Twenty-four hours on, how do you provide the level of drama, spectacle and downright dumbfoundment that left the world speechless?
How do you follow one of the most incredible games of football in the sport’s history?
How do you compete with Brazil shipping five goals in 30 minutes, in Brazil, in a World Cup semi-final?
You watch Argentina and Holland in the other semi-final go the completely opposite way. A penalty shootout after normal and extra time resulted in a bloodless 0-0 draw.
As nobody could have predicted the 7-1 scarring by Germany of Brazil the night before, so nobody expected even a semblance of the same the day after. If anything, Tuesday’s dismembering of Brazil seemed to have affected the Argentina-Holland clash in that the teams shied away from playing open football in fear of a wild open-ended scoreline visiting them as well.
So they plodded on, Argentina winning 4-2 on penalties. A terrible game, if we are being honest. Argentina and the Netherlands had players more than capable but this World Cup semi-final failed to offer them that opportunity. We were monumentally spoiled by last night’s semi-final. Wednesday was a poor level for a semi-final of a World Cup. Neither side suffered a Brazil-style meltdown but the action was also extremely meagre. This was cagey, cautious, who’ll blink first stuff.
There were only two shots on target after 90 minutes. Argentina was on top but this was deadly dull. Lionel Messi showed only touches of class while the Dutch match-winner Arjen Robben was invisible, attempted just one pass in the entire first half.The main creators created almost nothing. It says a lot when Ron Vlaar was the best player on a pitch with Robben and Messi. What a performance in the Dutch defence from the Aston Villa man.
Argentina were slightly the better side but that does not say much. There was nothing much to talk about. Argentina worked out how not to allow the Netherlands to counter, getting back in numbers. It made for a dull game though. The game was one where no-one was really in charge.
As far as Dutch coach Louis van Gaal is concerned his plan to subdue Messi – first with Nigel de Jong then Jordy Clasie – worked. But to nullify a counter-attacking team, you need to play like Argentina. Then you end up with a boring spectacle like this.
Argentina’s Gonzalo Higuain tries to dribble past Georginio Wijnaldum of the Netherlands. (photo: Reuters)
It was so dull that the Dutch had their first attempt on target in the 98th minute as Robben warmed the palms of Sergio Romero from 30 yards.
Into the last minute. Robben suddenly was in right through on goal, but he took a bad touch and Javier Mascherano was able to make a brilliant block.
Messi has shown glimpses of his very best form during this tournament, scoring four goals along the way, to carry Argentina into the last four. But if you want to be considered the best player of your generation and one of the very best ever, World Cup semi-finals are the time and the place to deliver. Messi did not inspire Argentina to a place in the final. He did not touch the ball in the penalty area during the 120 minutes. He will need to improve on that one if his side are to lift the trophy on Sunday night.
At least the prospect of the re-emergence of Netherlands substitute keeper Tim Krul for a possible penalty shootout could have added extra intrigue to extra-time. But Krul never came on, so it was up to Jasper Cillessen to play the hero. You can see why Van Gaal put Krul in goal for the shootout in the last round. In his entire career Cillessen has never saved a single one of the 17 penalties he has faced and he wasn’t about to start against Argentina.
Argentina goalkeeper Romero, meanwhile, saved two shots. The Dutch scored all four from the spot against Costa Rica last Saturday night but Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder were stopped cold by Romero.
Maxi Rodriguez then put his head down and his boot through the ball and smashed it past Cillessen to send his side to Rio for their first final since 1990.
Looking at how the game went, we should have started with penalty kicks. There could not be a more stark contrast with the semi-final between Brazil and Germany than this dour, attritional, dull affair. Belo Horizonte, on the other hand, staged a World Cup semi-final that would be remembered forever.
But all will be forgotten as Argentina won to go through to the final to face Germany on Sunday evening. Nobody remembers how you win, just who wins.
The Netherlands face Brazil on Saturday for the dubious honour of third place.