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Jul 7, 2014

Five Aside: Netherlands-Argentina preview

The Netherlands and Argentina meet Wednesday in Sao Paulo for the right to face either Brazil or Germany in the final. Both teams have been here before and both will be looking to overcome past World Cup stumbles to lift the trophy.

Here are five key storylines to keep an eye on as Lionel Messi and Argentina square off with Robin van Persie and the Netherlands.

Messi, who will earn his 92nd cap Wednesday to surpass the legendary Diego Maradona for sixth on Argentina's all-time appearance list, has been both goal scorer and playmaker for his country this summer.

Messi has created more chances (19) than any other player at this World Cup, but the Barcelona star was held to one chance created in Argentina's quarterfinal win against Belgium.

Messi will need to score three goals or produce two goals and two assists if he wants to catch Colombia's James Rodriguez for the 2014 Golden Boot.


Messi's role will be all the more important with winger Angel Di Maria missing the semifinal due to a thigh injury. Di Maria leads Argentina in shots (25), shots on goal (nine) and attacking-third touches (187) in this World Cup.

While Di Maria moves to the bench, Sergio Aguero returns from injury to fill the void. Argentina will need Aguero to improve on his early-tournament form. Aguero created only one chance with one of his six shots being on target in 64 minutes across the first three games.


The Netherlands, of course, has playmakers of its own. Arjen Robben has been menacing rotating between the right and left wings. Robben has put 16 of his 17 shots on target in this World Cup, tied with James Rodriguez for the best percentage of the tournament.

Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben were present for the pain of the 2010 final, making Friday's victory all the sweeter.
Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben were present for the pain of the 2010 final, making Friday's victory all the sweeter.

The Dutch have also benefited from the return to form of midfielder Wesley Sneijder, who led the team with five goals at the 2010 World Cup. The former Inter Milan star hit the woodwork twice against Costa Rica in the quarterfinals after scoring the 88th-minute equalizer in the round of 16 win against Mexico.

Sneijder has scored five of the Netherlands' past eight goals in the knockout stages of the World Cup.


Argentina will rely on defensive stalwart Javier Mascherano to slow the quick Dutch counterattacks. Mascherano, who returned to his old holding midfield position in this tournament, leads the team in tackles (17) and shots blocked (five).

NetherlandsNetherlands
ArgentinaArgentina
(2) 0
(4) 0
FT-Pens
Match 62
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Mascherano has completed more passes (823) than any other Argentine player at the World Cup in 50 years, ahead of second-place Diego Maradona (720).


The Dutch have been the comeback kids at this World Cup. The Netherlands have already totaled three comeback wins in this tournament, the most by a team at a World Cup since West Germany earned four comeback wins at the 1970 World Cup.

The Dutch have scored their past six goals in the second half, including their past four after the 75th minute.