Argentina: 24 years dreaming of the next 90 minutes

The time is now for Argentina. In the semifinal of the Brazil 2014 World Cup, Alejandro Sabella’s men will face the Netherlands, in a rematch…
Argentina: 24 years dreaming of the next 90 minutes

Argentina’s Lionel Messi (10) and his teammates celebrate following their 1-0 victory over Belgium to advance to the semifinals after the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match at the Estadio Nacional in Brasilia, Brazil, Saturday, July 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

The time is now for Argentina. In the semifinal of the Brazil 2014 World Cup, Alejandro Sabella’s men will face the Netherlands, in a rematch of the 1978 final, in hopes to make good the hard work that has landed the team in a semifinal round of the top tournament in the planet 24 years later.

The last time Argentina was in this spot, Caniggia tied up an early goal by ‘Toto’ Schilaci, and then beat Italy from the penalty spots in order to meet up Germany in the final.

Since then until today, Romania, the Netherlands, and Germany twice –plus the 2002 debacle in which the albiceleste didn’t even make it out of the group play—have become the ogres in the history of Argentina and their quest to make it back to a semifinal round.

But now it’s not time to think of the past for the albiceleste, and rather it’s time to rejoice and enjoy such a crucial match.

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Argentina has not had a brilliant World Cup, but they have reached their main goal, which was to make it to this second to last step before being able to fight for the cup.

24 years of repressed dreams and hopes should fuel Sabella’s squad beyond any problems the team is facing: Angel Di María, who has been the most piercing attacker in the squad thus far, will miss the match against L’Oranje, and most likely also the eventual final against Brazil or Germany; the national team Manager also has doubts about who should team up with Garay in the back and with Mascherano in the middle, although so far all his options have played out quite well.

While it is true that Argentina hasn’t faced the toughest of teams in this tournament –Bosnia, Iran, Nigeria, Switzerland and Belgium–, winning the first five games in a World Cup is no easy feat and now, Argentina can only hope to raise their performance level along that of his rivals.

Lionel Messi has had a quiet yet efficient championship. With four goals, some of them in key moments of the matches –and one out of this world against Iran–, any other player would be more than happy to call their World Cup performance outstanding, but Messi is different.

Argentina’s number 10 is regarded by many as the best player in the planet, and seeing the rivals his National Team has faced up until now, it would have been expected for Messi to really make a stand. Instead, he has shown the version that excites his fans the least, but at the same time he has shown a commitment to the team unseen in his last year at Barcelona.

Messi is happy with Argentina, he’s enjoying every minute of this World Cup, it’s quite apparent, and he also understands that he has the responsibility of making the team the champion of the tournament.

That is the feeling that can make Lio’s World Cup move from good to great, and he has the most appropriate scenario to achieve this change against the Netherlands.

Like Argentina, the Netherlands also hasn’t had a walk in the park in Brazil. Aside from the impressive beating they imposed on Spain in their tournament opener, Louis Van Gaal’s men had a really hard time cracking the likes of Australia, Mexico and Costa Rica.

Costa Rica is out of the World Cup

Netherlands’ goalkeeper Tim Krul, center left, celebrates after making the final save in a penalty shoot out during the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match between the Netherlands and Costa Rica at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Brazil, Saturday, July 5, 2014. The Netherlands won 4-3 0n penalties after the match ended 0-0 after extra time. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

A last-minute —and polemic— penalty kick scored by Huntelaar gave L’Oranje the passing grade against a bullish Mexico, and a genius move by Van Gaal before the PK shootout against Costa Rica in the quarterfinal, subbing his starting goalkeeper for a “specialist”, made a dent in the Ticos morale and saw the Netherlands land a spot in the semifinal.

But regardless of how difficult it’s been for the Dutch to make it this far, one man has single-handedly carried the team, and that’s Arjen Robben.

Bayern Munich’s winger has already scored three goals, and also has demonstrated to be in the best shape of his career. His outrunning of Sergio Ramos in the tournament opener is one of the postcards from the World Cup, and his performances against Mexico and Costa Rica, albeit not getting the reward of a goal, were simply superb.

So much so, that Robben is the best poised player to be chosen as the Golden Ball of the tournament, and Argentina’s defense, where Sabella is still not sure if Rojo or Basanta will close the wing on the left-hand side, will need to take special care of him.

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Of course, Lionel Messi will have a lot to say on whether or not Robben becomes the best player in the World Cup. The Argentine will face his first top-tier team of the tournament, and should be excited to show what he has in store.

The four-time Ballon d’Or winner has been heavily criticized in Barcelona this year because there were clear signs that he was “saving up” for the World Cup. It’ll never be fully proved, but his approach to the World Cup games with Argentina has been totally different to the ones of the last months at Camp Nou.

But perhaps he can’t really even be blamed, should he really had been saving up with his club. At 27, Messi will reach the Russia 2018 World Cup as a veteran 31-year-old, and there’s no saying what his career will be like by then.

Due to that, this seems to be the right time, as Brazil presents the clearest opportunity for Messi to win a World Cup and look Diego Maradona face to face as the best of all time.

It was precisely Diego the one who lead the albiceleste the last time they were in this spot. 24 long years ago, at “his” home stadium of San Paolo, Napoli, Maradona helped Argentina beat the World Cup host to earn a spot in the final.

Now it’s Messi’s time, and there’s no room for mistakes. Messi knows that and a whole nation backs him up, as they have been waiting and dreaming of this moment for the last 24 years.