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At halftime: Netherlands and Argentina scoreless at half with all to play for

Jul 9, 2014, 4:55 PM EDT

Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates after Angel di Maria scored his side's only and winning goal in extra time during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Argentina and Switzerland at the Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Tuesday, July 1, 2014. Argentina defeated Switzerland 1-0 to move on to the quarterfinals. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez) AP

After an unpredictable first-half yesterday, things are back to normal today with the Netherlands and Argentina scoreless at halftime.

Things began predictably tense with both sides adopting conservative approaches that saw forwards dropping into the midfield and midfielders dropping into defense with Javier Mascherano, Nigel de Jong, Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie and Gonzalo Higuain all guilty of the offense.

Argentina was the first to loosen things up when a 14th minute attack resulted in a Lionel Messi free-kick that he stroked pure but directly at Jesper Cillessen. Ten minutes later and the Argentines were at it again with Ezequiel Garay putting his diving header just over the bar, thanks to good defense from Ron Vlaar.

Holland proceeded to forgo possession in favor of a more direct attack and it proved fruitful as a pair of 32nd minute crosses required Argentine goalkeeper Sergio Romero to rise strongly and punch away. But Louis van Gaal’s side failed to sustain the pressure, instead opting to put 10 men behind the ball in defense and await opportunities on the break.

For both sides, they didn’t come. Will the second half prove more eventful?

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Goals:

None.

Other key moments:

14′: Enzo Perez made a streaking run up the right side but Messi was fouled before he can find the through-ball. From 20 yards out Messi’s free-kick was hit hard but well saved by Cillessen.

25′: Messi earned a corner that was swung in beautifully for Garay but the defender’s diving header was sent over the bar.

26′: Mascherano clashes heads with Bruno Martins Indi on a 50-50 ball and was left dazed and confused. The Barcelona man shook it off but it was yet another moment where, if this match were in America, Mascherano’s day would’ve been finished.

35′: Ezequiel Lavezzi was played over the top and found some space down the right side but his service to Gonzalo Higuain was interrupted by a sliding Ron Vlaar.

38′: With Messi in possession on the right side Martins Indi threw a bad elbow at the Argentine with the referee cautioning the defender. Meanwhile, Wesley Sneijder limped off following a kick to the ankle by Martin Demichelis only to return minutes later.

Questions for second half:

Can Argentina overcome the Dutch defense?: Things got more difficult for Argentina’s attacking success with Nigel de Jong in the game but grew even worse when Van Gaal instructed his team to put 10 men behind the ball. Argentina possessed but had little success moving forward. What success they did have came from Pablo Zabaleta and Perez linking up on the right side, giving Daley Blind and Martins Indi headaches. If the Dutch defense is going to break, this looks the most likely spot. Zabaleta must continue to push forward as Mascherano provides coverage.

Where is Robben?: After a brilliant first five matches in this World Cup, Arjen Robben has gone silent. But it’s not for lack of effort as the Dutch midfield has been unable to get him the ball despite his dropping deep. With Garay and Rojo shutting him down, Robben may want to come more central or even switch to the left where Zabaleta’s bombing runs may leave Argentina exposed. One way or another, if the Dutch are to win they need Robben to step up.

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