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Argentina edge Dutch in PKs

Argentina players begin to celebrate after beating Netherlands in penalty kicks 4-2 on Wednesday in its World Cup semifinal match at the Corinthians arena in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Argentina will face Germany in the final on Sunday. Reuters photo

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) — Argentina reached their first World Cup final in 24 years on Wednesday, beating the Netherlands 4-2 on penalties after the first scoreless semi in the tournament’s history, with old foes Germany awaiting them in Sunday’s showpiece.

The match will be a repeat of the 1986 and 1990 World Cup finals, the first of which was won by Argentina before the then West Germany gained revenge four years later.

Argentina’s win compounded the misery for hosts Brazil who were humiliated 7-1 by Germany on Tuesday before seeing their worst fears realized when their traditional rivals booked a place in the sport’s biggest game at the Maracana on Sunday.

Midfielder Maxi Rodriguez scored the decisive penalty for Argentina after their goalkeeper Sergio Romero had saved spot kicks from Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder, triggering wild celebrations among Lionel Messi’s triumphant team.

“I’m really happy with everything,” keeper Romero said. “(Penalties) are a question of luck, that’s the reality ... I had confidence in myself and, fortunately, everything turned out well.”

Wednesday’s second semi-final in Sao Paulo could not have been more different than Tuesday’s goalfest in Belo Horizonte but the sheer tension of the occasion had fans on the edge of their seats.

“I’m very happy because we reached the final and now we will see what we can do,” said Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella. “We will give everything as usual, with humility, work and 100 percent effort.”

Neither Argentina or the Dutch created many chances in a dour game that was dominated by defense but ultimately came down to a battle of nerves when they finished deadlocked at 0-0 after 90 minutes of normal time and 30 minutes of extra time.

For players and fans, the tension was almost unbearable and it was the Dutch, who have played in three World Cup finals, including the last one in Johannesburg four years ago, but never won one, who fluffed their lines in the shootout.

“A competition is about first place, everyone knows that, being fifth or sixth is nothing,” said Netherlands manager Louis van Gaal. “I didn’t have the feeling in the second half that we would lose. And when it comes to penalties you know it’s a lottery.”

It was also a second semifinal defeat on penalties for the Netherlands who suffered the same fate against Brazil in 1998.

Dutch striker Arjen Robben rued his team’s “grim” exit.

“It hurts but we gave it our all this evening and it’s grim going out in this way,” Robben said.

Sabella said he was happy with his team’s performance, but singled out midfielder Javier Mascherano who kept out Robben’s effort on goal with a brilliantly timed tackle near the end of normal time with the score at 0-0.

“Mascherano is a symbol,” he said. “I would say he is an outstanding player. He is an emblem within our national squad on the field of play as well as off it.”

Substitute Sergio Aguero converted a penalty in the shootout.

“It means so many things, a lot of people didn’t think that Argentina would be in the final, but we know what a good team we have,” he said.

But van Gaal was left to regret the fact he could not use his specialist penalty-saver Tim Krul in the World Cup semifinal shootout which they lost 4-2 to Argentina on Wednesday.

Jasper Cillessen had never saved a penalty in his professional career and he failed to stop all four spot-kicks.

The Dutch beat Costa Rica on penalties in the quarterfinals after Van Gaal brought on substitute keeper Krul just for the shootout and he made two fine saves.

Van Gaal had used all three substitutions against Argentina, including taking off exhausted striker Robin van Persie in extra time, so Cillessen had to stay on the field after the match ended 0-0.

“If I had had the opportunity to substitute Jasper I would have done that but I had already used three substitutes so I couldn’t do that,” the Dutch coach said. “I thought it was necessary to get Van Persie out because he was on his last legs,” he added. “My feeling was that (Klaas-Jan) Huntelaar would make the goal.”

He was also left to rue the fact that Argentina keeper Romero emerged as his team’s hero by saving two of the four Dutch spot-kicks, a player Van Gaal knows well.

“The penalty series is always a matter of luck,” the Dutch coach said. “And, of course, I taught Romero how to stop penalties so that hurts.”