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Argentina Beats Netherlands, Advances to World Cup Championship

Argentina's Lionel Messi (L) and his teammate Pablo Zabaleta celebrate winning their 2014 World Cup semi-finals against the Netherlands in Sao Paulo July 9, 2014.
Argentina's Lionel Messi (L) and his teammate Pablo Zabaleta celebrate winning their 2014 World Cup semi-finals against the Netherlands in Sao Paulo July 9, 2014.
Mike Richman

Argentina positioned itself to win its first World Cup in nearly 30 years, beating the Netherlands in a penalty shootout, 4-2, after a scoreless draw.

The Argentines converted all four of their penalty shots against Dutch goalie Jasper Cillessen.  Maxi Rodriguez put away the winning kick.  Argentine goalie Sergio Romero saved penalty shots by Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder.

The result Wednesday at rainy Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo means Argentina plays Germany in Sunday's championship game at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.  

Argentina is seeking its third World Cup title, having won in 1978 and 1986.  Germany has won three titles: 1954, 1974 and 1990.  

Argentine coach proud

"I'm very happy because we reached the final, and now we will see what we can do," Argentine coach Alejandro Sabella said.  "We will give everything as usual, with humility, work and 100 percent effort.  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."

The Netherlands and Argentina engaged in a grind-it-out affair with limited scoring opportunities.  Cillessen saved a free kick by Argentine superstar Lionel Messi in the 20th minute, and a shot by Argentina's Gonzalo Higuain in the 75th narrowly missed the inside of the net.  One of the Netherlands' top scorers, Arjen Robben, fired a shot from the box in the 90th, but it was defended well.

For the Dutch, one of the highest-scoring teams in this year's World Cup, this was their second straight game decided by penalty kicks.  They beat Costa Rica in a quarterfinal penalty shootout, but Romero was there to stop them this time.  He did not start for his Monaco club most of last season, but has yielded only three goals in the World Cup.  

"[Penalties] are a question of luck, that is the reality," Romero said.  "I had confidence in myself and, fortunately, everything turned out well.  Hope has been intact since day one."

Wednesday's game marked the fifth time in World Cup history a semifinal went to penalty kicks.  Messi, a four-time FIFA World Player of the Year, converted the first shot for Argentina, followed by teammates Ezequiel Garay, Sergio Aguero and Rodriguez.

For Messi, it is widely believed a World Cup championship will elevate him to the same mythical plane occupied by another Argentine football legend, Diego Maradona.  Maradona almost singlehandedly lifted his country to the World Cup title in 1986, in part with his famous "Hand of God" goal in the quarterfinals against England.  He is considered by many to be the second greatest football player of all time behind Brazilian extraordinaire Pele.

Argentina has won all six of its World Cup matches this year.  The Dutch, who were denied a fourth trip to the World Cup finals, finished 5-1.

Football powers to collide

Argentina and Germany, two of the perennial world football powers, have met twice before in the World Cup championship game.  Argentina won in 1986, and the Germans won in 1990.

This time, the Argentine team, which depends heavily on the play of Messi, will be facing a well-rounded German squad with an array of offensive weapons such as attack man Thomas Mueller.  Germany is the highest-scoring team in the tournament with 17 goals.

In Tuesday's semifinal game, Germany gave one of the most breathtaking displays of offensive firepower in World Cup history in a 7-1 rout of host Brazil.  Germany scored five goals in the first 30 minutes, with four coming in a six-minute span.

Brazil and the Netherlands will play for third place on Saturday in Brasilia.

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