Jul 9, 2014, 9:13 PM EST
It was, in the purest sense, a match neither side wanted to lose.
Holland and Argentina, both within a sniff of the World Cup final, had clear defensive objectives heading into their semifinal clash on Wednesday night.
Argentina’s objective: prevent Arjen Robben from being Arjen Robben.
Holland’s objective: prevent Lionel Messi from being Lionel Messi.
Ultimately, both game-plans ended in success as the two stars were prevented from scoring during regulation and extra time. But whereas both found it difficult to get into the match, it was Robben who shook off the cobwebs to become the danger man everyone has grown to fear.
After a first-half where Javier Mascherano, Enzo Perez, Martin Demichelis and Marcos Rojo beat, battered and double-teamed Robben out of the match, the second-half saw the Dutch wonder assess his situation and make changes to find the ball. With Jordy Claise on for Nigel de Jong, the Dutch began spraying balls out wide and it clicked for Robben: get out of the middle and demand the ball.
He went wide right, then wide left and then back to the right. He looked to dart up the wings as well as take his dribbles on the diagonal. Was it a notable performance for Robben? Not particularly. But he kept trying, kept searching for answers and eventually, was rewarded with two glorious chances to score in the 91st and 96th minutes only to be denied by the brilliant Javier Mascherano.
Messi had similar problems with worse results. He had to deal with guys like Bruno Martins Indi, who was all too happy to thump Messi any chance he had, and Nigel De Jong, who hasn’t seen a shin he doesn’t like to crack. La Pulga’s true nemesis, however, came in the form of a heaving Ron Vlaar who played out of his mind making a handful of sensational slide tackles on the Argentine.
The physical approach was nothing that Messi hadn’t seen in every match he’s played in over the last ten years. The problem was, he let it get to him. It wasn’t just infringements that prompted Messi to throw his hands in the air, it was legal tackles.
His frustration was palpable. And yet, instead of searching for solutions, Messi seemed content standing on the center-backs and simply drawing defenders away from the ball. Which is a fine technique in small doses but for prolonged periods of time? When you’re supposedly the best player in the world?
That’s not good enough.
When Messi did look to see more of the ball it was always through the middle of the pitch where he was promptly swarmed by defenders. And when that didn’t work, well, that was it. He rarely went wide. He didn’t look to change his link-up approach with Gonzalo Higuain or Sergio Aguero. It appeared, for all intents and purposes, that Messi was out of ideas.
Of course, Messi is never out of ideas. But the fact that he didn’t seem bothered to change his approach – to demand the ball, to ask for more from his teammates – was puzzling. How could his influence become so dulled on the one stage he had waited to so long to perform on?
Just 24 hours before the match news broke that a friend of Messi, Argentine journalist Jorge Lopez, had died in a car crash in Sao Paulo.
And just like that, the analysis of Messi’s anti-influence comes to a screeching halt.
So often we expect professional athletes to play through news and events that deeply affect their lives. Is it reasonable? No. But because the greats are just that, legends in human form, we expect them to rise up and conquer no matter what life throws at them.
On Wednesday, Messi faced difficult circumstances and was unable to be the hero we all expect him to be. Thankfully, fate – and four quality penalties – awarded him a second chance. And on Sunday he can prove the semifinal a flash in the pan by going on to stake his claim as the greatest footballer to ever walk the earth.
Mar 2, 2015, 11:16 PM EST
It’s been a tough run for Southampton, but it’s not the first bump in the road this season.
Mar 2, 2015, 10:00 PM EST
RVDV to SKC? Bild says they’re making their play, and offering lots of cash.
Mar 2, 2015, 8:30 PM EST
Reports of racist abuse are up 70 percent, which is actually a good thing, because it’s being reported more than ever before.
Mar 2, 2015, 7:15 PM EST
John Terry knows he’s fighting every year for a new contract at Chelsea, and it’s inspired the best form of his career.
Mar 2, 2015, 7:00 PM EST
Chicago has only made the playoffs once in the past five seasons, but with some big offseason signings, the Fire could cause problems in the East.
Mar 2, 2015, 6:41 PM EST
Sherwood’s putting all his eggs into Tuesday night’s derby basket, for better or for worse.
Mar 2, 2015, 5:17 PM EST
The title race was minutes from being OVER; it’s still probably over. Tevez’s goal was an absolute beauty.
Mar 2, 2015, 5:00 PM EST
Last season’s worst team in the West has a new stadium and high hopes for 2015.
Mar 2, 2015, 4:21 PM EST
Jerseys, jerseys, jerseys! More new jerseys!
Mar 2, 2015, 3:30 PM EST
Where and how to watch every single PL game on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Mar 2, 2015, 3:15 PM EST
The 23-year-old German defender was attempting to win a loose ball, and instead struck a strong ball past his keeper.
Mar 2, 2015, 3:00 PM EST
After finishing with the fewest points in MLS last season, the only way to go is up for Montreal.
Mar 2, 2015, 2:20 PM EST
Why wait for the season that might not happen, when we’ve got all the answers for you right now?
Mar 2, 2015, 2:14 PM EST
The captain has been out since Feb. 10, while Ibe was hurt in last week’s Europa League dismissal by Besiktas.
Mar 2, 2015, 1:30 PM EST
Bocanegra will work with MLS Atlanta president Darren Eales, who has worked with Premier League clubs West Bromwich Albion and Tottenham Hotspur.
Mar 2, 2015, 12:36 PM EST
The Daily Mail had reported that three cops cars stormed a Premier Leaguer’s apartment earlier Monday to make the arrest.
Mar 2, 2015, 12:22 PM EST
KC only has two Designated Players — Matt Besler and Zusi — and RVDV would be a nice match provided the money works for both parties.
Mar 2, 2015, 12:00 PM EST
The Lions will roar into MLS after several successful seasons in the third-tier. How will Orlando fare in 2015?
Mar 2, 2015, 10:48 AM EST
Hull takes on Sunderland, Bruce’s old club, on Tuesday.
Mar 2, 2015, 10:06 AM EST
PST’s Editor and Lead Writer take a look back at Week 27 in the Premier League.
- PHOTOS: LA Galaxy, Real Salt Lake, Montreal Impact, Chicago Fire unveil new 2015 jerseys 1
- WATCH: Midweek Premier League TV schedule – Week 28 0
- 2015 MLS predictions: Cup winners? MVP? Lampard or Gerrard? Kaka or Giovinco? 2
- MLS Atlanta makes shrewd hire, bringing in Carlos Bocanegra as technical director 0
- BBC report: Sunderland’s Adam Johnson arrested on suspicion of sex with a 15-year-old girl 4
- Premier League Playback: Why Manchester City are throwing away the title 0