Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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My Best XI and Second Best XI From the World Cup

There were a number of standout performances at the World Cup. But I did my best to select the very best here. This is my World Cup best XI and second best XI. I tried to put players in their correct position, but I needed to be creative in a few areas to get the deserving players on the teams.

First XI

FW – Arjen Robben (Netherlands) – From the opening match against the reigning champions, Robben lit the World Cup up with extraordinary displays of pace and skill. When he wasn’t scoring goals, he was earning penalties or drawing two or three defenders to set up his teammates. Aside from his bald head, one wouldn’t have known Robben was nearing the end of his international career by his performances in Brazil.

FW – Thomas Müller (Germany) – Müller did it again at the World Cup, scoring another five goals and leading his country to the title. He was always in the right place at the right time, and his finishing was clinical. But beyond his goals, it’s his work rate that make Müller such a useful player. Never one to walk on the pitch, the lanky German made a number of impressive tackles in addition to all the chances he created on the offensive end. He could have won the Golden Ball.

FW – Lionel Messi (Argentina) – The winner of the Golden Ball for best player at the World Cup, Messi was incredible in Argentina’s first few games, showing the world why he’s considered the very best. His stoppage-time winner against Iran was just one of many magical Messi moments from the first four games. However, Messi’s effectiveness dropped significantly when Argentina’s tactics turned more defensive. And in the World Cup Final, he needed to be better.

CAM – James Rodriguez (Colombia) – Nobody will mispronounce the young Colombian’s name anymore. James ran rampant in Brazil, making everyone forget about Falcao. He scored in every single game he played, and most of his goals were absolute beauties. He was adventurous going forward, with a lethal combination of strength, speed and vision. His play in this World Cup won’t soon be forgotten, and he looks to be world superstar in the very near future.

CM – Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany) – It’s a toss-up between Toni Kroos and Schweinsteiger for this spot in the midfield, as both Germans were outstanding in the middle. But Schweinsteiger gets the edge for his improved play as the tournament wore on. Once Philipp Lahm moved to right back, Schweini found his ideal spot in the defensive midfield role. His distribution was excellent against Brazil, and in the Final against Argentina, his combative instincts halted countless counter attacks. His man-of-the-match display in the final gives him the nod in this spot. He could have been a worthy Golden Ball winner himself.

CDM – Javier Mascherano (Argentina) – Mascherano arguably had a better case for the Golden Ball than his teammate Messi. The defensive midfielder was the key to Argentina’s success, the main reason why his country didn’t trail at the World Cup save for the last few minutes of extra time. The Barcelona man was impeccable in his defensive role, always being in the right place for timely interceptions and tackles. And going forward, his distribution was usually spot on. It’s hard to say what his best match was, because he was great in all of them.

LB – Jan Vertonghen (Belgium) – While Vertonghen might say he hates playing left back, he sure plays the position well. Belgium wasn’t particularly impressive going forward as a team, but most of the time they found success, it came down the left. Vertonghen got the winner against South Korea, and in the round of 16 against the United States, he was the most dangerous player on the field. His defending was also solid on the left side of defense. He’ll have a hard time convincing everybody he’s better at center back.

CB – Mats Hummels (Germany) – The big German defender was excellent in the air, giving Germany the edge on every set piece, both offensively and defensively. Particularly against France, Hummels’s physicality kept talented strikers off the board. His tackling was spot on and while he lacked pace, he compensated well with his positioning. He looks to be just about the best defender in the world at this point.

CB – Ron Vlaar (Netherlands) – The veteran defender surprised nearly everyone with his consistently impressive play in the back. Alongside two inexperienced center backs, Vlaar provided the much needed composure in the back. His tackling was almost perfect, and his positioning was always spot on. That he missed a penalty in the semifinal shootout shouldn’t cloud the fact that he was brilliant in Brazil.

RB – Philipp Lahm (Germany) – While Lahm only played three games at right back, he earns this spot for his overall play over the course of the tournament. In his holding midfielder role, he helped key the 4-0 win over Portugal that got things going. And when he moved to defense, his runs down the right almost always led to a chance for Germany. Brazil had no answer for Lahm in the 7-1 thrashing. Defensively, in the right back role, I can’t think of a single mistake he made. The German captain looks eternally young.

GK – Manuel Neuer (Germany) – Not enough can be said about the play of Neuer at this World Cup. His performance against Algeria is one of the gutsiest displays we’ll ever see from a keeper. His ability to act as a sweeper was incredible to watch, and it proved effective time and again. His shot-stopping could not be questioned either. And as if Neuer couldn’t do everything else well enough, his distribution was the best of any keeper in Brazil. That he won the Golden Glove Award should come as no surprise.

Second XI

CF – Karim Benzema (France) – One of the early stars in this World Cup, Benzema was lethal in France’s opening games. His movement up front opened up spaces in the defense, and that was a huge part of France’s goalscoring form. His performances against Honduras and Switzerland were some of the best individual play in Brazil. While Germany shut him down in the quarterfinal, Benzema had a great tournament overall.

LW – Juan Cuadrado (Colombia) – While James was the undisputed star of Colombia’s World Cup journey, Cuadrado was the Pippen to James’s Jordan. The pacey winger was always on the move, wreaking havoc on defenses that couldn’t deal with his speed. His ability to get forward quickly sparked a number of brilliant counter attacks. Without Cuadrado, James wouldn’t have found as much space in the final third. Cuadrado’s goal and four assists were vital to Colombia’s quarterfinal run.

CAM – Neymar (Brazil) – The poster boy of the tournament started brightly, playing some superb football in the group stage. He scored a number of big goals early on, and was the driving force behind nearly every Brazilian attack. However, in the knockout stage, he was noticeably quiet. Opposing tactics beating up the young Brazilian left him battered and eventually gave him a broken back. Neymar was the inspiration for an entire country. And without him, his team was nothing.

RW – Mathieu Valbuena (France) – The diminutive Frenchman put a poor club campaign behind him with a number of impressive performances in Brazil. He was France’s most consistent player, continuously using his guile and pace to create chances for his forwards. He may have only gotten one goal and one assist, but he was a true joy to watch on the right.

CM – Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland) – Shaqiri earns his spot in the Second XI for one performance. In a crucial group game against Honduras, he absolutely took over, scoring a brilliant hat trick and sending his country to the knockout round. The Bayern Munich man certainly left his mark on the World Cup with one of the performances of the tournament. He and his Swiss team were unlucky to lose against Argentina in extra-time. It has to be said that he is one to watch for 2018.

CM – Toni Kroos (Germany) – Kroos easily could have been in the best XI. He was incredibly consistent in the German midfield, and whenever he was on the ball, the opposing defense was on their heels. His set pieces were always dangerous, producing more goals than any other team from those opportunities. Kroos’s calming presence in the midfield also helped Germany settle whenever there a problem, as he rarely misplaced a pass. Like most of the German midfield, he played the game of his life against Brazil in the semifinal. A careless giveaway in the final could have been disastrous, but overall, he was outstanding this World Cup.

LB – Marcos Rojo (Argentina) – Left back was seen as a bit of a problem for Argentina coming into the tournament, but Rojo put in a number of assured performances. When he was called upon to attack in the first few games, he did so effectively. But in the semifinal and the final, he was needed in the back. And his disciplined performances helped stop Arjen Robben and Philipp Lahm. Both Netherlands and Germany attacked down his side, but he was always up to the task.

CB – Thiago Silva (Brazil) – The Brazilian captain was spared the embarrassment of the 7-1 semifinal defeat due to his own stupidity, but that loss only served to confirm how important the central defender is to his country. He kept together an undisciplined back line through the quarterfinal, putting in a number of strong performances himself. Against Colombia, he was Brazil’s best player. But that yellow card for blocking the goalkeeper’s punt will forever haunt Silva. However, he and Neymar might be the only Brazilians to leave with their reputations intact.

CB – Giancarlo Gonzalez (Costa Rica) – Few expected Costa Rica to make the run they did in this tournament, but much of that was down to their defense. Gonzalez could easily have earned a spot of the first team, but he narrowly missed out to Vlaar. The defender who plies his trade in the MLS was always in the right spot for the Ticos. His aerial displays and hard tackling kept the potent attacks of Uruguay, Italy and England stifled.

RB – Cristian Gamboa (Costa Rica) – The other standout Costa Rican to make my team is the right back, Gamboa. This position was the weakest one in Brazil, with few right backs consistently playing well. Gamboa wasn’t spectacular, but he was solid. And that assured presence on the right allowed Costa Rica to send men forward on the counter. Gamboa’s positioning was as good as any right back in the tournament.

GK – Tim Howard (USA) – The American keeper earns his spot on the team for making big save after big save. His 15 saves against Belgium will forever be remembered in the United States. He was also excellent against Portugal. He showcased his shot-stopping ability with a wide variety of saves, including impressive displays of balance and strength. Howard was tremendous.

Final Squad Member

GK – Tim Krul (Netherlands) – Every team needs a 23rd man, somebody who can make a difference in a singular cameo if called upon. Out of every single player at the World Cup, nobody made a bigger impact in their time on the field than Krul. While Krul only played a couple minutes, his substitute appearance for penalty kicks against Costa Rica was a brilliant move by Louis van Gaal. Krul did his job in PK’s, psyching out Costa Rica with trash talk and powerful saves. Krul’s success goes to show to that even a squad’s third goalkeeper plays an important role at the World Cup. For this reason, he earns the final spot on my squad, and an honorable mention in my Best XI’s of the tournament.

What are your thoughts on the best players in Brazil? Who did I leave out? Please comment below.


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Ein Großes Deutschfest – Deutschland Sind Weltmeister! – Germany Are Deserving Champions

Germany are the 2014 World Cup Champions. Das war wirklich wunderbar. A splendid finish by substitute Mario Götze from an Andre Schürrle cross late in extra-time gave Deutschland the much deserved title. A thoroughly defensive tie found its match winner against all odds after both defenses had held strong all match. At the end of a thoroughly entertaining World Cup, we got a deserving final goal to wrap it all up. It was a phenomenal end to a wonderful tournament.

Germany found it nearly impossible to break down the Argentine defense today, but any time they lost the ball, everybody was tracking back, making sure to mark Lionel Messi. The few times that Argentina found some space, Jerome Boateng was usually there to clear the ball. Bastian Schweinsteiger played an excellent game in the middle of the park, with impressive physicality marking his complete transformation to a hard tackling midfielder over the years. He was the complete midfielder today. The image of Schweinsteiger with blood dripping down his face should be the lasting image of this World Cup. And when Manuel Neuer was needed in the back, either as a shot-stopper or as a sweeper, he was always in the right spot, completing a most impressive World Cup in style. I don’t think anybody will dispute his award as this competition’s best goalkeeper.

It has to be said that Argentina played a great game defensively. Javier Mascherano was again immense in his deep-lying midfield position, making interception after interception. And the back four held Germany to only a handful of chances all match. But they did all that at the expense of their offense. Rodrigo Palacio and Gonzalo Higuain miserably failed to convert the big chances that fell their way. And they, along with Sergio Agüero, provided little help for Messi up front.

Messi will be left frustrated at the lack of service he got in this match, as he simply didn’t get on the ball enough to make the impact he needed to. Some will criticize him for not stepping up to the occasion, but the truth is that he didn’t have enough help. Many would have expected him to convert the big chance that he had early in the second half, but Neuer did well to close off the angle. When Messi was on the ball in the first half, he generally did quite well. This match won’t see him overtake Diego Maradona in popularity in Argentina, but it was too big an ask for Messi to win this match on his own today. While his defense played the match of their lives, his fellow attackers were not good enough today, with Angel di Maria sorely missed. I disagree with Messi winning the Golden Ball however, as I think any of the German midfielders were more deserving.

The match started about as brightly as we could have hoped, with a fairly open first half. While Argentina had their midfielders line up only a few yards ahead of the defenders, they sent men forward without restriction on the break. Their tactics weren’t completely negative, and we were all better for it. The chances that fell on both ends were ones that we would normally expect players to take, but the nerves were clearly felt today. Mesut Özil started brightly, redeeming himself with a wonderful game, and he and Thomas Müller were Germany’s biggest threats in the early going, creating a number of decent chances for their teammates. Messi was dangerous when he got on the ball, but he had very few touches overall. Mistakes from Higuain, and excellent last-ditch defending from Jerome Boateng kept Argentina off the board.

The second half was played with much more caution however, as both teams quickly realized a single mistake would cost them the game. For Germany, with one exception early in the half that saw Messi alone on goal, Boateng and Schweinsteiger cleaned everything up with aggressive tackling. Offensively, they dearly missed Sami Khedira’s energy and drive in the midfield, as they were lacking a bigger body to go through the middle. Argentina’s defense hardly put a foot wrong, but Messi and his fellow strikers didn’t get many chances after the midpoint of the half.

There wasn’t much to extra-time after Schürrle’s shot went straight at Sergio Romero in the opening moments. The play became rather fragmented as injuries began to pile up. Players on both sides were looking rather weary. But Germany proved to have the lighter legs, with Özil, Müller and Schürrle putting in a ton of work in the midfield. That it was the hard-working Schürrle who sent in the cross that set up the winner was fitting. Götze didn’t have much of an impact until his goal, but his group stage woes will be certainly be forgotten after that one moment of brilliance. It was a goal worthy of a World Cup winner, one that will be remembered forever.

As far as the referee, he had a good game overall even if he missed a couple minor calls here and there. I liked that Nicola Rizzoli wasn’t afraid to get out his yellow cards in the first half. Too often this World Cup, things got out of control because the referee didn’t want to impact the match. However today, I felt Rizzoli had control from the start. While he could have shown a red to Benedikt Höwedes late in the first half, I felt he was wise to only give him a yellow. It was a reckless challenge, but there didn’t seem to be intent. And while he showed a few yellows in the second half, he maintained his control on the match and let the play be the story. He might have showed Agüero a second yellow for smacking Schweinsteiger in the head with his fist, but I agreed with the decision to leave it as merely a foul. Nobody will talk about Rizzoli after today, and that means he did his job.

Philipp Lahm has lifted the trophy, and Germany are champions. A terrific month of soccer is now over, but we won’t soon forget the events in Brazil. I want to say thank you to any of you who have followed my blog over the last month. It’s been tremendously fun writing about all the action. However, I want to say that the blog is just getting started, and I will have much more content to come. There will be some thoughts wrapping up the World Cup in the next few days, but after that it’ll nearly be time for the club season to begin.

Huge congratulations to Germany for a much deserved World Cup. The best team doesn’t always win, but they did today. Vielen Dank für einen wunderschönen Monat.


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Wird Die Mannschaft Gewinnen? Ja, voll! – My World Cup Final Preview and Prediction

The day has finally come. It’s the World Cup Final. Everything has led up to this – all of the story lines, all of the struggles, all of the success. But in a few hours, none of that will matter. It will all be about the 90 (or 120) minutes played in the Maracana. The world will be stopped in admiration of the beautiful game’s finest hour. It’s Messi and the Argentines against the Germans. And we’re in for a treat.

The final has the makings of a fascinating encounter. All the Argentine story lines revolve around Lionel Messi in the lead up to the match, but the rest of his teammates bear the bulk of the task. Shutting down Germany’s rampant attack will be a challenge for an Argentine defense seen as the weak link coming into the tournament. Four years ago, in a World Cup quarterfinal, Germany beat Argentina 4-0 in a very one-sided encounter. Germany scored an early goal from a set piece, and then struck three more times in the second half. They picked Argentina’s defense apart, and were particularly dangerous on the counter. Today’s German team isn’t drastically different from the one they fielded four years ago, so it will be up to Argentina’s defense to make sure things are different today.

For Argentina, the best way to go about this game might be to sit back like they did against the Dutch, hoping that Lionel Messi will create one instance of magic at some point on the counter. Alejandro Sabella should be worried about his midfield getting outnumbered, so he will likely have to counter that by making sure he always has men behind the ball. Lucas Biglia and Javier Mascherano will have a gargantuan task in stopping the German midfield, but given their recent performances defensively, those two might be up for the task. Marcos Rojo will need to be the disciplined left back he was against Netherlands rather than the marauding one he was earlier in the tournament to minimize Thomas Müller’s effect. Germany attacked mostly from the right against Brazil, so Rojo will have to at his best today.

While the game plan might revolve around stopping Germany from scoring, Argentina will likely have to score themselves if they hope to win. Another scoreless 90 or 120 minutes might be possible, but Sabella shouldn’t count on his team’s ability to keep another clean sheet. At some point, he’ll need the best player in the world to leave his mark on the match. While there aren’t many obvious holes in Germany’s lineup, one is at left back. Should Messi be allowed one-on-one situations with Benedikt Höwedes, he should be able to blow by him. Creating as many of those opportunities for Messi as possible should be Argentina’s strategy going forward, especially with Angel di Maria looking unlikely to play. Gonzalo Higuain might be called upon to convert a half-chance or two, but his main work will likely come in the hold-up department, relieving some of the relentless German pressure. A late appearance from Sergio Agüero should provide a boost with a burst of pace up front, especially if Mats Hummels’s injury has slowed the German defender at all.

Germany’s tactics should be similar to those they used against Brazil. With a huge advantage in quality and numbers in the middle of the park, they should be looking to create little triangles to open up space in the final third. Biglia and Mascherano can only be in one place at a time, so lots of quick passing will leave Argentina vulnerable as they get spread out. Testing Sergio Romero early should be a priority, as the keeper is way out of his element in a World Cup Final. Sending in crosses might not be the ideal way to win, but the Germans should allow Romero to make a mistake. Every set piece they get will be dangerous, as the quality of Toni Kroos’s free kicks and the aerial prowess of the entire lineup will cause a lot of problems for Romero.

Defensively, Germany should be careful not to leave Höwedes isolated against Messi. If too many men are forward in attack, a single counter attack from the little man could prove fatal. Bastian Schweinsteiger was excellent against Brazil like many others were, but today his role should be a more defensive one. If he can keep an eye on Messi, Germany shouldn’t be too worried. Whether or not Hummels is able to play due to his injury is unknown, but regardless, the Germans should be alright in defense. With Philipp Lahm restored to the back line, they’ve looked much more solid. And last but not least, there is the safety net that is Manuel Neuer. It’s no small task to beat the big German keeper, and Argentina might need more than a few chances if one is to get by him.

I predict the match will start brightly for Germany, with Mesut Özil forcing an early save from Romero. While Argentina settles into the game, the German front line will be hard at work, creating a number of dangerous looking opportunities. Messi won’t see much of the ball in the early going, and Higuain will look rather isolated up top. The opening goal will come thirty minutes into the half, with Jerome Boateng nodding home a Kroos corner. It will be 1-0 Germany at half. Argentina will send on Agüero early on in the second half, knowing they need to be more offensive minded. And his impact will be felt quickly, with Argentina’s best chance falling to Higuain, who will hit his effort straight at Neuer. Once Argentina begin to look dangerous, Germany will settle quickly, with Schweinsteiger and Khedira moving deeper. With fifteen minutes to play, the Germans will all but seal the match with a brilliantly worked counter. Andre Schürrle will start the move, finding Özil on the left, played into the space behind Pablo Zabaleta. Özil will draw Romero out before squaring the ball for Müller, who will convert. The final minutes will tick off the clock without too much drama, und Deutschland wird gewinnen. Messi won’t get the chances he needs, and Philipp Lahm will lift the cup for Germany. The game will finish Germany 2 Argentina 0.

Today, I’ll celebrate my Faustian roots, my small amount of German heritage, and my German nickname, by rooting for Germany as hard as I can. Whoever wins though, I hope we’re in for an entertaining end to a wonderful World Cup. May the best team win.

Check back for post-match analysis later tonight, and I’ll have my post-World Cup thoughts spread among the next few days. Enjoy the final.


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Argentina Wins the No-Midfield Battle

There was no Tim Krul to save the day this time. Argentina were uninspired going forward today, and not many would say they’ve breezed through the tournament. But Lionel Messi and his teammates are into the final, having beaten Netherlands on penalties after a scoreless draw. Javier Mascherano was the man of the match for Argentina in his role in front of the defense, holding Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie at bay. Maxi Rodriguez will steal some of the headlines for his winner in penalty kicks, but the story should be about the impressive defensive efforts on both sides. Once again though, I hate to see penalties decide a match though, as Ron Vlaar’s brilliant game should not have ended in heartbreak for missing a crucial spot-kick.

This was hardly an entertaining match, and the reason for that lies in the lack of true midfielders on the pitch for both teams. In direct contrast to how Germany has lined up, each team played with a system with only a single player in the middle of the park at times. Both teams started two holding midfielders who were more defenders than anything else, and while all were excellent in that role, none of them offered any support going forward. The lack of creative thought in midfield was never more evident than when ESPN showed the stat late in the second half that neither team had more than three touches in the opposing box. With nobody to provide service for all the attacking talent, neither team had any chances in regulation.

Playing two forwards, a back five and two holding midfielders, the Dutch were left with only Wesley Sneijder in the middle in the attacking half, and he wasn’t all that interested in dropping deep to receive the ball. As a result, they were forced to play a lot of lofted balls in to Robben and van Persie, who clearly were lacking the fitness to get onto them. As such, the Dutch hardly had any way forward. When Argentina dropped their line deeper, Netherlands didn’t have any creative options for breaking down the defense. Had Robben not played 120 minutes a few days ago, he very well might have been able to find space in behind the defense. But today, he needed more of the ball at his feet to be effective.

Argentina was much the same way, as their tactics didn’t help provide much service for Messi and Gonzalo Higuain up top. Lucas Biglia and Mascherano were once again outstanding defensively, keeping Robben and Sneijder at bay, but neither ventured forward too often with much vigor. People often say Messi is good enough to make his own chances, but when he has to drop into his defensive half to receive the ball because of a simple lack of bodies in midfield, he isn’t able to have the same impact in the final third. Ezequiel Lavezzi was disappointing on the wing, and it was clear that Angel di Maria’s pace was deeply missed. Not until Sergio Agüero and Rodrigo Palacio came on were Argentina able to create any real chances in open play. But even then, Messi was still playing more of the midfielder role than he would have wanted.

Pablo Zabaleta has not had a great tournament in my eyes. The right back came into Brazil being seen as one of Argentina’s biggest threats going forward, having run rampant in recent years down the flank in England. However yet again, he hardly touched the ball in the attacking third. Defensively, he was exceptional next to Ezequiel Garay and Martin Demichelis, always in the right position when the Dutch looked to counter. And in that way, his lack of offensive motor certainly helped Argentina maintain the clean sheet. But were his team to score today, he needed to be a presence up the field. He’ll need to be much more of a threat against Germany.

Jogi Löw’s German side should be able to grab the match by the neck on Sunday given their abundance of talent in midfield. If nobody is there to press Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos high up the pitch, they will always pick the right passes. We saw yesterday that given time and space on the ball, Germany is lethal. If Argentina is going to have a chance on Sunday, there will need to be a change in tactics to put more men in the middle of the field.

On a completely different note, I have come to really enjoy Jon Champion and Stewart Robson as a commentating duo on ESPN. Their approach of being insightful but reserved comes off quite nicely after having to listen to so many games with the abrasive Ian Darke/Steve McManaman duo. I love that team of announcers, but they have become rather annoying recently, injecting their own biases into the matches far too often. While Darke thrusts himself into the match, Champion lets the play on the field do the talking most of the time. It’s refreshing to hear an announcer do such a nice job as a neutral.

What were your thoughts on the match? Comment below.


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Will There Be More Dutch Delight Today?

Good morning, everyone. Yesterday was quite a day at the World Cup – one few will forget. But let’s hope today’s semifinal is more of a game. I have high hopes. Now to my prediction.

Argentina 2 (4) Netherlands 2 (3)

Argentina will need to get another big game out of Gonzalo Higuain if they hope to win today. His ability to hold up the ball will be vital as his team will concede a lot of possession to the Dutch. Argentina’s midfield was impressive against Belgium, but they will need to be extra disciplined defensively, as Arjen Robben running at the left side of the Argentina defense remains frightening to think about. Javier Mascherano might be the key in this game in front of his back four, especially if he can keep Wesley Sneijder off the score sheet. His ability to break up play could disrupt any flow the Dutch want to find. Offensively, Pablo Zabaleta could find a lot of success getting in behind the Dutch wing backs. If he can get to the byline, Higuain will convert the chances. Lionel Messi also must be at or near his best, but the Dutch center backs aren’t as physical as Belgium’s were, which could help Messi out.

Netherlands will hope Robin van Persie recovers from his stomach bug in time to make the starting 11. Personally, I can’t see the former Arsenal man missing a semifinal with that type of illness, but you never know how sick he actually is. If he can’t play, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar would be the obvious replacement. The two forwards are different players, but they both could find success against a shaky Argentinian back four. The other key for the Dutch is whether Nigel de Jong can make a miraculous return to fitness in time to take a few whacks at Messi. If the referee isn’t calling many fouls, physicality in the midfield could determine the match. Offensively, the Dutch will look to attack down the right all night. Robben is due for another superb performance, and he will be licking his lips knowing who he is up against.

Assuming van Persie plays, I think the Dutch will score first. Ron Vlaar will get on the end of a Wesley Sneijder free kick, nodding home the opener. From there, Messi will begin to impact the match, releasing Pablo Zabaleta down the right time after time. After a couple near misses, a cross will find the head of Higuain, and the game will be tied at half. The second half will start brightly for the Dutch, who will seize the lead through a curling effort from Robben. Sergio Romero won’t stand a chance in net. Having started the game on the bench, Sergio Agüero will come on as Argentina looks for the tying goal late on. An error in defense will gift Agüero a chance in the box, and his shot will deflect towards Messi, who will deservedly get the all-important goal.

Extra time will be a boring at times, as both defenses fear the opposing counter attacks against heavy legs. It will turn into a stop-and-start affair in the midfield, with De Jong getting sent off late on. When the Dutch go down a man, they will be forced to use their final substitute to shore up the defense. Having withstood the final few minutes of Argentina’s attacks, Netherlands will safely get to penalty kicks with only ten men, albeit without spot-kick hero Tim Krul. Romero will guess correctly early on, and Argentina will take the early lead in pk’s. A late miss from Agüero won’t prove costly, as a second mistake from the Dutch will grant Argentina the chance to win it. Messi will bury it, and we’ll have an Argentina-Germany final.

I’ll have analysis after the game, and hopefully there’ll be some Arsenal news to write about in the coming days. Have a great day.