Friday, October 9, 2015         


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Argentina, Si!

Goalkeeper Sergio Romero delivers big-time, stopping two penalty kicks and sending “La Albiceleste” into the World Cup title game


Sao PAULO >> Regulation and overtime brought 120 minutes of scoreless exasperation in a World Cup semifinal on Wednesday that was by turns tense, cautious, clumsy, gripping and stubbornly unyielding.

There was little space to move, few chances to score. Sometimes the match was as dreary as the misty evening chill. If it possessed any beauty, it was not in gracefulness but in stark, struggling exertion.

And finally, when grind and strain and labor could not bring a resolution, whimsy and caprice did. Argentina defeated the Netherlands by 4-2 on penalty kicks and advanced to Sunday's final against Germany.

Sergio Romero, Argentina's goalkeeper, was poised in the shootout, unsettling the Dutch on the very first kick. He dived to his left, parried a shot by the defender Ron Vlaar and kissed his gloves. Later, Romero repelled a shot by Wesley Sneijder and pounded his chest.

For Argentina, Lionel Messi, Ezequiel Garay and Sergio Aguero confidently punched their shots into the net. The decisive attempt, by Maxi Rodriguez, was deflected, but it hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced into the net.

Messi took off in a jubilant, screaming run up the field as Argentina reached the championship game for the first time since 1990.

That long ago night its opponent was West Germany, which even Diego Maradona could not find a way to beat. But that was forgotten on Wednesday as Argentine fans roared in delight and players removed their jerseys and twirled them in triumphant ecstasy.

"It's luck, that's the truth," Romero said of the penalty kicks. "You can dive and not make it, like their goalkeeper did. I had confidence, and thank God things turned out well."

The Netherlands led this World Cup with 12 goals, but its patient counterattacking style produced nothing in the quarterfinals and semifinals after a late, desperate victory against Mexico.

Twice, the Dutch were taken to penalty kicks. In Saturday's quarterfinal against Costa Rica, coach Louis van Gaal made a shrewd move, bringing on the reserve goalkeeper Tim Krul for the shootout. On Wednesday, though, van Gaal had already used his three substitutions, so he was forced to stay with Jasper Cillessen, who did not possess Krul's reach or effective reaction.

Argentina won the World Cup in 1978 and 1986. Now it will seek a third title in, of all places, the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil's most famous and prized arena.

Argentina reached the final in the most suffocating of matches. Perhaps Germany's victory on Tuesday took all the scoring oxygen out of the semifinals. Or maybe Brazil's humiliation was so shocking that Argentina and the Netherlands were left fumbling for artistry and inspiration. Not even Messi could find the net until the game went to a shootout.

The Netherlands gave him little room, hip-checking, grabbing and impeding him with a five-man back line, marking him with the enforcer Nigel de Jong in midfield.

In the 14th minute, a free kick by Messi found a gap in the wall, but Cillessen easily smothered the low, hard shot with his chest and hands.

Near the end of regulation, Arjen Robben slipped free into the penalty area. He might have scored the winning goal, but Javier Mascherano gave frantic chase and slid to block the shot and extend the match. Afterward, Mascherano cried in celebration and relief.

"It's grim going out this way," Robben said.

Brazil no doubt feels the same hollowness while Argentina and Messi play on.

Argentina 0, Netherlands 0

At Sao Paulo
Netherlands 0 0 0 0 -- 0
Argentina 0 0 0 0 -- 0

Argentina won 4-2 on penalty kicks

First half--No scoring.

Second half--No scoring.

Extra time--No scoring.

Extra time--No scoring.

Shootout--Netherlands 2 (Ron Vlaar NG, Arjen Robben G, Wesley Sneijder NG, Dirk Kuyt G); Argentina 4 (Lionel Messi G, Ezequiel Garay G, Sergio Aguero G, Maxi Rodriguez G).

Shots--Netherlands 7, Argentina 8.

Shots On Goal--Netherlands 3, Argentina 5.

Yellow Cards--Netherlands, Bruno Martins Indi, 45th minute; Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, 105th. Argentina, Martin Demichelis, 49th.

Offsides--Netherlands 4, Argentina 4.

Fouls Committed--Netherlands 15, Argentina 10.

Fouls Against--Netherlands 10, Argentina 14.

Corner Kicks--Netherlands 4, Argentina 4.

Referee--Cuneyt Cakir, Turkey. Linesmen--Bahattin Duran, Turkey; Tarik Ongun, Turkey.


Jeri Longman, New York Times

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