Messi needs support against the Netherlands

James Sharman and Gerry Dobson preview the semifinal clash between Argentina and Netherlands at 2014 World Cup.

How do you top a 7-1 win?

You can’t, but the Netherlands and Argentina will still give it a shot when they square off in the World Cup semifinals Wednesday. The winner of will face Germany in Sunday’s final, and both sides are determined to be there instead of participating in the third place match against Brazil.

Here are four keys to the match on Day 23…

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Argentina has to fill the void of Di Maria

Apart from Lionel Messi, no other Argentina player at this tournament was making as many dynamic runs or creating scoring chances for La Albiceleste apart from Angel Di Maria. The Real Madrid midfielder covers so much ground and is a valuable asset for his national team, but will miss out on the semifinal due to injury.

That presents a big problem for manager Alejandro Sabella. Surely Dutch coach Luis van Gaal will have a plan to shut down Messi, meaning other players will have to pick up the slack. Gonzalo Higuain scored the winning goal against Belgium in the quarterfinals and was lethal most of the afternoon, but other than that, no one else may be able to carry the load.

Argentina needs their frontline to deliver. Ezequiel Lavezzi has been average at best since replacing Sergio Aguero, who might end up starting versus the Netherlands. If that’s the case, Argentina may be shorthanded, as Aguero still hasn’t fully recovered from his injury problems this past season.

Stay compact defensively

Argentina may have escaped the Belgium win with a clean sheet, but it could’ve been far worse had the Belgians manage to utilize their speed to open up the backline. That’s something that van Gaal can take advantage of and Sabella should fix before the former exposes that weakness.

La Albiceleste have conceded just over 12 shots per match, which is the 10th lowest amount out of any team in the World Cup. The Dutch will surely attack down the flanks and on the counter, and the 3-2 win over Nigeria in the group stage proved to everyone that Argentina are susceptible to teams with quick players. Arjen Robben could cause a lot of problems for defender Marcos Rojo and his teammates with all of the traits that he has.

Dutch must clog centre of the pitch

One lesson that The Netherlands can take from their quarterfinal win over Costa Rica is what Los Ticos actually used to counter the Dutch attackers—loading up the centre.

Because the Netherlands play with three centre-backs and two midfielders, they’ll be able to do that, which should help in shutting out Messi and company. However, when Argentina gets the ball, that shape has to stay the same.

There shouldn’t be too many problems for the Dutch in staying organized as Argentina haven’t really played with a high tempo in their attacks, but if Messi gets even a little bit of space, then it’ll be lights out.

Robin Van Persie’s health

The Netherlands could be without captain Robin van Persie as he’s been experiencing “stomach problems” for the last couple of days. That could rule him out of the semifinal if it doesn’t improve.

If van Persie doesn’t play, that’ll probably mean that Klaas-Jan Huntelaar will start in his place. The Schalke forward has been known to be a poacher over the last few years, netting 91 goals in 139 matches in all competitions since 2010. Huntelaar also has 35 goals in 64 caps with the Netherlands in his career.

Considering van Persie underwhelmed in the knockout stages, some fans may not be too upset if he misses out. Regardless, the Dutch should be in safe hands no matter what happens to their captain. The only problem could be chemistry between Huntelaar, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben.

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