Remember meForgot password?
    Log in with Twitter

article imageSabella's Argentina wins the battle of caution against Holland

By Tyrrell Meertins     Jul 9, 2014 in Sports
In a tight, slow-burning affair, that offered very few legitimate goal-scoring chances, Argentina snuck past Holland and secured a berth in their first World Cup final in 24 years.
The cagey encounter served as an ideal example of a lethargic goalless draw. With both sides possessing one-man attacks, the key was to negate Lionel Messi and Arjen Robben. Stylistically, both sides prefer to play on the counter, and the likelihood of conceding too much space ensured that caution was the first priority.
There were no surprises regarding Holland’s approach, and the premature return of Nigel de Jong was positive. The trio of de Jong, Georginio Wijnaldum and Wesley Sneijder kept tight on Lionel Messi, Lucas Biglia and Javier Mascherano, as Argentina encountered difficulties bypassing Holland’s midfield.
Equally, Argentina avoided pressing Holland’s centre-backs and de Jong, and focused on limiting space in their half that Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie were seeking to exploit. However, the former consistently drifted offside, while great last-ditch tackles from Martin Demichelis and Javier Mascherano disrupted the latter’s movement into the channels.
The Argentinian duo was exceptional, as the former completed a match-high interceptions, while the latter repeatedly broke up Holland's attack, and served as a creative outlet when he dropped between the centre-backs to lob balls into advanced areas. Holland’s threat in the final third was scarce, whereas Argentina exploited space down the right channel.
First it was Gonzalo Higuain that dropped deep and played a great reverse ball into space behind Bruno Martins Indi for Enzo Perez, and the Argentinian midfielder surged towards the box but was fouled. Then it was Messi and Perez combining, with the latter finding Pablo Zabaleta — who ran past Daley Blind — in the right channel but Stefan de Vrij cleared his cross for a corner.
Sabella acknowledged Indi's vulnerability down the right, and instructed Perez and Lavezzi to swap flanks. However, while Lavezzi’s work-rate and pace tormented the Dutch centre-back, his quality in the final third was mediocre, and the Argentinian winger earned corner kicks, opposed to creating quality chances. Still, Sabella's reluctance to permanently deploy Lavezzi on the right was odd, as his dominance on that side of the field was evident, opposed to his fairly quiet display down the left flank.
The other source of attack stemmed through Perez’s penetrating runs through midfield, but the final ball was non-existent. The 28-year-old remained Argentina’s driving force in the second half, supplying Messi in the final third, but Ron Vlaar’s tackle halted the play. Still, Perez’s best chance came with 15 minutes remaining in normal time, as he stormed down the right flank and delivered an exceptional ball at the near post, but Higuain — who was wrongly ruled offside — guided the ball into the side-netting.
Although the substitutions made by Alejandro Sabella and Louis van Gaal slightly altered the tempo of the match, Holland’s dominance in possession didn’t translate into chances created or goals scored. Jordy Clasie offered vertical passing in the deep-lying role, and ensured that Holland retained and facilitated the ball quickly. In contrast, Sergio Aguero was ineffective upfront, but Rodrigo Palacio was involved in a few good moves in extra-time that should have resulted in chances.
First he did well to turn Daryl Janmaat but his teammates failed to connect with his cross that flew through the six-yard box. Then he evaded three challenges on the left flank and combined with Aguero, but the striker’s return ball was shockingly poor. Finally, he latched onto a delicate chipped ball by substitute Maxi Rodriguez — who squandered a great chance provided by Messi — but he nodded his effort directly into Jasper Cillessen’s hands.
Ultimately, extra-time was a drab, and Sergio Romero’s shootout heroics, along with four well-taken penalties were enough to guide Argentina to a World Cup final.
“It was a difficult game, very tight, but World Cup matches are like that," Sabella said.
“Now we are in the Final, we are aware of our qualities and certain that we can win the World Cup. We’ll give our all."
Van Gaal’s decision to negate Messi’s threat proved successful, but his side appeared clueless in the final third. The Dutch lacked guile, creativity and penetration in the final third, and apart from Robben buzzing around in search of space in extra-time, Holland’s threat was futile.
“Holland played a marvellous tournament,” van Gaal said.
“Nobody could’ve imagined we’d come this far. Argentina are a world class side with world class players and I’d like to point out we didn’t lose against them.”
Nonetheless, Sabella deserves credit for Argentina’s pragmatic, yet cautious approach, as they negated Holland’s threat in attack, and created the better chances — although there were very few — over 120 minutes. Messi wasn’t at his best, but for once in this tournament, his teammates rose to the occasion to provide him with the platform to thrive on the world’s biggest stage.
More about Fifa world cup, World Cup, Argentina, Messi, Holland
Sports Video
Latest News
Top News