SAO PAULO — Argentine goalkeeper Sergio Romero saved two penalties in a shootout with the Netherlands on Wednesday to take his country through to the World Cup final for the first time since 1990.
Lionel Messi’s Argentina beat the Dutch 4-2 in a penalty shootout after their cagey semifinal in Sao Paulo finished scoreless. The South American country plays Germany in Sunday’s final in Rio de Janeiro.
The drab match was the polar opposite of Germany’s 7-1 annihilation of Brazil in the first semifinal 24 hours earlier. But Romero, who barely played for his Monaco club side last season settled matters by repelling penalties from Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder.
Argentina and West Germany met in the World Cup final in 1986 and 1990. The Argentines took the first match, while the Germans won in 1990.
Germany (1954, 1974, 1990) has three World Cup titles, but hasn’t been victorious as a unified country. Argentina won in 1978 as hosts and in 1986 in Mexico. A European country has never won a World Cup hosted in the Americas.
It was the second time that the Netherlands, who lost the 2010 final to Spain, were beaten on penalties in a World Cup semifinal. The Dutch fell to Brazil in 1998.
“We have given everything and I’m incredibly proud of this team,” star striker Arjen Robben said after.
“It came down to penalties and they simply did better,” he told Dutch broadcaster NOS. “To lose like this simply sucks, it hurts.”
The result was particularly cruel for Vlaar, who marshaled his defense imperiously throughout the game.
Messi had no answer to the Aston Villa centerback’s decisive interceptions. But the Barcelona superstar can nonetheless still hope to confirm his greatness in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday when he appears in his first World Cup final.
Although reserve goalkeeper Tim Krul had saved two penalties in the Netherlands’ shootout success against Costa Rica in the quarterfinals, coach Louis van Gaal kept faith in Jasper Cillessen this time.
Van Gaal had triumphed by bringing Krul on for the penalty shootout against Costa Rica, but this time he turned to striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who replaced struggling star Robin van Persie.
Romero’s saves from Vlaar and Sneijder put Argentina in a commanding position and with Messi, Ezequiel Garay and Sergio Aguero all scoring, it was left to Maxi Rodríguez to deliver the spot-kick that sent Argentina into the final.
It was only Argentina’s second win over the Netherlands in nine attempts — their first since the 1978 World Cup final — and it enabled Messi and his teammates to pay appropriate homage to Argentine great Alfredo Di Stefano, who died on Monday aged 88.