SAVING GRACES Goalkeeper makes 2 penalty kick saves to lift Argentina to World Cup final
ARGENTINA 0, NETHERLANDS 0
PENALTIES: ARGENTINA, 4-2
SAO PAULO, Brazil -- On a team that boasts the firepower of Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero, among others, it took a goalkeeper to propel Argentina into the World Cup final on Wednesday night.
Keeper Sergio Romero made two saves and his teammates converted all four of their attempts to boost the South Americans over the Netherlands in penalties, 4-2, in a semifinal match at Arena Corinthians.
The penalties broke a scoreless draw after 120 tedious minutes.
The Argentines will meet Germany for the FIFA World Cup trophy in the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET. The Germans surprised host Brazil behind a stunning 7-1 semifinal triumph on Tuesday.
Romero started Argentina on the right foot in the shootout, diving to the right to deny defender Ron Vlaar. Messi then converted his attempt to give the South Americans a 1-0 lead.
In the second round, the teams traded conversions as Dutch striker Arjen Robben (lower right) and Argentina defender Ezequiel Garay (upper corner) put their tries away.
Romero then went to his left to deny Wesley Sneijder in the third round before Aguero slotted his attempt to the lower left.
Dirk Kuyt kept the Dutch alive by firing in his effort into the lower right corner, but second-half substitute Maxi Rodriguez drilled his attempt off the hands of goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen for the winning score.
Cillessen, who had been replaced by Tim Krul to stop PKs in the quarterfinal vs. Costa Rica, was forced to stop the spot kicks yesterday. In fact, he had never stopped a penalty as a professional entering the match in 16 attempts; add four more goals.
In contrast to Tuesday's semifinal, Wednesday's affair was a lot tighter as dangerous scoring opportunities were few and far between for both sides.
The Dutch had the very first chance in the 13th minute when Sneijder sent an attempt wide left and that essentially was it for the Netherlands. For the next 15 minutes or so, the Argentines enjoyed the majority of possession, but had nothing to show for it.
Messi had the honor of putting the lone shot on goal by any of the 22 players on the pitch. That came on a free kick in the 15th minute. He powered a 24-yard shot through a slot in the defensive wall that Cillessen had no problem seeing or catching.
The Argentines earned a series of corner kicks, but the Dutch defended them well. The closest encounter the South Americans had in the first half occurred in the 24th minute, when Garay attempted a diving header that sailed over the crossbar.
Argentina got a scare in the 26th minute when veteran holding midfielder Javier Mascherano went down after he clashed heads with the Netherlands' Georgino Wijnaldum while going for the ball at the halfway line. After he was worked on by team officials, a dazed Mascherano left the field and came back on three minutes later.
The Dutch finally got a free kick within scoring range five minutes into the second half, but Sneijder botched a 28-yard effort by booting his attempt well over the bar.
The rest of the half essentially was back-and-forth play with both sides not getting a dangerous opportunity close to their opponent's goal. The Argentines, however, being from the western Hemisphere and the sole American team still alive in the competition, had to be feeling the pressure since many pundits had them going to the final.
Argentina thought it had taken the lead in the 75th minute as Higuain appeared to have scored but the goal actually hit the side netting and not the back of the net as the linesman held up his flag to signify no goal.
The Dutch came very close to securing a dramatic win early in stoppage time when Robben raced into the left side of the penalty area with only the goal on his mind, but Mascherano came in and made a game-saving tackle that turned a potential close encounter into a corner kick.
Dutch striker Robin van Persie, whose semifinal availability was in doubt due to a stomach bug that took him out of Tuesday's training session, went 96 minutes before he was replaced by Klaas Jan Huntelaar in extra time.
Minutes later, his strike partner, Robben, tried to put an end to what had become a tedious affair by firing a left-footed shot from distance. The ball bounced once before Romero gathered it in.
The South Americans gave their supporters some hope in the 115th minute when second-half substitute Rodrigo Palacio tried to head the ball past Cillessen from close-range, but could not get much power on his attempt. Two minutes later, Rodriguez had an opportunity to play hero as Messi floated in a right-wing cross that he volleyed on one bounce to the keeper.