Germans will laugh to the title
Loew's men will be happy if Argentina play like this in the final
- Argentina win 4-2 on penalties
That sound you can hear is the collective crack of German sides splitting everywhere.
Joachim Loew's merry men are laughing all the way to the World Cup trophy.
The Rio Carnival is usually held during Lent, but the procession might come to the Maracana on Monday morning (Singapore time).
An exhilarating spectacle promises to be an exhibition if yesterday's drivel in the Sao Paulo drizzle is any indication.
Holland and Argentina didn't drown in the rain, they were comatose before kick-off.
A carbon copy of Germany's Belo Horizonte classic was never anticipated, but the second semi-final was a facsimile of the worst farces this otherwise exceptional tournament has offered.
The boring Iran v Nigeria and Belgium v Russia matches were a veritable Mardi Gras compared to this abject, ponderous plod of a performance. If this doesn't win the award for worst semi-final in World Cup history, then its victorious predecessor should be replayed as an instrument of mental torture during intense police interrogations.
Argentina's creative options were limited; their Fantastic Four being reduced to a Dithering Duo after Angel di Maria and Sergio Aguero were not fit enough to start.
Holland's camp were clearly suffering the after-effects of Robin van Persie's debilitating virus. That should be their excuse anyway. They played in a daze, stumbling though a two-hour zombie movie audition as if being drenched by acid rain.
Their collective lethargy even extended to the line-ups.
Luca Biglia's introduction alongside Javier Mascherano starved Argentina of attacking impetus; their creative cause not helped by Gonzalo Higuain and Ezequiel Lavezzi's decision to play hide-and-seek with each other on the left side of the pitch without telling their teammates.
La Albiceleste needed a private detective to find them. Lionel Messi was no less passive, once again struggling to shake off that asterisk that stubbornly clings to his resume.
Such tepid contests were once made for Argentina's finest little terrier to step in and conquer. Diego Maradona's spectre weighed heavily on Messi's shoulders.
But Arjen Robben was equally inept. Sao Paulo offered a cool, pleasing temperature for the game's leading superstars to shine, but they wobbled in the windy conditions.
Great sportsmen snatch victory from the jaws of tedious mediocrity with rare moments of greatness.
Messi's free-kick treated Jasper Cillessen to a comfortable save in the first half; the Dutch goalkeeper was only called upon twice more in two hours.
Robben cut inside and forced Sergio Romero to make his only stop of the semi-final. The clock read 99 minutes.
Van Persie's virus always made a personal victory unlikely.
Louis van Gaal's quaint insistence on holding back his third substitute, Klass-Jan Huntelaar, in the hope that Tim Krul might be called upon to repeat his penalty heroics left the Manchester United dead striker on his feet.
By extra time, van Persie offered a pale imitation of his predatory self, running himself to a standstill and hindering rather than helping Holland's cause.
But Alejandro Sabella was no less culpable when it came to contributing to such a dreadful non-event.
His countrymen have questioned his conservatism for some time and as the game petered out, dying a death of a thousand misplaced passes, the lack of artistry on the bench became all the more alarming.
In a slow game played at walking pace at times, Carlos Tevez's tireless scampering and penalty box endeavour was not being replicated by anyone in a blue-and-white shirt. His absence has been duly noted in the South American press.
Sabella admitted yesterday that Germany's freshness hands them a major advantage in the World Cup final, pointing out the Europeans' extra day's rest and emphasising that some of his players were "sore, beaten, tired as a result of a war".
But Argentina didn't participate in a war of attrition. Their semi-final was a muddled mess of mediocrity, the ugliest of sisters compared to Germany's Cinderella fairytale against Brazil.
Both sides are going to the ball at the Maracana, but the contest will more closely resembles the princes and the paupers.
Sabella favours an obdurate defence over anarchic attack. His innate conservatism has been a bone of contention with Messi throughout the tournament.
Sabella feels more comfortable gripping the handbrake. Messi believes he's playing in handcuffs.
Certainly, the little genius was a neglected bystander against Holland; his frustration growing as the game passed him by. He converted his penalty, but contributed little else and must rouse himself against Germany.
In terms of both tactics and talent, Messi really is Argentina's only hope.
Whether it was dogma or design, Sabella's strategy suffocated the Dutch, allowing the magnificent Javier Mascherano to kill off the contest and wait for penalties.The Germans are less likely to comply. They specialise in breaking and entering impenetrable properties, as the French discovered in the quarter-final.Argentina's exhausting, debilitating, not to mention boring, victory over Holland will not leave the upbeat Germans quaking in their boots.
They'll just be giggling a bit.
Based on the two semi-finals, the Maracana mismatch can't come soon enough.
Where Argentina must improve
1 Show Messi more love
Considering he is the greatest of his generation and a leading contender for best of all time, Messi is a mild-mannered global conqueror. He's not psychologically brittle. Petty defenders hack away at him with parangs whenever he's in possession, but he fine-tuned his mental fortitude years ago.
He just wants to feel wanted. More than anything else, he covets freedom and trust and the chance to reward the faith shown in him by others.
Against Holland, Messi didn't get enough support. Even a lead vocalist needs back-up singers sometimes.
Coach Alejandro Sabella set Argentina up not to lose and succeeded. But he neutered Messi. The balance of play should be slanted towards his No. 10, who only needs a moment to make history and Germany won't be held for 120 minutes.
2 Don't play for penalties
Gary Lineker famously said: "Football is a simple game - you play for 120 minutes and then the Germans win on penalties."
Shootouts are not a lottery when the Germans are involved. Pressure is channeled into something positive or it is left on the bench. Germany faced down a host nation in the volatile, football-devoted city of Belo Horizonte and slaughtered the Selecao.
Most teams would've recoiled at the Brazilian national anthem, a terrifying call to arms from 60,000 eye-bulging, vein-popping screaming patriots.
The Germans brushed the impassioned chanting aside like flecks of dandruff on the shoulder. Are five kicks from 12 yards going to faze them? Sabella should listen to Lineker. There's no point planning for a lottery when Germany already hold the winning ticket.
3 Release Mascherano
If penalties are out, Sabella has to win in regulation time. He should release Javier Mascherano to form closer ties with Messi. Mascherano is the reason his countrymen limped into the final.
He has been delivering fiery team talks in the knockout stages that stress a date with destiny.
His infectious optimism will be essential against the Germans. His mopping duties should occupy his time at the Maracana, but on those rare occasions when Argentina press, he must lead the charge to release Messi.
With Angel di Maria and Sergio Aguero struggling, Mascherano is the only link man left.
- NEIL HUMPHREYS