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July 09. 2014 9:55PM

Argentina tops Netherlands in shootout to reach final


Argentina's Lionel Messi (10), Pablo Zabaleta (4), Martin Demichelis (15) and Lucas Biglia (6) celebrate after goalkeeper Sergio Romero makes a second save on a shot at goal by Wesley Sneijder of the Netherlands during a penalty shootout in their 2014 World Cup semi-finals at the Corinthians arena in Sao Paulo on Wednesday. (REUTERS/Dylan Martinez)

SAO PAULO, Brazil — Argentina’s Sergio Romero saved two penalties in a 4-2 shootout win over the Netherlands to reach its first World Cup final in 24 years after the first-ever goalless semifinal at the end of extra time on Wednesday.

Romero plunged low to his left to save the first penalty kick from defender Ron Vlaar and then made a superb stop from Wesley Sneijder as Argentina’s jubilant fans went wild at the Corinthians arena.

The pressure of scoring the winning penalty kick fell to Argentina substitute Maxi Rodriguez, who slotted high past Jasper Cillessen, with the Dutch keeper failing to emulate the heroics of backup Tim Krul in their quarterfinal win over Costa Rica.

Two-time champion Argentina now travels to Rio de Janeiro for Sunday’s final against old rivals Germany, who thrashed hosts Brazil 7-1 in the other semifinal in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday.

It will be a repeat of the 1986 and 1990 finals and the first time the same two teams will have faced each other three times in the title games.“...I’m really happy with everything,” goalkeeping hero Romero said in a televised interview. “(Penalties) are a question of luck, that’s the reality... I had confidence in myself and, fortunately, everything turned out well.”

Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella added: “I’m very happy because we reached the final and now we will see what we can do. We will give everything as usual, with humility, work and 100 percent effort.”

“I didn’t have the feeling in the second half that we would lose,” said Netherlands manager Louis van Gaal. “And when it comes to penalties you know it’s a lottery. The boys did fantastically (well). Nobody had expected this.”

With Brazil’s harrowing defeat still fresh in the mind, caution was the watchword of a tactical first half as both sides felt each other out and battled for possession across the pitch in a defense-dominated encounter short on entertainment.

Nigel de Jong, best known for his chest-high kick on Spain’s Xabi Alonso in the 2010 final which the Dutch lost, completed a remarkable recovery from a groin injury to play in midfield and clearly had orders to shadow Argentine playmaker Lionel Messi.

Argentina had equalled its longest winning streak at a World Cup with its 1-0 victory over Belgium in the quarterfinals, but all five of those wins were by one-goal margins and it were even less creative without the injured Angel di Maria.

Four-time World Player of the Year Messi, who was kept quiet by his standards, did test Cillessen with a free kick early on while Ezequiel Garay stooped to head a corner over the bar under pressure from Vlaar, but chances were few in a dire first half.

The second period was equally cautious as the Dutch failed to record a shot on target for the entire 90 minutes before Arjen Robben burst into the box in the dying moments, only to be denied by Javier Mascherano’s well-timed block.

Argentina substitute Rodrigo Palacio missed a good chance in the second period of extra time when he broke clear and his tame header was held comfortably by a relieved Cillessen before Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir called for the shootout.

Netherlands defender Vlaar said of his missed attempt: “In the penalty I wasn’t nervous. I concentrated. It had to go in and it didn’t.

“We didn’t get that many chances (during the game). We could have created more chances, but we didn’t. We didn’t get the chance to score and that’s a shame.’’

Argentina substitute Sergio Aguero, who converted his penalty in the shootout, said of the victory: “It means so many things, a lot of people didn’t think that Argentina would be in the final, but we know what a good team we have.”


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