Messi's chance to emulate Maradona
LIONEL Messi kept running into a determined Dutch defensive wall, but Argentina are still in the World Cup final and the little genius will get his chance to emulate Diego Maradona.
A disciplined defensive display by the Netherlands ensured that the tense Sao Paolo semi-final was dragged into a penalty shoot-out that Argentina won 4-2 to set up a date with Germany at the Maracana stadium on Sunday.
Messi, 27, confidently dispatched Argentina's first spot-kick, but before that he offered little, his enthusiasm dulled by the man-marking he was subjected to for the first hour by Nigel de Jong.
If Messi can match Maradona and captain Argentina to World Cup glory, this will be remembered as his tournament - even more satisfactory on the territory of rival Brazil.
But it was not his semi-final on a dreary and cold evening at the Corinthians Arena.
The Barcelona man was pivotal in taking Alejandro Sabella's side to this stage, with his match-winning performances in Group F wins over Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria.
In the last 16, penalties loomed against Switzerland when his run late in extra time set up the winning goal for Angel di Maria, and he helped set up Gonzalo Higuain's quarter-final clincher against Belgium too.
But here, the tactical cunning of Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal snuffed out Messi's threat and ensured that this match became the first World Cup semi-final to end 0-0.
De Jong surprisingly came back into the side just 10 days after tearing a groin muscle while playing against Mexico in the last 16 and was handed the task of shadowing Messi everywhere.
For an hour, there were shades of Claudio Gentile's infamous performance against Maradona in Spain in 1982, when the Italy defender shackled the young genius as holders Argentina bowed out in the second phase.
Against a superbly drilled Dutch defence marshalled by Ron Vlaar, Messi threatened only from an early free-kick that goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen saved.
Even when de Jong was withdrawn and Jordy Clasie was brought in for his World Cup debut, Messi did not look like a threat, but fortunately for him Holland did not appear interested in trying to win the game.
Messi will always be compared to Maradona, the captain of the Argentina teams that won the World Cup final on home territory in 1986 and were beaten by Germany in the final four years later in Italy.