Van Gaal and Robben will send Argentina home
Van Gaal's tactics and Robben's talent, and maybe theatrics, will prove too much for Messi and Co
HOLLAND v ARGENTINA
(Thursday, 4am, SingTel mio TV Ch 141, StarHub TV Ch 223 & MediaCorp okto)
Argentina arrived in Sao Paulo on a wing and a prayer.
Not even five wins on a trot at the 2014 World Cup could mask their inadequacy, insipidity and heavy reliance on Lionel Messi.
If the semi-final battle with Holland on Thursday morning (Singapore time) is going to be fought in the head, then Argentina might as well book early their short flight home.
The Dutch are flying in through a rain of orange confetti, armed with vigour and unity decidedly unfamiliar.
Coach Louis van Gaal has somehow galvanised a Holland football team notorious for dressing room unrest, and injected belief.
Everything he touches at the moment turns into gold.
The 62-year-old improvises like no other in Brazil, like when he discarded his tried-and-tested 4-3-3 formation to switch to a 5-3-2 system in their opening match, and brought defending champions Spain to their knees.
He thinks on his feet. Trailing the Mexicans by a goal in their last-16 tie, he exploited the second-half water break, moved his pawns around like a chess grandmaster, and pulled off a last-gasp comeback victory.
He gambles. He hauled off his first-choice goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen in the dying moments of Holland's quarter-final against Costa Rica, and the replacement Tim Krul saved two penalties in the subsequent shootout to hand Holland a dramatic entry into the semi-finals.
He could do no wrong from the bench, as he gazes at the pitch through his crystal ball.
This uncanny ability to know exactly what is required to turn the tide has earned him a halo with an orange tint.
Van Gaal introduced Memphis Depay as a half-time substitute in the outing against the Aussies, and he set up the equaliser and netted the winning goal.
He did that, too, to Mexico, this time with Klaas Jan Huntelaar as his trump card, and the Schalke striker repeated Depay's heroics.
Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella finds himself up against a three-headed, seven-legged wonder of nature raised in tulip fields.
The 59-year-old former Leeds United and Sheffield United midfielder is mere mortal, although that needed not much convincing.
He frets over the loss of Angel di Maria, their most creative outlet after Messi.
He struggles to shake his team off their lethargy.
And, from what has been on show, he doesn't have the means to stop Holland's Arjen Robben either.
Along with a small handful of others, the Bayern Munich winger has lit up the tournament.
The dazzling runs on the flanks, the cut-backs to the middle, and the amazing ability to run at full pace from the first minute to the last, will give Sabella enough nightmares to last a lifetime.
But, when all else fails, Robben has another trick up his sleeve.
He dives, and is even a self-confessed repeat offender.
He takes to air like a duck to water.
He sparked controversy when he admitted to football gymnastics in Holland's second-round win over Mexico, on television, no less.
Ah, the temerity of it.
Sao Paulo looks set to be painted orange.
Van Gaal's got the tactics, Robben's got the theatrics.
Either way, Holland win.
If you see the qualities of this team we should have confidence (against Argentina). Of course the Argentinians have (Lionel) Messi who can do something crazy, but we have (Arjen) Robben who can do that too.
— Dutch coach Guus Hiddink, who will take over the Holland national team from Louis van Gaal after the World Cup
KRUL TO STICK TO PENALTY TECHNIQUE
Holland goalkeeper Tim Krul has vowed to wind up Lionel Messi and his Argentina teammates if Thursday morning's (Singapore time) semi-final goes to penalties.
Krul (below) drew criticism for his antics during Holland's 4-3 penalty shootout win over Costa Rica last Saturday.
The Newcastle goalkeeper spoke to every Costa Rican penalty taker as they prepared to take their kick and he also walked around the penalty area in order to psyche the opposing player out.
Some believe that Krul's actions were not in keeping with the spirit of the game, but the 26-year-old is sure he did the right thing - and he will not hesitate to do the same again.
"I don't think I did anything wrong,'' the Holland goalkeeper told a press conference in Rio on Sunday.
"I did nothing crazy. I didn't shout in an aggressive manner. I told them I knew where they were going because I had analysed it.
"I was trying to get in their heads and it worked because I saved two penalties.
"It is a good way of psyching (penalty takers) out and I am happy to do it again."
Argentina have not yet had to endure the lottery of a penalty shootout at this World Cup but, if Thursday morning's game in Sao Paulo went to spot-kicks, Messi would certainly take one.
Whoever the five takers are, Krul will be ready for them.
"We will analyse every Argentina penalty on Monday," the custodian said. "We will sit together and write up a plan."
Krul came on to the field of play only in the 120th minute as a replacement for No. 1 Jasper Cillessen.
Holland coach Louis van Gaal thought Krul would be better equipped to save a penalty as he is taller than Cillessen, and he was right.
Krul thought that the decision to bring him on was a stroke of genius from the Manchester United manager-in-waiting.
"When I started my warm up, the (Costa Rica) bench was confused about what was going on," Krul added.
"I saw the Costa Rica manager's face - it was priceless! It is an honour for us to have a coach like (van Gaal).
"A club like Manchester United knows what the world of football thinks of him.
"He is proving it in this tournament and he has shown what tactical qualities he has."
- PA Sport.