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Improved Argentina enjoying a thin edge

At the very start, let me make one thing clear — though trying to predict the result of a penultimate round World Cup match is a risky affair, I think Argentina will hold a thin edge over The Netherlands when the two teams meet in Sao Paulo’s Arena Corinthians on Wednesday night.

I would also like to stress that the presence of Lionel Messi in the Argentine side is not the only reason why I have decided to stick my neck out.

I know The Netherlands-backers have strong motives to feel confident.

While the Dutch made a stunning start to the tournament by outclassing defending champions Spain and have two lethal strikers in Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie, the Argentines were too dependent on Messi magic.

At the same time, as the World Cup progressed, I felt that the two-time world champions looked a more organised side than The Netherlands.

I do not agree that the Dutch are a more intelligent and cohesive unit than Argentina. Instead, the South Americans have impressed me with their ability to regroup quickly.

To add to it, they would definitely hold the advantage of playing in their own continent.

The absence of Angel di Maria is a blow to Argentina’s attacking thrust, but his replacement Enzo Perez did a good job against Belgium.

All said and done, there is one man — Louis van Gaal — who can upset all calculations sitting at the Dutch bench.

Though I am not too sure whether it was a great strategic move by Van Gaal when he substituted his goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen with Tim Krul at the end of the extra time against Costa Rica, the Dutch boss has certainly taken a series of right decisions in this tournament.

Even if fielding Krul was more of a gamble that clicked remarkably, how can one forget Gaal’s masterstroke of bringing in Klaas Jan Huntelaar against Mexico that decided the fate of the match.

Or the introduction of Leroy Fer, who scored within a minute after coming against Chile in the group league?

If my intuitions are right, Gaal will go for a straight 4-3-3 style to reduce the space in defence. Leading the Dutch defence would be Daley Blind, who looked impressive in this tournament with his strong passes and clever decisions.

Sometimes during the course of tournament I felt if there was one man, who was truly overshadowed by Messi, it was Alejandro Sabella.

The Argentine manager was a fine midfielder during his playing days and as a coach, Sabella had gained experience in Italy, Uruguay and Brazil before taking up the national duty.

A clever operator, who prefers to maintain a low profile, Sabella, I think, would use Ezequiel Garay as his primary weapon to blunt the speedy and skilful Dutch forwards in the attacking third.

The central defender is not only good at intercepting the passes at that crucial area, but also comes through with perfect tackles.

The job would be very tough and though Argentina have not conceded since the group stage, it will prove easier said than done through the 90 minutes against Robben and Van Persie.

After having discussed all the pros and cons and the impending strategic warfare between Van Gaal and Sabella, I would again say that one squeeze of Messi’s golden boot could seal the fate of the semi-final.

No doubt we are in the midst of watching one of football greatest talents in many years.

My only worry is that the Dutch ambitions to make the fourth final could turn them nasty in this match.

We know from our experience in 2014 World Cup that The Netherlands could be extremely physical and intimidating.

Fifa should give special instructions to the referee to protect the beautiful game.