Argentina will make it through to their first World Cup final in 24 years if they beat the Netherlands at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo on Wednesday. Four years ago, many of Messi’s Barcelona team-mates returned to Catalonia with a World Cup winners’ medals and now he wants one of his own.
“As a player winning a World Cup is the best there is,” the Argentina captain said in an adidas interview published on AS. “It’s something you dream about when you are a kid and it never disappears.
“I have asked my Barcelona team-mates Xavi, (Andres) Iniesta and (Gerard) Pique what it is like to lift the trophy, and they couldn’t explain. We will do everything to make this dream a reality. To play a World Cup final with the great atmosphere of the Maracana is something what every player dreams of, but first we have to make sure we get there.”
Argentina will, of course, be banking on their talisman to deliver that bit of magic to beat Louis van Gaal’s Netherlands, who have been one of the toughest teams to beat at the World Cup. Alejandro Sabella poetically summed up what Messi means to his side after the narrow quarter-final win over Belgium. “He was our water in the desert,” Sabella said, reflecting on a first half in which Messi shone while others around him struggled.
Messi, who has scored four of Argentina’s eight goals, could still end the tournament as top scorer, but he is not concerned about individual accolades. This is a team game, he insists. “I’d prefer the World Cup than the golden boot. Always,” he said.
“I am only concentrating on the team. If we concentrate on our own game and we prepare ourselves tactically then our football will do the talking. If I keep scoring goals and that helps the team then that is the most important thing.”
If Messi was feeling any nerves on the eve of the semi-final in Sao Paulo then he was not showing it. “I am feeling positive pressure,” Messi said. “It’s a great honour to be captain of Argentina. I want to pay back the trust given in me leading Argentina to the World Cup.”
Sabella has been boosted by the return of Sergio Aguero from a muscle injury for the semi-final. Angel Di Maria may be out, but impressive full-back Marcos Rojo returns from suspension.
Van Gaal: Van Persie a doubt
Captain Robin van Persie may miss tonight’s semi-final as he is struggling with an upset stomach. Van Persie has been instrumental in the Netherland’s run to the last four of the tournament, but he had to train separately from his team-mates on Tuesday after complaining of a stomach problem.
Coach Louis van Gaal confirmed on the eve of the game in Sao Paulo that his star striker, who has scored three goals in Brazil, is a serious doubt for the last-four clash. “He has a stomach problem, an intestinal problem. I don’t know (if he will play),” Van Gaal told a press conference.
“I will decide (on Wednesday). Van Persie is our captain so he is very important to us. In principle my captain always plays, but he has to be fit.”
There was some good news for the coach as injury doubts Ron Vlaar and Leroy Fer took part in training. In an interesting development, midfielder Nigel de Jong was also involved even though he had been expected to miss the rest of the World Cup after suffering a groin injury in the group stage win over Mexico.
“If his reaction is good and he can play, then the miracle can come true,” Van Gaal said. But even if De Jong makes a shock return to the XI for the Argentina match, it will mean nothing if Van Persie is ruled out.
The Oranje have relied heavily on the Manchester United striker, and fellow star Arjen Robben, in Brazil. Both players scored in the penalty shoot out win over Costa Rica which sent the Dutch through to their second successive World Cup semi-final.
That match was a draining affair as the European side laid siege on the Costa Rica goal, but they could not beat Keylor Navas inside 120 minutes. Van Gaal thinks his players will have recovered their fitness by the time they face Alejandro Sabella’s team. “In general I give the players two days to recover, so if you have one day less it’s an issue, a problem,” Van Gaal said. “But a top athlete can perform so my players will be in shape.”