Argentina wins penalty shootout, advances to World Cup finals

Argentina's keeper Sergio Romero sent his team to the finals. (Getty Images)

Argentina played the Dutch to a 0-0 draw after 120 minutes, but won the penalty shootout 4-2 to send it to the World Cup finals on Wednesday in Sao Paulo. Argentina will face Germany on Sunday from Maracana Stadium. 

Germany, having destroyed Brazil 7-1, is likely blushing. 

After 120 grueling minutes of steadfast defense, neither offensively gifted side could find the right sequence to break through and stake an advantage. Ultimately it was Argentinian keeper Sergio Romero who decided his team's fate, sending his team to the World Cup finals for the first time since 1990.  

Romero stuffed a relatively poor attempt from Dutch defender Ron Vlaar on the opening round of penalty kicks, and made a diving save to his right against Wesley Sneijder (who was largely absent anyway from Wednesday's semifinal match) to give his side a decisive 2-1 advantage. Sergio Aguero nailed his next attempt while Dirk Kuyt kept Dutch hopes alive with his successful conversion, but staring at the goal, up 3-2, with a chance to send his side to the World Cup finals, Maxi Rodriguez delivered. Holland keeper Jasper Cillessen may have gotten a hand on the well-struck ball, aimed at the keeper's left, but it had too much pace and loft for him to do anything about it. 

The high drama capped an otherwise extremely uneventul match, which saw chances for both sides few and far between. Netherlands striker Arjen Robben had a few close attempts at the start of the first extra time as all of Holland's sequences went through the aging veteran. Perhaps the results would've been different had Robin van Persie shown better in the box or had Sneijder connected a bit cleaner on a few set pieces. Holland's stars were largely its defenders, not its hallowed strikers. The same can be said for Argentina.  

Messi was largely kept under wraps by roving midfielders Nigel de Jong and Georginio Wijnaldum, while Javier Mascherano likely saved a late regulation goal with a sliding deflection off a Robben attempt inside the six. Argentina's best chance throughout the entire match came in the 114th minute from Rodrigo Palacio, but his header was struck directly at the Dutch keeper. Higuain, who scored against Belgium in the quartefinals, had a few cutting chances but the angles just weren't there. 

The other storyline from Wednesday's game revolved around FIFA's continued ignorance towards the concussion issue. Javier Mascherano stayed in the game despite cracking heads with a defender and later stumbling to the ground. Pablo Zavaleta took a brutal shoulder to the face from Dirk Kuyt in extra time that left him on the ground for a few minutes as well. It's not clear whether they were each concussed, but both were allowed to continue as there's no concussion policy from FIFA. With Angel di Maria already missing today's semifinal, injuries could play a factor for Argentina in the final. 

As it is, Argentina survived Wednesday's exhausting affair and will face Germany in the World Cup finals on Sunday.   

SCORE: Netherlands 0, Argentina 0

Penalties: Argentina 4, Netherlands 2

Penalty results -- 

ARG MAKE -- Maxi Rodriguez strikes it to the keeper's left, perfectly. Argentina advances to World Cup final, 4-2.

NED MAKE -- Kuyt nails it into the corner to keep Dutch alive. 3-2 Argentina. 

ARG MAKE -- Aguero knocks it into the corner. 3-1 Argentina.

NED MISS -- Sneijder stopped by a diving Romero. Well struck but Romero guessed right. 2-1 Argentina. 

ARG MAKE -- Garay blasts his attempt into the top of the net. 2-1 Argentina. 

NED MAKE -- Robben drains it into the side netting. 1-1. 

ARG MAKE -- Messi buries his chance vs. Cillessen. 1-0 Argentina

NED MISS -- Vlaar stuffed by Romero with a poor shot down the middle. 0-0 

Keep in mind that Louis van Gaal can't substitute PK ace keeper Tim Krul, having used all three of its subs. 

Palacio's miss: 

120' -- Just one minute away from penalty kicks. Mercifully. 

118' -- Another huge slide tackle against Robben to clear away the danger for the Argentinians. Both teams absolutely exhausted. 

116' -- Maxi Rodriguez collects a volley on the left side off a Messi cross but it's collected again by Cillessen. 

115' -- PALACIO misses a golden chance to end this painful semifinal with a header. Cillessen snags it out of the air to avert the danger. 

110' -- De Vrij blasts one from 35 yards out, but it swerves out of bounds. Has the feel of PKs. 

108' -- Zabaleta was getting his mouth examined on the sidelines. Argentina with 10 men, at the moment. 

106' -- Kuyt smashes into Zabaleta with his shoulder and the defender is down. Looked like he had his bell rung. Again, the concussion question. 

105' -- Messi nails an excellent free kick that Cillessen punches away. Appeared to punch an Argentina forward in the head, as well. That'll do it for the first period of extra time. 

104' -- Huntelaar draws a yellow for a poor challenge on Mascherano. 

102' -- Everything in the attacking third going through Robben now. Van Persie's out, Sneijder's been invisible, leaving it to the aging star. 

SUB: Maxi Rodriguez on now for Lavezzi. 

98' -- Robben fakes right, cuts left and frees up some space to rip a rocket towards the right post. Bounces, but Romero handles it, impressively. Quality of play is building for the Dutch. 

96' -- Selfish moment from Robben as he holds onto ball inside the six instead of giving it up to a cutting striker. It earned a corner, but the Dutch haven't exactly been dangerous in those situations today. 

SUB: Van Persie coming off, for Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. 

94' -- Another terrible entry cross from Kuyt. Lot to be desired by Dutch midfielders, especially Sneijder. 

93' -- You know who likes this? Germany likes this. 

We're going to extra time, as if that wasn't clear about an hour ago. Could favor Argentina as Dutch went to extras against Costa Rica in the quarterfinals on July 5. 

Just your average World Cup saving tackle from Mascherano: 

90'+ -- Three minutes of stoppage time. 

90' -- Robben NEARLY with a goal, but Mascherano tracks back and deflects his shot out of bounds. Great combination from Dutch midfielders. There was the chance. Will there be more? 

86' -- Messi slotted a dangerous ball to Aguero, but he hesitated and didn't put it on goal, despite the slight angle. Game opening up, just a bit. 

85' -- Demichelis with a nice slide tackle on Robben, who predictably drops to the ground. Corner given. Corner taken. Nothing on goal. Still. 

82' -- Rojo rips an outside shot, no trouble at all for Dutch keeper. At least it was on frame, which is more than the Netherlands can show. 

Argentina SUBS: Palacio on for Perez, Aguero coming on for Higuain. 


77' -- Horrible entry from Wesley Sneijder on a set piece. Every one has been either out of bounds or way too high. Very little from him and Robben, and hell, van Persie, too. 

75' -- Heartstopping moment as Higuain looked to have put Argentina in front off a cross. Side of the net, though. Still nil-nil. 

74' -- Janmaat rips a dangerous cross and van Persie tries an ambitious bicycle kick. Called for offsides, but it's something from the Oranje. 

Probably still cursing from yesterday's result, too: 

71' -- Each side has two of the best strikers in the world, and yet no one can break through against huge numbers in the back. It's 2-on-4, 2-on-5 every time for Messi or Robben. 

67' -- Dirk Kuyt plays it in along the left side, but Garay is there again to clear it out with his head. Now Janmaat is down after bashing heads with a defender. Unsure whether he's coming out or not. 

66' -- Better work from the Dutch as Sneijder is getting deep inside Argentina defense. Still no dangerous chances but touches, possession are there. 

63' -- Rain: It's raining a lot in Sao Paulo. Ball running quickly on through balls. 

SUB: De Jong off, Jordy Clasie on. Injury probably didn't have De Jong fit for the entire game. 

60' -- Crowd's chanting picking up in favor of, obviously, Argentina. Only thing worse than yesterday's beatdown for Brazil would be to see Argentina advance to final, in Brazil. 

58' -- Lavezzi flicks one in for Higuain from the right side who bounces it down with his head, but he can't get a clean attempt. Inches away for Argentina. Great defending, again, from the Netherlands. 

55' -- Huge tackle from Vlaar as Messi nearly cracked one from the edge of the box. Set up from a nice carry by Perez along the left side. All made possible because Dutch defenders pressing extremely high. 

52' -- Getting more and more of a sense as each offensive attack falters that Messi is going to be the difference. He's shown flashes of brilliance in between three or four Dutch defenders, but hasn't pulled the trigger. 

49' -- Argentina's defense was supposed to be its weak link, but it stuffed Belgium and so far, Holland. 

48' -- Robben yanked down by Demichelis, who draws a yellow. Robben may have had the turn and a one on one with his preferred left foot. Free kick, as it is. Sneijder knocks it over. Not even close. 

46' -- We're off. Martins Indi subbed out for Daryl Janmaat in the Dutch defensive third. 

HALFTIME: Netherlands 0, Argentina 0

The first half was a conservative grind as both teams probed each other's defensive third. It was hardly the stuff of yesterday's shock. 

The Dutch didn't record a single shot on goal against Argentina, while a Messi free kick was just about the only real chance his side had. The roving striker struck it well from the edge of the box, but it was directly at Jasper Cillessen. Dutch forward Arjen Robben was noticeably absent, while Robin van Persie drew a few offsides flags. 

The only other news of the first half was that FIFA continues to ignore the dangers of concussions. Argentina midfielder Javier Mascherano went up for a challenge against Georginio Wijnaldum, and the two knocked heads. The former stumbled a few steps before falling to the ground. Naturally, he stayed on the field.

"It is mind boggling that there is no independent, independent, of either team, from FIFA, on the sidelines to deal with brain injuries. It's ridiculous," Taylor Twellman said. 

We'll monitor his status and hopefully see a few more chances in the second.  

Here's his stumble. He was allowed back onto the field. 

45'+ -- Messi plays a perfect ball into space along the left side but it's crossed high and unplayable instead of at the feet of Higuain, who's visibly upset. That'll do it for the first 45. 

44' -- Martins Indi picks up a yellow as Messi dances his way past him with the ball. Defender just reached his arm out to slow him down. Angled free kick coming, but keeper eventually catches it on the fly. Poor delivery. 

42' -- Sneijder plays a harmless free kick into the box and ball ends up being played all the way back to Cillessen. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. 

39' -- Been really impressed with Holland's defense thus far. Not only shackling Messi, but offsides traps and overall tackling have been excellent. Seem to have every angle covered on crosses. 

38' -- Think I just ensured five goals in the next seven minutes. You're welcome. 

37' -- Sure, yesterday got out of hand quickly, but, um, not too much has actually happened in this semifinal. 

On that Mascherano head knock: 

31' -- Back-to-back punches from GK Sergio Romero extinguishes any Dutch hope of a chance from distance. Van Persie flagged for offsides. Thus far, Robben has been remarkably absent, as well.  

Garay's chance off the 24' corner: 

28' -- Yep, he " seems okay," says broadcaster. Guess that settles it. 

26' -- Javier Mascherano down after a mid-air collision with Wijnaldum. Looks like docs are checking for concussion. Mascherano stumbled for a few steps and then fell. Not being carried off, still unsure if he's staying on. 

25' -- Van Persie almost settles the ball off a huge lob, but Garay was back in time to limit the danger. Would've been a one-v-one chance for RVP. 

23' -- Perez mistouches a short lead pass to a cutting Messi, but it goes for another corner. Argentina building, and Netherlands with all kinds of numbers in the back (even van Persie). Garay heads it way over the bar off the corner. 

21' -- Better corner attempt from Messi, but Blind heads it to safety. Surprisingly few chances nearly halfway through the first. 

19' -- Zabaleta crosses it to Higuain, but De Vrij has it covered. Corner coming (ultimately botched by Messi). Argentinians picking on Holland's left side, relentlessly. 

16' -- Both teams playing well out of the back, holding possession and building chances. Not a ton of low-percentage lobs or through balls from either side. Both sides going at huge lengths not to concede the ball. 

14' -- Messi blasts it through the wall, but Cillessen catches it with ease. 

13' -- Perez gets knocked down just outside the box by Vlaar. Huge set piece here for Argentina/ Messi.  

11' -- Robben stays on his feet near the box. Your first shocker of the game. Sneijder misses a chance far left from the top of the box. 

Sounds about right: 

9' -- The Dutch are terrified of Messi. Nine men back to defend the Argentine wizard. Fizzled quickly, but it doesn't take much space for him. 

5' -- Argentina with early advantage in possession. Have created a few nice sequences through attacking midfielders Perez and Higuain along right flank. 

2' -- Big step from Stefan De Vrij to deny an early Argentine chance. Both teams, as expected, feeling each other out. All we ask is that it's more entertaining than yesterday's meltdown.  

1' -- We're off from Sao Paulo. 

Keep in mind: If Holland wins, we're guaranteed our first European World Cup winner for a South American World Cup. Also, Argentina is 5-0 this tournament.  

Argentina vs. Netherlands | Kickoff: 7/9, 4 p.m. ET | Stadium: Corinthians, Sao Paulo

PREGAME: Here's to hoping that today's semifinal matchup isn't nearly the destruction of yesterday's display. A few interesting notes now that we're inside of an hour until kickoff from Sao Paulo. 

Sergio Aguero won't start for Alejandro Sabella's side, meaning that the the dangerous striker could provide a late-game boost as a substitute after missing all of the elimination games thus far with a groin injury. 

The Dutch's feisty midfielder Nigel de Jong will, in fact, start after he was earlier expected to miss the rest of the World Cup with another groin injury. He'll have a massive responsibility from the midfield in trailing Lionel Messi. It also appears that Robin van Persie (stomach illness) will start for the Dutch as well.'s World Cup semifinal predictions, here:

Argentina starters: Romero, Garay, Zabaleta, Biglia, Perez, Higuain, Messi, Mascherano, Demichelis, Rojo, Lavezzi

Netherlands starters: Cillessen, Vlaar, De Vrij, Martins Indi, Blind, De Jong, Van Persie, Sneijder, Robben, Kuyt, Wijnaldum

Match Preview: Entering Wednesday's semifinal, Argentina has a chance to return to the World Cup finals for the first time since 1990, having already surpassed the quarterfinals stage where its campaign was halted in three of the last four tournaments. It will face the Netherlands, whom it famously dispatched in the 1978 finals, 3-1. 

The winner will take on Germany, who destroyed Brazil 7-1 on Tuesday. 

In a 1-0 win over Belgium, Argentina showed its defensive mettle by impeding chance after chance against all of Belgium's weapons. It wasn't so much keeper Sergio Romero as it was the back four, including central defenders Ezequiel Garay and Martin Demichelis, who served as the wall in front of Romero. It's equally as important to note that Argentina's eighth-minute goal scorer wasn't Lionel Messi. Instead it was Gonzalo Higuain who struck first, signifying that while the team may be built around Messi, it can survive without his scoring brilliance (at least for one day). That defense must be as foolproof as it was in the quarterfinals, especially against the counterattacking exploits of its orange opponents. 

Standing in Lio Messi's way is a Dutch team long on confidence after stunning Mexico and outlasting a feisty Costa Rican team in penalty kicks. Its unabashed coach Louis van Gaal chose to substitute his keeper ahead of penalty kicks in what amounted to a stunning yet prescient decision. Thanks, in part, to successful penalties from Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben, the Dutch snuck through. After lighting up the group stages with 10 goals, it's managed just two tallies in the elimination rounds. Argentina has scored just two goals as well without having conceded any in the knockout rounds. 

The Dutch have a slight chance of getting hardnosed midfielder Nigel De Jong back from injury, but the latest concern revolves around Robin Van Persie's "stomach problem." His status is in doubt for Wednesday's clash in Sao Paulo. 

Argentina will certainly be without Angel Di Maria (leads his team with 25 shots), who injured his right thigh in the first half against Belgium. Di Maria's absence leaves Messi even more vulnerable to ceaseless man-marking from the Dutch side. Striker Sergio Aguero should return from an injury to his thigh, and perhaps we might see Maxi Rodriguez in place of Di Maria, but needless to say, this puts more pressure on Messi to elude defenders, attack in tight areas, and faciliate. 

Goals were scored at a feverish pace during the group stages, while teams have shored up leaky backlines thus far in the elimination rounds (save for, of course, Brazil's abomination on Tuesday). Even though Wednesday's match features the sublime talents of Messi and Robben, don't expect anything other than a one-goal difference, either way. Argentina must also be wary of some late Dutch magic as it's fostered three comeback wins thus far in the World Cup. 

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