlands on Saturday in Brasilia in what the Brazilian media has called the match that no one wants to play.

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