|Ron Vlaar (left) and Dirk Kuyt of the Netherlands in a tussle for the ball with Lionel Messi, in Sao Paulo, on Wednesday. (Reuters)
Sao Paulo: Argentina and the Netherlands were level at 0-0 at half-time, in their World Cup semi-final match, on Wednesday, with Lionel Messi’s side having most of the play and creating the best chances.
Messi’s low free-kick around the wall was saved by Dutch ’keeper Jasper Cillessen in the 15th minute and Ezequiel Garay’s diving header from Ezequiel Lavezzi’s whipped-in corner went over the bar with the Argentina defender under pressure from Ron Vlaar.
It became a little messy in the closing stages of the first-half as both teams indulged in some reckless play. While Martin Demichelis took a wild hack at Wesley Sneijder without there being any real need for it, Bruno Martins Indi obstructed Messi in an ugly manner with his body. Martins Indi, in fact, was booked for persistent fouling.
There were some moments of tension for Argentina during the half-hour mark when there was a clash of heads between Javier Mascherano and Georginio Wijnaldum. A dazed Mascherano fell face-forward to the ground. He was even caught by a concerned Wijnaldum. But after treatment, the Argentine midfielder was up and about again.
Argentina created a host of opportunities, though none of them were really too strong.
In the 23rd minute, there was some tension in the Dutch goalmouth off a Lavezzi corner. Garay managed a header from six yards out, but it was off target. In the 15th minute, Enzo Perez was clumsily brought down by Vlaar, 25 yards from the goal. Messi stepped up to take the resultant free-kick and fired a low shot through the left-hand side of the wall, looking for the bottom left corner. But Cillessen was right behind it, gathering with safe hands.
In the 9th minute, Higuain and Messi took turns to run at pace down the inside-right channel. The Dutch somehow managed to crowd them out, but for a second they were being pressed back towards their own area by the Argentine.
Earlier, Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal included midfielder Nigel de Jong in the starting line-up. De Jong completed a remarkable recovery after straining his groin muscle in the last-16 game against Mexico on June 29.
Striker Robin Van Persie also started despite suffering from stomach problems before the game.
As expected, Argentina made two changes to the team who beat Belgium in the quarter final. Perez came in to replace the injured Angel Di Maria and Marcos Rojo takes the place of Jose Basanta. (Agencies)