SAO PAULO: Argentine goalkeeper Sergio Romero saved two penalties in a shootout with the Netherlands on Wednesday to take his country through to the World Cup final for the first time since 1990.
Lionel Messi’s Argentina beat the Dutch 4-2 in a penalty shootout after their cagey semi-final in Sao Paulo finished goalless. They play Germany in Sunday’s final in Rio de Janeiro.
The drab match was the polar opposite of Germany’s 7-1 annihilation of Brazil in the first semi-final 24 hours earlier. But Romero, who barely played for his Monaco club side last season settled matters by repelling spot-kicks from Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder.
It was the second time that Holland, who lost the 2010 final to Spain, were beaten on penalties in a World Cup semi-final. They fell to Brazil in 1998.
“We have given everything and I’m incredibly proud of this team,” Dutch star striker Arjen Robben said after.
“It came down to penalties and they simply did better,” he told Dutch broadcaster NOS. “To lose like this simply sucks, it hurts.”
The result was particularly cruel for Vlaar, who marshalled his defence imperiously throughout the game.
Messi had no answer to the Aston Villa centre-back’s decisive interceptions, but the Barcelona superstar can nonetheless still hope to confirm his greatness in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday when he appears in his first World Cup final.
Although reserve goalkeeper Tim Krul had saved two penalties in Holland’s shootout success against Costa Rica in the quarter-finals, coach Louis van Gaal kept faith in Jasper Cillessen this time.
Romero’s saves from Vlaar and Sneijder put Argentina in a commanding position and with Messi, Ezequiel Garay and Sergio Aguero all scoring, it was left to Maxi Rodriguez to dispatch the spot-kick that sent Argentina into the final.
It was only Argentina’s second win over the Netherlands in nine attempts — their first since the 1978 World Cup final — and it enabled Messi and his team-mates to pay appropriate homage to Argentine great Alfredo Di Stefano, who died on Monday aged 88.