SAO PAULO: Goalkeeper Sergio Romero saved two shoot-out penalties as Argentina beat the Netherlands to reach the World Cup final for the first time in 24 years on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila).
Romero, who has hardly played for French club Monaco this season, blocked shots from Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder as Argentina won the shoot-out 4-2 after the two sides finished extra time 0-0.
“Penalties are all about luck, that is the reality. I had confidence and thanks to God it turned out well,” Romero said.
The win took Argentina into Sunday’s final at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro where they will face Germany, who they lost to in the 1990 final in Rome.
It is also a repeat of the 1986 final in Mexico City, where a Diego Maradona-inspired Argentina beat West Germany 3-2.
“It’s a great joy. It was a very difficult, very close match,” said Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella.
“Some of our players are sore, beaten, tired — the results of a war, so to speak.”
The match went to penalties after an attritional battle at the Corinthians Arena which saw neither side manage to break through disciplined defending.
A tense, cagey, contest saw barely a single goalscoring opportunity in normal time, save for a Messi free-kick which was gathered by Jasper Cillessen.
Dutch captain Robin van Persie, whose place had been in doubt after a stomach problem, was substituted late in the game after an anonymous evening.
The best Dutch opening fell to Arjen Robben in the closing stages, but his shot from a tight angle after a one-two with Sneijder was superbly blocked by Javier Mascherano.
Louis van Gaal admitted afterwards he had wanted to repeat his successful quarterfinal ploy of bringing on substitute goalkeeper Tim Krul for Cillessen in the shoot-out.
“I would have done it by I had already used my three substitutes so I couldn’t do it,” said van Gaal, who also coached Romero at AZ Alkmaar earlier in the Argentina keeper’s career.
“I taught Romero to stop penalties, so that hurts,” van Gaal joked.
The prospect of an Argentina victory on Sunday rubs salt into the wounds of host nation Brazil, who were still struggling to come to terms with their record 7-1 defeat to Germany.