Football

Semi-final is all about Robben versus Messi

Robben and Messi perform different roles 
for their teams but there's no doubt the 
semi-final result will depend on the two stars

SEMI-FINAL

HOLLAND v ARGENTINA

(Thursday, 4am, SingTel mio TV Ch 141, 
StarHub TV Ch 223 & MediaCorp okto)

Holland are one win away from a second straight World Cup final, while opponents Argentina head into Thursday morning's (Singapore time) last-four clash looking to end their 24-year wait for a place in the final.

Two teams with a rich tradition, and an abundance of motivation, should produce a close game, characterised by tight marking, disciplined defence and threats on the break as they bid to reach the July 13 final at Rio de Janeiro's Maracana Stadium.

But, for all the expectation, all the history and all the focus on the tactical approaches of Alejandro Sabella and Louis van Gaal, the clash at the Corinthians Arena is likely to come down to how two individuals seize the moment.

With both teams set to pack the midfield, regardless of what formation they field, Argentinian Lionel Messi and Dutchman Arjen Robben will be charged with producing thrilling moments of skill that could decide who heads to Rio for the final.

The narrative around the 27-year-old Messi's stature in the game has long suggested that the four-time World Player of the Year needs to take his country to a World Cup triumph to enter the list of the game's true greats.

Whether that assessment is fair or not, Messi is certainly doing his best to prove that he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as compatriot Diego Maradona and Brazil's Pele.

The Barcelona forward has scored four goals in Brazil, all in the group stage, but his contribution has gone well beyond finding the back of the net.

Messi has always had the ability, for Barcelona and Argentina, to drop away from the opposing backline and run at defences from deep but, in the quarter-final win over Belgium, he played almost as a classic playmaking No. 10.

In this withdrawn role, Messi successfully controlled the tempo of the game, slowing it down when needed and probing for spaces for striker Gonzalo Higuain to exploit.

So often the virtuoso who provides the dramatic crescendo to an attack, Messi has evolved in this tournament into the conductor of the orchestra.

The absence of Angel di Maria on the right through injury is a blow for Argentina because the Real Madrid winger has provided the other main attacking threat for Sabella's team.

It will be interesting to see whether the Argentina coach goes with the defence-minded Enzo Perez, who replaced di Maria against the Belgians, or goes for a more attacking option.

RELIANCE

His Dutch counterpart van Gaal has been willing to adjust his line-up and formation for each game, but the one constant is the reliance on Robben to terrorise defences with his high-speed dribbling.

While much attention has been on the tricky winger's tendency to go down easily in seeking penalties, that has distracted somewhat from the way his pace, directness and shooting have been the main focus of the Dutch attacks.

Van Gaal's side have cut it fine en route to the semi-finals though - they needed penalties to get past Costa Rica in the quarter-finals, having beaten Mexico by only a controversial last-minute penalty in the previous round.

They will need striker Robin van Persie to recapture his form from the group stages to give the Argentina defence something else to ponder, apart from Robben's direct threat.

The two teams have met four times before in the World Cup, including in the 1978 final which Argentina won 3-1 after extra time on home soil.

That was their only win over the Dutch at the Finals, having lost twice and drawn once in the other matches.

- Reuters.

Fifa: Holland not thrown out of hotel

Fifa has denied that World Cup 
semi-finalists Holland were thrown out of their team hotel to make way for dignitaries and sponsors.

"The situation is not... that we're throwing them out of the hotel," Fifa spokesman Delia Fischer said this morning (Singapore time).

"It was a decision in which they defined the date when they will end their team base camp."

The Dutch travelled to Sao Paulo yesterday, a day earlier than expected, for Thursday morning's match against Argentina.

They will stay in a Fifa-designated hotel if they qualify for the final in Rio de Janeiro, Fischer added.

Dutch Federation president Bert van Oostveen said: "It's just a shame that this should happen.

"I think it is not in the interests of football that athletes must give way."

- Reuters.

World Cup