After the shellacking Germany gave Brazil last night, there is little chance that the second semifinal of the 2014 World Cup will live up to the demands of heightened adrenalin levels. In the first and stunning semifinal, Brazil fans traversed a gamut of expressions - groaning, disbelief, shock, booing, tears, and cheering for the other team - within the space of an hour. Similar fireworks are unlikely to occur in tonight's match between the Netherlands and Argentina but that does not mean it will be devoid of exciting football.
The contest between the Dutch and the Argentines remains tepid at best; the Netherlands' record against Argentina stands at 4:2:2 (win:loss:draw); four of the eight meetings have been in the World Cup and though the Oranje can claim two victories, Argentina's lone victory came when it counted most - the 1978 World Cup final. Admittedly, Argentina's last victory against the Dutch came 35 years ago, a year after that scintillating World Cup final but as Germany showed in the first semifinal, statistics can soundly overcome.
This is Argentina's first semifinal since 1990 when they lost to Germany in the finals. It is also the Netherlands' fourth semifinal; they were denied football's highest accolade by Germany in 1974, Argentina in 1978, and Spain in 2010. Barring the usual minor hiccups any sports team suffers, both teams are playing well now. Besides Germany and France, both Argentina and the Netherlands have been the most consistent teams in this World Cup, the two being the only sides in the semifinals that won all their matches in the tournament.
Much has been made of Lionel Messi and for good reason. The little Santa Fean may not be playing his best football at the moment according to his grandfather but he has been responsible for half of Argentina's eight goals in the World Cup so far and a quarter of his team's scoring opportunities. Unfortunately for the South Americans, their other star players, Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero have just returned from injuries and are not playing at their best. With Angel di Maria - Argentina's second leg in this tournament - missing the match due to a thigh injury, the burden to deliver falls even more heavily upon Messi to deliver for his team. If the Oranje can contain him, they will have booked a place for themselves against their arch nemesis, Germany, in the finals.
Similarly, the Netherlands may take the field without one of their star players, Robin van Persie, who, rumours say, has been struck down with intestinal difficulties. No matter, Persie's role in the Dutch team is far smaller than di Maria's for Argentina, Louis van Gaal's boys preferring to rely more on Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder. The two have been able to tear through defences and Argentina was considered to have a weak defence going into the tournament but the South Americans have only conceded three goals in the tournament so far, one less than their semifinal opponents.
However, the pressure on the defence is mitigated by a strong offence and so the question comes back to how well Messi and his men can keep the ball up front and away from the Argentine penalty box. To counter Argentina's greatest weapon, Messi, Van Gaal may set his men in a 3-5-2 or 3-4-1-2 formation to slow down the Argentine offence and increase pressure on their defence.
The Netherlands is not a popular team in this tournament. Robben's dive against Mexico has certainly earned the Oranje no new fans. This team has not shown the flair of its Johan Cruyff generation or Marco van Basten era forebears. Yet they remain a consistent and able team anyone would underestimate at their own peril. This tournament has not been kind to teams who rely heavily on one player; will Argentina's dependence on Messi become their undoing tonight?