Argentina win World Cup semi shootout
Traditional Dutch frailty in penalty shootouts again proved their Achilles heel when they lost 4-2 on spot-kicks to Argentina today in a goalless World Cup semifinal.
The win sent Argentina to their first World Cup final since 1990 and relegated Netherlands to the playoff for third against Brazil. Argentina would play Germany on Monday (NZT).
Today, Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal was forced to use defender Ron Vlaar as his first penalty taker and he was also left to regret being unable to send on his expert spot-kick saver Tim Krul for the shootout - like he did against Costa Rica.
''I asked two players to take the first kick before deciding on Vlaar because I thought Vlaar was the best player on the field and I thought he had a great deal of confidence,'' Van Gaal said.
''But it goes to show, when push comes to shove it is not easy to score a penalty kick. Everybody knows that.''
Van Gaal did not name the other player he had asked to take the first kick, a task handed in the quarterfinal win over Costa Rica to striker Robin van Persie who was substituted in extra time against Argentina.
Arjen Robben and Dirk Kuyt scored their penalties, but midfielder Wesley Sneijder also missed while the Argentines converted four out of four to reach Monday's final against Germany.
The Dutch have now lost two out of three penalty shootouts at World Cups as well as three out of four in European Championships.
''When you take one you have to score and that didn't happen, so it wasn't good enough,'' Vlaar said.
''I would never walk away from my responsibility. I wasn't nervous, I was focused. But it must go in and it didn't.
''It's tough, but that's what sport is about,'' he added.
''It really hurts, a dream which gets put out.''
Van Gaal also rued the fact he could not use substitute Krul in the shootout as he did so successfully against Costa Rica.
First-choice Jasper Cillessen had failed to stop any of the 13 penalties he has faced in his professional career and that number increased to 17 today.
Krul made two fine saves in the shootout against Costa Rica, but Van Gaal had used all three substitutions against Argentina so Cillessen had to stay on the field.
''If I had had the opportunity to substitute Jasper I would have done that, but I had already used three substitutes so I couldn't do that,'' the Dutch coach said.
''I thought it was necessary to get Van Persie out because he was on his last legs,'' he added.
''My feeling was that (Klaas-Jan) Huntelaar would make the goal.''
Argentina keeper Sergio Romero emerged as his team's hero by saving two of the four Dutch spot-kicks and he is a player Van Gaal knows well.
''The penalty series is always a matter of luck,'' the Dutch coach said.
''And, of course, I taught Romero how to stop penalties so that hurts.''
Van Gaal brought Romero to AZ Alkmaar in 2007 when he was coach and although he later said his comments were made in jest his hurt was evident.
''It is the most terrible scenario to lose on penalties at the very least we were the equal party in the match if not the better team so that of course is a big disappointment,'' he said.
Argentina goalkeeper Sergio Romero told his compatriots to ''enjoy the moment'' after saving two penalties in the semifinal shootout win over the Netherlands.
''Enjoy the moment, we will enjoy it and tomorrow we will start working for the final,'' he said in a televised interview.
''I feel immense happiness, I'm really happy with everything. (Penalties) are a question of luck, that is the reality. I had confidence in myself and, fortunately, everything turned out well.
''Hope has been intact since day one,'' he added.
Romero, who was voted man of the match for his shootout heroics, had warm words for both coaches.
''I went to the dressing room to thank him (Van Gaal),'' Romero told reporters.
''He is someone who helped me a lot when I arrived in Holland, in a completely different country, with different customs, where they spoke a completely different language.
''At the beginning I didn't speak a word, and he spoke Spanish and he helped me a lot. So just as I am grateful to [Argentina coach] Alejandro [Sabella], I am also grateful to Van Gaal for everything he did for me.''
BATTERED AND BRUISED
Sabella said it had been a very difficult and tight game.
''I'm very happy because we reached the final and now we will see what we can do,'' he said.
''We will give everything as usual, with humility, work and 100 percent effort.''
He voiced concern over having less time to recover for Monday's final in Rio de Janeiro than opponents Germany, who crushed Brazil 7-1 yesterday and were able to rest players in the second half with the result all but secure.
''We could do with a couple more days to rest, but what is important is that we made it to the final,'' he said.
''Let's see how we handle it.
''Some of players are sore, beaten, tired. It is the result of a 'war' and we will give you the full report as to the casualties tomorrow.''
He said he was happy with his team's performance, but singled out midfielder Javier Mascherano who kept out Arjen Robben's effort on goal with a brilliantly timed tackle near the end of normal time with the score at 0-0.
''Mascherano is a symbol,'' he said.
''I would say he is an outstanding player. He is an emblem within our national squad on the field of play as well as off it.''
Substitute Sergio Aguero converted a penalty in the shootout.
''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,'' he said.
Argentina are not intimidated by facing Germany in the World Cup final despite seeing them tear hosts Brazil to shreds in the semis, striker Gonzalo Higuain said today.
''There's no intimidation, not at all. There is respect. They will also be worried that Argentina is in the final,'' Higuain said.
Germany thrashed Brazil 7-1 in one of the most shocking results in soccer history, but Higuain said Argentina had no reason to fear anyone.
''We're in the final and the other stuff doesn't matter. Everyone who plays struggles and fights to the death.''
The Netherlands will face Brazil in Sunday's third place playoff, but it is not a match the Dutch want to play, with coach Louis van Gaal saying it was a pointless exercise that ''has nothing to do with sports''.
''I think this match should never be played and I've been saying this for 10 years,'' Van Gaal said.
''It is unfair we have one day less to recover than our opponent so that is not fair play either,'' he added.
''But the worst thing is I believe that chances are that you lose twice in a row. And a tournament in which you've played so marvelously well you would go home as a loser just because you could possibly have lost the last two matches and this has got nothing to do with sports in my view.
''So, in a football tournament particularly not at the last stage you shouldn't have players playing match for third-fourth place. Because there is only one award that counts and that is becoming world champion.''