World Cup: Semi-finals beckon for Argentina, Netherlands

Updated: July 5, 2014
Dutch star Arjen Robben (pictured) has become one of the most polarising figures of these World Cup finals after admitting to diving in the second round game against Mexico

Dutch star Arjen Robben (pictured) has become one of the most polarising figures of these World Cup finals after admitting to diving in the second round game against Mexico

Today’s quarter-finals

Argentina v Belgium; Estadio Nacional, Brasilia, Brazil; Sunday, July 6, 2am

Netherlands v Costa Rica; Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador, Brazil; Sunday, July 6, 6am


After a very “earnest” 24 hours in Brazil (well, earnest if you’re Neymar lying in hospital with a broken back), I thought we’d take a look at some of the left-of-centre moments emanating from the tournament in recent days:



This chart (above) shows the salaries paid to the managers of the 32 nations that earned a ticket to Brazil 2014. Two oberservations – 1) Fabio Capello has a kick-arse manager negotiating on his behalf; and 2) Australia should consider swapping fat-and-unhappy Ange Postecoglou for fat-and-happy Mexico mentor Miguel Herrera, while saving a stack of money at the same time.



When the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse do ride into town, there’s every chance they’ll be saddled upon creatures like this, which looked as if it was about to gnaw on the arm of James Rodriguez after his penalty conversion in the Brazil v Colombia quarter-final. What make a movie called Jurassic Park? Brazil is Jurassic Park!


He smiles, he can wiggle his nose and he can save Argentina seemingly at will with a goal in the last five minutes. Developed with state-of-the-art animatronic technology, robo Lionel Messi has been making the rounds at the 2014 World Cup, posing with fans and appearing in segments for the Globo network, a Brazilian television giant. All good fun, but imagine waking up in the middle of the night to find Robo Messi grinning away at the foot of your bed. Who’s laughing now?


Finally, if you’re going to berate a football superstar for his habit of falling over at the touch of a feather, make sure you’re berating the right player. The USA might be making some ground in terms of being a worthy citizen in the FIFA family, but one pelican still has some work to do. Not that Arjen deserves an apology!


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Confirmed bet

Argentina v Belgium -2.5 (1.5 units @ $1.63); correct score 1-0 (0.5 units @ $6.50) – for Belgian fans with long memories, there’s some unfinished business with Argentina in what has to rate as one of the more unlikely World Cup rivalries. Belgium scored a 1-0 win over Argentina in the first group stage of the 1982 finals in Spain. Then in the game following Diego Maradona’s famed “Hand of God” goal at the 1986 World Cup finals in Mexico, Belgium faced Argentina in the semi-finals. The Europeans had two goals waved off due to incorrect offside calls, only for the Albiceleste to score twice – thanks to Maradona! Of course, Argentina went on to win their second title and have won of their best chances to make it three World Cup wins in this tournament.

They won all three of their group games and steered past Switzerland in the last 16 but they’ve looked far from their best. All four of their victories have been by a single goal margin and they needed extra time against the Swiss. Only Lionel Messi has shone for the champions, and even his genius has come in spurts. Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero, Angel Di Maria and Ezequiel Lavezzi have played cameos to this point. Despite looking shaky at the back, Alejandro Sabella’s side have kept two clean sheets. Javier Mascherano is doing a solid job of shielding the back four and he will have a key role in tracking the runners from the Belgian midfield.

Belgium also required extra time to reach the last eight. A Kevin De Bruyne goal broke the 0-0 deadlock and when Romelu Lukaku came off the bench to add a second, the game appeared over. The US pulled one back though and were probably unlucky not to force penalties. Like Argentina, Marc Wilmots’ men had a perfect record in the group and won all three games by one goal. The defence has impressed but they’ve been somewhat anaemic in attack. The trend of the quarter-finals has been for class to prevail over form, and the class edge certainly lies with the South Americans. However, this hardly looks like a shootout, and we favour Argentina in a low scoring affair.

Confirmed bet

Netherlands -1 v Costa Rica (one unit @ $2.40); +2.5 (one unit @ $2.08) – one fairytale run (Colombia) has ended, and the chances of Costa Rica reaching the last four don’t look great. But they’ll play without fear and give opponents Holland plenty of cheek in this quarter-final match-up in Salvador. The Dutch certainly have history on their side despite never before facing Costa Rica at senior level. European teams are W10 D1 from their most recent 11 encounters with CONCACAF outfits. But the Netherlands are also a World Cup enigma. They’ve never won the tournament despite possessing the best team in terms of talent through the mid-1970s and the late 1980s. Expectations were low ahead of this tournament, but after victories against Spain, Chile and Mexico, that has changed. The equation looks pretty simple for the Dutch here too – unless the Costa Rican defence can stop Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder scoring multiple goals, their tournament is more than likely to end here.

Despite goals being in short supply since the end of the first stage, this is one game that should buck the trend. Each side is missing an important defensive player – Nigel De Jong has been ruled out of the tournament with a groin injury while centre-half Oscar Duarte is suspended for the Ticos. Duarte’s logical replacement Roy Miller is injured so the task falls to veteran domestic league player Johnny Acosta. Both defences will also be feeling the effects of brutal quarter-final match-ups. The Dutch toiled in the relentless midday heat of Fortaleza last Sunday only for Costa Rica to go through 120 minutes then penalties to get past Greece in tropical Recife. And they did so with 10 men for the bulk of the game. Costa Rica captain and Fulham outcast Bryan Ruiz has played for FC Twente and PSV Eindhoven in the Dutch Eredivisie but they’ll need more than his insight to reach the last four.


Note: We’ve across an interesting betting option that is worth consideration. It’s highly unlikely that Costa Rica will win this game without the Dutch scoring, or that it will end in a scoreless draw. On Centrebet (and others), their “teams to score” market has Holland to score at $2.25 and while both teams to score is at $2.10. By betting both for the same number of units, we’re pretty confident that you’ll earn a profit on your money of at least five per cent. Better than bank interest as they say!


Most recent results: 0-0-2, -2.0 units; overall record: 25-1-17, +23.43 units

Brazil v Colombia +0.5hcp (one unit @ $1.92) LOSE (2-1)

France (to qualify) v Germany (one unit @ $2.05) LOSE (0-1)

• Selections are listed in three categories – 1) Suggested (likely bet but yet to be finalised); 2) Confirmed (locked in at the price listed); and 3) Leans (tips, but not recommended bets); all times quoted are Australian Eastern Time (AET); prices with thanks to Sportingbet (except where markets are not available), correct at time of publication. Results/comments on today’s games/races will follow in the next post.

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