Argentina more than just Messi

James Sharman joins Gerry Dobson to recap Argentina's penalty shootout win over the Netherlands on Wednesday in the World Cup semifinals.

Here’s what happened on Wednesday at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, in case you missed it…

The result

Read the match report: Netherlands 0, Argentina 0 in Sao Paulo (Argentina wins 4-2 in penalty shootout)

Main thought on the day

Argentina more than just Messi: Argentina has relied mostly on individual moments of magic from Lionel Messi to work its way through this World Cup—be it his extra time winner versus Iran in the group stage, or his pass that led to Angel di Maria’s late goal against Switzerland in the Round of 16, or his setting up Gonzalo Higuain’s decisive strike against Belgium in the quarterfinals. Messi has carried the offensive load, bagging the majority of his country’s goals and supplying teammates with plenty of scoring opportunities.

Messi was far from his best on Wednesday, effectively contained by a Dutch side that shadowed his every move. Not to worry, though—Argentina put in a magnificent team defensive performance, led by Javier Mascherano, in shutting down Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie. How organized was Argentina in its team defending? So good that Robben attempted just one pass in the opening 45 minutes. So good that it took the Dutch 98 minutes to register their first shot on target. So good that Sneijder failed to find van Persie with a single pass in regulation time. The Netherlands couldn’t get into a rhythm, thrown off their game by an opponent that gave them absolutely no room to breathe.

This wasn’t Messi’s finest two hours on a soccer pitch. But it didn’t have to be. Victory was secured not by an individual moment of brilliance—although there were plenty of those, including a great tackle by Mascherano inside the box to deny Robben in the 90th minute— but by a team committed to staying organized, keeping its shape, and defending with intelligence.

Argentina’s defence was seen as its weak point ahead of this tournament. The South Americans have now recorded three clean sheets in a row and gone 373 consecutive minutes without conceding a goal. Germany scored seven times against Brazil. They won’t do that against Argentina. They won’t even get seven chances on goal.

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Stat of the day

Goal of the day

All four of Argentina’s penalties were clinical, but Lionel Messi’s goal, after Sergio Romero stopped Ron Vlaar to begin the shootout, was clutch and gave the South Americans the advantage.

Save of the day

With his team down 2-1, Wesley Sneijder stepped up to the penalty spot and fired a shot aimed at the upper-left corner. Sergio Romero dove to his right and parried the ball away.

Best moment of the day

A nice touch to honour Alfredo di Stefano:

He said it

“We didn’t create very much.” — Luis van Gaal, Dutch manager

Question of the day

Tweet of the day

Oh, my:

3 stars

1) Javier Mascherano: He’ll be nicknamed “the General” after this one. A commanding performance highlighted by his tireless running, timely tackles and key interceptions
2) Ron Vlaar: He missed the first penalty of the shootout. But that shouldn’t overshadow a wonderful performance from the Dutch central defender who was immense.
3) Sergio Romero: He wasn’t called upon to make a save until extra time. But then he came up big in the shootout to deny Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder.

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