Messi management mission for Dutch in World Cup semi

Argentina's Lionel Messi has scored four goals in Brazil 2014. Picture: GETTY IMAGES
Argentina's Lionel Messi has scored four goals in Brazil 2014. Picture: GETTY IMAGES


The World Cup's most dangerous players when they have the ball at their feet - Lionel Messi and Arjen Robben - face off when Argentina and Netherlands meet in the World Cup semi-final.

Either one could turn the match in Sao Paulo with a dazzling turn of pace or a weaving run to propel his team to the final.

"We have to cut the supply line to Messi," Dutch defender Bruno Martins Indi said.

Messi led Argentina through the group stage with four goals. He has made 180 passes in his five matches.

The Dutch have shared the goal-scoring duties more evenly - Robben and Robin van Persie each have three, Memphis Depay has two of the team's total of 12 - but the Bayern Munich winger's scintillating sprints with the ball have often been the highlights of Oranje matches.

"We know that we will play against one of the best teams when it comes to counter-attacks because of the speed of their men up front," Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano said.

"So we have to take precautions to not give them the possibility to counter-attack, to always be well positioned, to not lose balls unnecessarily in areas where there's a lot of risk."

After scoring 10 times in group play, the Netherlands has managed only two in its two knockout matches.

The Netherlands will again be without their powerful midfield controller Nigel de Jong, who has a torn groin muscle. A possible replacement, Leroy Fer, is recovering from a hamstring injury and it is not clear if he will be fit for the semi-final at the Itaquerao Stadium.

Argentina will be without Real Madrid winger Angel Di Maria, who limped off in the first half of his country's quarter-final win over Belgium with a right thigh injury, but striker Sergio Aguero has been declared fit after recovering from a similar problem.

Di Maria scored the extra-time winner against Switzerland in the second round and set up Gonzalo Higuain's goal in the first half against Belgium.

"He's a good player, but we look at the whole team, not one player," Netherlands goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen said. "We're going to watch ... how Argentina plays. We're going to make our plan to beat Argentina."

Whether that plan again could involve Cillessen being substituted before a penalty shoot-out and replaced with the more physically imposing Tim Krul, as happened against Costa Rica, remains to be seen.

The move by mastermind Louis van Gaal was the World Cup's most surprising substitution and one of its most effective as Krul stopped two penalties.

The two sides have a long World Cup history, including one of the Netherlands' most heartbreaking losses, in the 1978 final when Rob Rensenbrink's shot hit the post shortly before full-time, with the scores level at 1-1. Argentina went on to win 3-1 in extra time.

In 1998, the Dutch led by Guus Hiddink got a measure of revenge when Dennis Bergkamp's memorable goal knocked Argentina out in the quarter-finals.

Cillessen said beating Argentina would only be a step to making amends for the 1978 final - one of three that the Netherlands has lost, earning the Dutch the title of the best team never to win the World Cup.

"It would be revenge if we win the World Cup," Cillessen said. "But we have to wait for that. It's not a final. It's a semi." AP


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