Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Billy Hamilton: Argentina will need magic to see off Holland

Holland winger Arjen Robben

Holland's semi-final with Argentina tonight will bring back memories of the 1978 World Cup final between the sides.

What an occasion that was with Argentina emerging triumphant in Buenos Aires with the Netherlands losing their second decider in a row.

Everyone who watched it remembers the ticker tape celebrations. I imagine there will be similar scenes in the Argentine capital if Lionel Messi delivers against the Dutch, like Mario Kempes did 36 years ago.

I mention Messi because, as I've said all along where Argentina are concerned, whether they win the World Cup or not will be down to him.

And yes, that is even after I criticised him in Monday's paper for having a quiet game in the quarter-final victory over Belgium.

Apart from that I think Messi has had a great World Cup, scoring four goals.

I have a feeling after not shining as he can against Belgium that he will put on a firework display in the semi-final.

It wouldn't surprise me if the Dutch assigned two or even three men to police Messi once he gets the ball. The thing about the Barcelona star is that he is good enough, in tight areas, to find team-mates with a pass so that they can exploit the space he has made for them.

While Messi is the matchwinner in Argentina's ranks, Arjen Robben deserves that title for Holland.

Like Lionel, the Bayern Munich man has been superb.

Think back to all the games that the Dutch have played in Brazil and you will realise that Robben is at the centre of all that is good for Holland.

He is a more direct player than Messi and invites defenders to commit and give away free kicks or penalties.

While Robben has impressed in all the games, Holland, as a team, will have to improve on their last eight showing against Costa Rica for the semi-final with Argentina.

I'm in Canada as I type this and was really interested to hear one Canadian commentator say that 'the team which woke up the tournament (Holland) with their demolition of Spain are now putting us to sleep with their tactics'!

I wouldn't go as far as that, but I would concede that the Dutch are playing more cautiously and I wouldn't be confident that approach will change tonight.

It will be a really interesting match and I believe it will be a close one too.

I'm really looking forward to it. In a World Cup semi-final players put everything on the line and this one should be no different. There is so much to gain and so much to lose.

My tip? Argentina to reach the final with Messi the main man, though don't be surprised if it goes to extra time.

One final point... I couldn't believe Brazil contested the booking of captain Thiago Silva, which led to a suspension for last night's semi-final with Germany. I know they are hosting the World Cup, but they don't own it!

Northern Ireland can learn from Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a small nation. Fewer than five million people live there so most of the time when they play football matches they face bigger nations — like Northern Ireland.

Ahead of the Euro 2016 qualifiers, Northern Ireland should learn from what Costa Rica achieved at the World Cup.

Nobody expected them to reach the quarter-finals and they only went out on penalties to Holland. They shone because when they didn't have the ball they were organised brilliantly and when they did have the ball they weren't afraid.

The players were willing to work for manager Jorge Luis Pinto and each other. When you put that much effort in, there are rewards. Northern Ireland take note.

Diving frowned upon in all corners of the globe

As you may have read above, I'm in Canada at the moment. Downtown Toronto is an interesting place — it's a melting pot of different nationalities, who drive around proudly flying the flag of their respective countries.

Conversely, the World Cup, which in my opinion is the greatest show on earth, barely gets mentioned.

Unlike the total coverage in the Belfast Telegraph, there are only about two columns relating to the World Cup in the national press here.

Talking to the locals though they have enjoyed the World Cup, feeling it has been entertaining to watch on television. One thing they hate though is seeing players diving.

Can't argue with that.

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