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FIFA World Cup: Argentina vs. Netherlands Match Review

Argentina won the World Cup semi-final in a tight, tense affair. After drawing the match in regular and extra time, the winner was decided via the always-dramatic penalty shooutout.

Ronald Martinez

For the first time since 1990, Argentina are in the World Cup final.

Argentina have a chance to win a trophy at the senior level, something they have not done since 1993.

And for the first time ever, Argentina are in the World Cup final without playing at home or having Diego Maradona, a player many say is the best ever, on the team.

(Some of those opinions about "the best ever" could be changed soon.)

Lionel Messi is undoubtedly the centerpiece of this side, even more so with Angel Di Maria injured. The game, in many ways, revolved around him again, but Argentina won not merely because of the individual, but because of the entire team.

Javier Mascherano played a stellar role, breaking up attack after attack, even getting in some last-ditch, goal saving tackles.

Martin Demichelis and Ezequiel Garay performed an admirable job in the center of defense. The fullbacks defended well. The midfielders ran their legs off. The attackers pressed. The whole team fought as a unit.

And then there was Sergio Romero.

When Alejandro Sabella picked the Argentina squad, no choice seemed more puzzling than Romero. While he has been Argentina's #1 for a while, he had never been quite a star.

When Sabella took over as coach, Romero played for Sampdoria, in the Italian second division. He recently moved to AS Monaco, where he was unable to claim the starting spot from Danijel Subasic. Subasic himself wasn't good enough to crack Croatia's starting XI this World Cup. The Croatian starter, Stipe Pletikosa, was considered by many to be one of the worst keepers in the tournament.

Sabella's insistence on Romero seemed even more puzzling considering Willy Caballero's spectacular form for Malaga. But Sabella did not even call Caballero, putting all his faith in Romero.

Romero has responded.

He's been steady this tournament. In the group stages, his most notable performance was against Iran, when he made some key saves to stop the Asian outfit from gaining a shock lead. And he's yet to concede in the knockout stages.

He won FIFA's official man-of-the-match award by saving two of the four Dutch penalties. After each stop, he got up, screaming. He seemed a man on a mission.

In the end, the pattern of the game itself was familiar. The Netherlands were keen to double- or triple-team Messi, stopping him from having too much influence, daring another Albiceleste man to step up.

But Argentina, who without Di Maria, played mainly functional rather than ambitious players, were also keen to keep their back secured.

The result was that the Netherlands had few players left over to throw into the attack, and Argentina had enough players to remain secure at the back. A 0-0, then, was not that surprising, though both teams had key chances that were ultimately blocked.

In the shootout, the first shooters set the tone. Ron Vlaar, who had had an impressive match at the back for the Dutch, had his penalty saved by Romero. Messi confidently smashed his into the back of the net.

Garay, Sergio Aguero, and Maxi Rodriguez got on the board as well for the Argentines, who did not miss a single kick. Meanwhile, Wesley Sneijder missed for the Netherlands as well, meaning Argentina did not even need a fifth kick to ensure progress to the final.

The red-hot German team remains on the horizon, so the job is not yet fully done. Argentina will likely enter as underdogs yet again, but there's little reason to think the Albiceleste will melt down psychologically the way the Brazilians did in their 7-1 loss to the Germans.

Argentina seem too tough, too closely-knit, for such a thing. Individually, the Germans are a tad better, but as a team? We shall see... and keep in mind, only one of the two will have Messi.

That matchup, however, is for another time. For now, Sabella and his boys have a lot to be proud of.

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