Lethargic Holland pay the penalty
Lack of attacking impetus and reliance on off-colour Robben and sick RVP contribute to Holland's demise
- 0-0 after extra time, Argentina win 4-2 on penalties
Holland didn't deserve to go through. Nor did Argentina, but it's not possible to kick out both teams in a wretched semi-final so the Dutch paid the price for a lack of courage.
Perhaps the Oranje had nothing left to give. Lethargy consumed them.
Two exhausting trips to the unforgiving heat of the north-east melted the muscles and drained the tanks, but they left their heart in the sunshine.
Sao Paulo welcomed them with cool, drizzly conditions, the perfect climate for playmakers to create havoc; a blank canvas. But Holland's artists forgot to bring their brushes.
Creatively, they were a spent force. Physically, their legs betrayed them. Mentally, they were dreaming of penalties far too early in proceedings.
As the tournament progressed, Louis van Gaal threatened to turn the World Cup into a personal showcase, a global platform to tout his tactical genius and inflate his ego further.
But pride comes before a fall. In the Sao Paulo rain, he fell off the stage.
Van Gaal sent out a side bereft of genuine attacking ingenuity, starved of improvisation and relying on a sick striker and a tired winger.
Hindsight suggests Robin van Persie was better served on the bench. His virus stubbornly lingered as he drifted away from the game.
The movement didn't match the man. He was a pale imitation of his usual predatory self.
But van Gaal persisted with him, talking to him at half-time, full-time and during stoppages.
He continually enquired if his fitness was holding out, if he could endure.
Van Persie acquiesced. He was hardly in a position to say anything else. Courage has never been in short supply. Cowardice is beyond his comprehension.
The Dutch striker would've left the field on a stretcher before conceding defeat, before acknowledging that his weary body was beyond his control.
Van Gaal chose to listen to his failing striker, rather than trust what the eye could see. Van Persie offered nothing.
Holland were pedestrian around the Argentina penalty box. With Arjen Robben tag-teamed, the striker had to go it alone, but resistance was futile. He could cheat his manager, but not his own body.
Van Gaal banked on lightning striking twice between the sticks. Tim Krul warmed up before kick-off by having squad players smash penalties against him in front of the packed Sao Paulo Stadium. He wanted the world to see. He wanted the Dutch to see.
Van Gaal and Krul were conspiring to unnerve their opponents a full two hours before the first penalty kick.
But, with the Dutch so woefully inept and overrun in midfield, their manager had no choice but to intervene, first by sending on Daryl Janmaat before Bruno Martins Indi lost his head and his place on the field and then by introducing Jordy Clasie.
Van Persie was regressing rapidly as the game fizzled out, but his manager refused to intervene. He still had Krul intentions.
But his stubbornness appeared sadistic when his skipper appeared to have reach the point of nervous exhaustion in extra time.
Finally, van Gaal relented and brought on Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, but the move came too late to stimulate any attacking momentum.
Privately, Holland's coach might consider himself vindicated.
Jasper Cillessen never looked entirely comfortable during the shootout, resorting to the ugly gimmicks of Krul - talking to the penalty-takers as they positioned the ball - but lacking his shot-stopping substance.
Perhaps the Dutch were always destined to go no further.
Until the final stages of the contest, they were patchy against Costa Rica, struggling to break down dogged but defensively limited opponents.
Like Argentina, their hopes largely rested on the wiry shoulders of one individual, whose exquisite sense of timing suddenly let him down. Robben picked the semi-final to have his worst game of the tournament.
So did most of his teammates.
Wesley Sneijder had impressed so much in the quarter-final, defying both his age and critics to make a passable impression of the impenetrable from 2010, that van Gaal promoted him to a more conventional role that matched the No. 10 on his back.
But he offered nothing. Instead he was dragged back into the muddy midfield mire; a congested, calamitous area of the pitch where players congregated in a bid to kill off each other, but conspired to kill the spectacle instead.
Of the four semi-finalists, Holland were the only ones not to have a star embroidered on their chests. They satiated their desire for revenge against Spain for the 2010 heartbreak. Payback was also on the cards for those defeats by West Germany in 1974 and Argentina in 1978.
Romance favoured them. Van Gaal had won new friends for his entertaining, enigmatic persona and brash press conferences.
But the sympathy swiftly subsided after such a terrible performance this morning.
With the world watching, they forgot to turn up. Based on this showing, the Dutch will not be missed in the final.
I would have done it but I had already used my three substitutes, so I couldn’t do it.
— Holland coach Louis van Gaal thought of bringing on Tim Krul for the penalty shootout but he had run out of substitutes