Perennial bridesmaids, the Netherlands, are on the verge of reaching a fourth World Cup final, but Louis van Gaal will need his best striker to be fit if he realistically wants to meet Germany in the Maracana on Sunday.
Robin van Persie has been struggling with a stomach problem that could rule him out of contention of the final four tie against Argentina.
The Manchester United forward may not be as heavily relied on by his teammates as Lionel Messi is, but he is still an integral part of a Dutch attacking triumvirate that also includes Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder.
Between them, van Persie, Robben and Sneijder give their side impetus going forward, and look the most likely to turn the screw and break teams down.
Costa Rica may have sustained a clean sheet for 120 minutes in the quarter finals, but that isn’t to say that van Gaal’s side weren’t knocking on the door. Some great saves from Keylor Navas helped take the contest to a penalty shootout.
The Dutch held their nerve to book a semi final against Argentina – a repeat of the 1978 World Cup final, which the South American side won on home soil.
But now they are in desperate need of their best players if they are to progress through to the tournament decider. At this stage in the competition – as Brazil unexpectedly discovered – if you don’t turn up, then you are unlikely to sneak through another round.
Argentina have arguably done just that up until now, but with Messi always looking dangerous, they have a ‘get out of jail free’ card up their sleeve. The Barcelona forward’s ability to win a game out of nothing will stand Alejandro Sabella’s side in good stead.
With the four-time Ballon d’Or winner to contend with, Holland’s attack might be required to out-score Messi. If that is to be achieved, they will need the experience and ability of van Persie.
The 30-year-old hasn’t scored since the group stages, but had a plethora of chances against both Mexico and Costa Rica – only to be denied by some world-class goalkeeping.
As he showed with his instinctive headed goal in the opening game against Spain, the veteran striker can also produce moments of magic that can sway a result.
Both semi finalists rely heavily on their respective frontlines, and as a result, Robben will still prove himself to be a thorn in the side of the Argentines. However, without van Persie in support, it may be too big a challenge for the winger.
If the silver fox does play, then neutrals could be rewarded with a thrilling match involving some of the best players in the world. If not, then there could be a Messi-inspired Dutch drubbing.
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