Murray off The Mark At The 02 Arena

Andy Murray claimed his first win at this year’s ATP World Tour Finals this evening. The World Number 6 defeated Canadian Milos Raonic 6-3, 7-5 to keep his hopes of qualifying for the semi-finals alive.

Following a dismal opening group match performance against Kei Nishikori, in which he looked tired and listless; Murray found himself on the brink of elimination. Defeat tonight would have sent him crashing out of the tournament.

Eager to make up for Sunday’s debacle, Murray came out of the blocks quickly. From the moment he punctuated winning the first game with a steely fist pump, it became apparent the real Andy Murray had arrived in London.  Not the tired, energy sapped, mopey Murray but the other one, the athletic and intense baseliner who won 20 of 23 matches en route to qualifying for the tournament. He tortured Raonic with his consistent, crafty point construction, coaxing the Canadian into a number of forehand errors in the opening set. In addition to his erratic play from the baseline Raonic struggled to find his first serve. His delivery, perhaps the most patented weapon in tennis (when he gets it in court that is) went AWOL. He only managed to put a meagre 37% of his first serve into play in set one. Murray’s sharpness paid dividends and in the 6th game of the set Raonic sent a forehand long to gift the Scot a break of serve. Murray then went on to close out the opener: 6-3 in 37 minutes.

In his defeat to Federer on Sunday Raonic bounced back from a poor opening set, pushing the World Number 2 harder in the second before losing 7-0 in a tie-break. He would do the exact same against Murray, tightening up his game and reducing his unforced error count. 2-0 down he rallied to break Murray’s serve and level the score. From then on the second was a tight affair. Raonic jumped out to 30-0 leads in two Murray service games but failed to capitalise on both occasions. At the tail end of the second set Murray’s edge in big match experience proved to be the difference between the pair,he played with more conviction and urgency when it mattered most. At 5-5 the 5th seed cranked up the pressure. In a vintage Murray move he scrambled wide to retrieve a seemingly unreachable Raonic approach shot; a burst of speed that left the Canadian so shocked he dumped a routine volley in the net to lose the point and his serve. Murray then duly went on to close out the match in the next game, avoiding a premature exit from a tournament he missed last year through injury.

Murray’s win this evening means he heads into his final group match against Roger Federer with a spot in the semi-finals up for grabs. The round robin format employed at the end of year championships nearly always needs some calculator wielding mathematicians on standby. Provided Kei Nishikori beats Raonic in the other group A encounter on Thursday the loser of the Murray –Federer duel could up failing to reach the semi-finals depending on the number of games and sets won or lost. It could all get very sticky.Following the match Murray spoke about his impending clash with the Swiss Number 1 stating: “I’m looking forward to playing Roger, he’s one of the greatest players that ever played, so to get the opportunity to play against him is excellent”. Murray was much improved today, but not spectacular. Beating an in form Federer still chasing the year end Number 1 ranking will take more than improvement; it will take Murray’s very best.

Mayweather vs Maidaina II Preview: Can Maidaina crack the “Mayvinci code?”

Photo Credit: faboplow31.tumblr.com

Photo Credit: faboplow31.tumblr.com

Floyd Mayweather simply doesn’t do rematches. He beats his opponents so easily, so comprehensively, there is no need for a second encounter. His fallen foes bow out quietly and become part of the statistic that defines Mayweather’s career. The most impressive unbeaten streak in boxing: The 37 year old American’s mark of 46 wins and 0 losses. This May however Marcos Maidana a rugged slugger from Argentina gave Mayweather all he could handle for 12 rounds, before losing by a majority decision.

Following his toughest test this decade, Boxing’s pound for pound number one felt inclined to give Maidaina a rematch. He said immediately after the bout “If the fans wanna see it again, we can do it again.” From that moment the gauntlet was thrown down. For only the second time in the American’s illustrious career he would sign on for a rematch. So here we are Mayweather-Maidaina II “Mayhem” in Las Vegas.

In the final press conference before his first tussle with Maidaina in May, Floyd Mayweather asked in the boisterous manner only he can: “Who can crack the Mayvinci code?” Who could blame him for his bravado? After all in, his 18 year career very rarely had anyone come close to his mastery in a boxing ring. Self-proclaimed “TBE” an abbreviation for The Best Ever, the 37 year old American expected his first fight with Maidaina to be another standard night at his second home, Las Vegas’ MGM Grand. He would walk into the ring and leave it unscathed with another victory, making a fool of his opponent in the process.

Marcos Maidaina had other plans that night. From the opening bell, he charged at Mayweather, throwing punches from all angles, swinging with reckless abandon and landing 221 blows; more than any other of Mayweather’s previous opponents. Following Maidaina’s wild start Mayweather began to weather the storm in the middle to late rounds. He used his superior boxing skills to make his opponent miss before snapping the Argentine’s head back with vicious counters and combination punching, piling up enough points on the judges’ scorecards to win the fight.

Mayweather walked away with the decision but the manner in which Maidaina was able to push Mayweather back onto the ropes and unleash his trademark barrage of wild, looping punches, suggests that at 37 years old the world’s greatest boxer has finally slowed down. After all a younger, fresher Mayweather would have manoeuvred around the ring and used his foot speed to bamboozle his younger foe.

No longer a rank outsider; Maidaina flanked by his trainer Robert Garcia, was quietly confident at this week’s pre-fight press conference. He stated “I am going to take out any doubts in my mind about the first fight. I’ve adjusted now and I think I’ll be ready.” The problem is the world and Mayweather now know what Maidaina is capable of. Floyd knows what to expect and will no doubt adapt to his opponents rough and aggressive style, a fact he alluded to stating “In the end it comes down to skills, smarts and adjustments.” Skills, smarts and adjustments, three things Mayweather has built his sizeable reputation on and the three things that should carry him past Maidana tomorrow night.

Prediction

Mayweather wins by a late knock out.

At long last: Marin Cilic fulfils his potential to crush Nishikori in a one sided U.S. Open Final

Tonight it finally happened. It all clicked for Marin Cilic. An underachiever no longer, the gifted Croatian capped off a fortnight that saw him produce the best tennis of his career with one of the most dominant grand slam final displays in recent memory. Cilic demolished Kei Nishikori of Japan 6-3,6-3, 6-3 in just under 2 hours.

Cilic champ

Cilic is quite simply a freak of nature. At 6ft 6 he glides around the court with the speed of a man 6 inches smaller whilst still packing a punch. He hits huge groundstrokes and boasts a serve that has developed into one of the most imposing weapons in tennis.  Despite having all the tools to succeed; the 25 year old was never quite able to pull it all together. That was until this year when he appointed a new coach: his boyhood idol, 2001 Wimbledon Champion Goran Ivanisevic. Cilic spoke highly of Ivanisevic after the match stating “We’re all working really hard but the most important thing he brought to me was enjoying tennis, and always having fun.” Cilic’s countryman has helped add more pace to his serve whilst also encouraging him to play the aggressive, daring tennis that carried him to the final in New York.

Cilic headed into the match in fine form. The fresher of the two competitors, he wiped out his quarter and semi-final opponents Roger Federer and Tomas Berdych in straight sets whilst Nishikori endured three consecutive wars against Milos Raonic, Stan Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic. Fatigue and nerves proved a potent mixture as Nishikori started the match sluggishly. Cilic on the other hand was swinging freely, the lanky Croatian saved a break point in the first game with a monstrous running forehand winner cross court and never looked back. He vaulted into the lead, taking the first set 6-3.

Even at his best Nishikori would have been hard pressed to stop Cilic. He said after the match “he didn’t allow me to play my game.” The second set saw Cilic grow in confidence as he began to smother the baseline and dominate Nishikori. The Croatian served with Cyborg like precision whilst pummelling the Asian number one from the baseline, even ghosting forward on the odd occasion, winning 11 of 13 net points. The second set just like the first was taken 6-3 by the 14th seed.

Nishikori’s dream run to the final was fast becoming a nightmare; his battered body just couldn’t muster another superhuman effort despite the vocal crowd’s attempts to drag him back into the contest. Cilic was now a set away from history. Sensing that victory was within touching distance, the Croatian broke serve for a 4-1 lead. Nishikori, as game as ever, very nearly clawed his way back into the third set. He had three opportunities to break the Cilic serve whilst 2-4 down, but he wasn’t able to capitalise thanks to his opponents exceptional poise under pressure. Cilic’s response to the second break point- a booming ace, one of the 17 he hit in the match, underlined his dominance. The Croatian then found himself serving for the match at 5-3. On his first match point Cilic showed his first and only sign of jitters- he double faulted.  His second bite at the apple however, saw him fire his 36th and final winner of the match, a backhand cross court to seal the title making him the lowest ranked grand slam champion since Gaston Gaudio at the 2004 French Open. Cilic told post match interviewer Mary Carillo “everything I was working for and dreaming (of) came today.” Cilic was forced to miss last year’s U.S Open, serving an extortionately harsh drugs ban for accidently ingesting a stimulant. A year after being labelled a disgrace, Cilic can be rightly called a champion. Waiting in the shadows, plotting his comeback, Cilic envisioned this moment. The day he finally realised his limitless potential.

The suffering is over: Serena Williams secures U.S. Open title to brighten up a gloomy 2014

Serena us openSerena Williams defeated her close friend Caroline Wozniacki 6-3, 6-3 this evening to win the U.S. Open title in New York. Her 6th win at the event and 18th grand slam title overall.

Seeing Wozniacki’s final backhand sail long was a massive relief for Williams, who has endured a lacklustre season by her otherworldly standards. Overcome with emotion, she fell flat on her back and soaked up the applause on Arthur Ashe stadium, before arising with tears in her eyes. Her celebration told the story of a difficult year rather than a difficult match.

Following a dominant 2013, in which the younger Williams sister compiled a 78-4 win loss record, 2014 has seen Serena crash to earth spectacularly. Heading into the U.S Open Championships at Flushing Meadow she had failed to make it past the fourth round of a grand slam all season. Frustrated by her year of failure, Williams has played this tournament with frightening intensity, swatting all her opponents aside without dropping a set on her way to the final.

Although Wozniacki and Serena are close friends off the court, Williams had no time for girly giggles and gossip tonight. This was her chance to set the record straight and prove she is still the undisputed queen of women’s tennis. Following a nervy few opening games which included 4 consecutive breaks of serve, Serena edged into the lead. She then began to impose her will on Wozniacki pushing her behind the baseline and sending her scrambling across the court. The match was always going to be about Serena’s temperament and mood. If she played poorly Wozniacki could perhaps grind her down, if she played anything close to her best, she would beat her opponent into submission.  It quickly became obvious this was more of a beating than a contest. Serena closed out the first set 6-3, whacking 15 winners in the process.

The second set saw more of the same; Serena stormed into the lead, securing a break of serve in the first game. Wozniacki playing in her second grand slam final (she lost at the same venue against Kim Clijsters in 2010) saved herself from a 3-0 deficit by evading two more break points in the 3rd game of the set, but this was only a temporary moment of respite. Her defensive, dogged style of play was no match for Williams’ trademark power tennis. Training for the New York marathon later this year undoubtedly helped the Dane on her way to the final, Wozniacki ran and ran in her fourth round upset of Maria Sharapova; but she couldn’t do the same tonight. Serena just didn’t give her the chance. Reaching 30-30 on the Williams serve whilst 3-4 down was the closest Wozniacki came to levelling the score in the second set. Serena averted the danger the only way she knows how to; with brute force. She slammed down a huge unreturnable serve to win one point, and followed it up with howitzer forehand to win the next point and take a 5-3 lead.

Serving to stay in the match the younger women finally coaxed Williams into one of her favoured back court exchanges, a dizzying 26 stroke rally that ended with a surprising backhand error by the 10TH seeded Dane. Serena was not going to wilt, she wanted this title, she needed this title and two points later she had it. Wozniacki missed a backhand on match point to give Williams the victory, her 18th grand slam title, tying her with tennis greats Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert for fourth on the all-time winners list. After the match an emotional Williams said “It was a really wonderful feeling. I couldn’t have finished things in a better way. It is a pleasure for me to win here”.

On the same court she claimed her first slam title at the age of 17, Williams’ return home inspired her to produce the tennis that has made her one of the greatest female tennis players of all time. This may have been Williams’ sixth title in New York, but judging by her reaction none have been any sweeter.

Kei the Conqueror

Up until yesterday, no male from the continent of Asia had ever reached a grand slam final. That all changed when 24 year
old Kei Nishikori upset world number one Novak Djokovic in four sets to cap off one of the most astonishing underdog runs in recent memory.

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Every sporting underdog has a classic underdog narrative, Nishikori is no different. A young prodigy from Japan, Kei arrived in America at the age of 14, shy, retiring and unable to speak English.

He may have been quiet off the court but his talent on it spoke volumes. Living and training at the Bollettieri Academy in Florida, the tennis star making factory that has aided the development of ten world number ones, Nishikori honed his skills and embarked on the now infamous assignment dubbed “Project 45”. Japan’s greatest ever male tennis player Shuzo Matsuoka had reached a career best ranking of 46th, Nishikori was charged with the task of surpassing Matsuoka’s ranking and firmly entrenching himself in the world’s top 50. Many thought that if he continued to work hard and make progress, maybe just maybe, the young Japanese star would move into the world’s top 30, the top 20 at a stretch but no further, a tour stalwart perhaps but not a world beater.

One of the few who envisioned Nishikori’s rise to the upper reaches of the sport was 13 time Grand Slam Champion Rafael Nadal. After being pushed close by a then 18 year old Nishikori at Queens Club in 2008 he remarked “He is very, very good. He is going to be top 10 for sure, top five”

Nadal’s prophetic words would follow Nishikori around the globe as he marched up the world rankings. He eclipsed the number 45 ranking in 2010 and hasn’t looked back since. Up until this point 2014 has been a banner year for Nishikori. He went on a tear this spring, winning 14 matches in a row en route to clinching ATP Tour titles in Memphis and Barcelona. Nishikori even had Nadal reeling on his beloved clay in the final at Madrid, leading by a set before suffering a back injury that that eventually forced him to retire.

Off the back of his superb form, the 24 year old entered the World’s top 10 for the first time this May. An achievement made all the more remarkable by the fact Nishikori’s initial target was to break the top 50. The Japenese Number one has proven to be a master at exceeding expectations, but no one would have predicted his spirited run to the final of The U.S Open this week.  Until a few days before the tournament Nishikori was unsure he would play the final grand slam of the year after having a cyst removed from his right foot. Not only has Nishikori played the US Open, he has dragged his 5 ft 11, 150 lb frame to the championship match. Consecutive upsets over top 10 players Milos Raonic, Stan Wawrinka and now Djokovic have seen him prove his mettle and do what he does best; defy the odds.

In tomorrow evening’s final, Nishikori will face a man who is quite literally the final hurdle; 6 ft 6 Croatian Marin Cilic. The 14th seed upended Roger Federer in a second semi-final upset. Grand slam champions from Croatia? We’ve had those, but never have we seen a man from Japan or Asia for that matter lift one of tennis’ four most prestigious titles. From project 45 to Project Grand slam? The stage is set for Kei to conquer once again.

 

 

The Golden Generation come of age: Germany defeat Messi and Argentina in the World Cup Final

Four years ago in South Africa, the footballing world looked in awe as a young German side slashed their way through the knockout stages of the World Cup; before succumbing to eventual champions Spain in the Semi-Finals. Then and there the seeds of future expectation were sown. The question on everyone’s lips: Just how good would this precocious and talented crop of players be the next time the World Cup rolled around in Brazil? The answer was provided emphatically last night in Rio De Janeiro. They would be the best. Germany are World Champions once more; Joachim Low’s men have come of age on the grandest of stages. Mario Gotze’s winner deep into extra time secured a 1-0 victory over Argentina, clinching a fourth World Cup for Germany, their first triumph in Football’s showpiece event for 24 years.

Yesterday evening’s showdown, the 20th ever Fifa World Cup Final; was dominated by one storyline: Lionel Messi’s quest for glory. Messi, almost certainly the greatest player of his generation is no longer considered a mere mortal, he is more a of a cult figure, a legend of the game. In order to cement his status alongside two of the greatest footballers to ever grace a pitch: Pele and Maradona, it was imperative that Messi followed in their footsteps; guiding his nation to World Cup glory. He knew it and the world knew it also, this was his golden opportunity; the chance to place a streak of silver lining on a magnificent career. Whilst it could not be disputed that Argentina’s chances hinged largely on Messi’s genius; Germany on the other hand were touted as the most well rounded team in the tournament. Sturdy in defence and potent in attack, Joachim Low’s Die Mannschaft resembled a flying death machine in the semi-finals; crushing the hosts Brazil by a jaw-dropping 7-1 score line and bringing a nation to its knees in the process. The stage was set for the final encounter, a ruthless and efficient German unit up against a battle hardened Argentine team, spearheaded by a footballing demi-God.

Right from the outset it was clear Germany would not be able to brush Argentina aside in the same manner as their South American neighbours. The Argentines had not conceded a single goal in the knockout phase of the tournament. Their back four, protected by Barcelona’s Javier Mascherano playing in a defensive midfield role, seemed up to the task of breaking down Germany’s fluid attacking play in the games early going. Argentina were content to sit back and soak up the German pressure before launching lightning fast counter-attacks, with Messi and Lavezzi sprinting full throttle at the German defence, looking to supply their lone striker Gonzalo Higuain. The German’s were rattled. For a period in the first half it seemed Alejandro Sabella had concocted the perfect foil to the German’s measured passing game. It was the men in blue who were able to carve out clearer cut goal scoring opportunities in the opening 30 minutes. Their failure to take these opportunities would prove fatal. Higuain, a man regarded as one of the world’s most clinical finishers found himself clean through on goal after an errant header backwards by Germany’s Toni Kroos. In acres of space with time on the ball, he dragged a pitiful effort wide of goal. Just before the half hour mark Higuain was in again. A terrific attacking move by Argentina saw Messi play a clever reverse pass out wide to Lavezzi, who whipped in a low cross that Higuain steered beyond Manuel Neuer in the German goal . Whilst the striker wheeled away to celebrate wildly the linesman raised his flag for offside. Pulses were racing and the favourites seemed to be reeling. Inevitably, Germany began to turn the tables. The introduction of Andre Schurrle to the game, on for Sami Khedira’s last minute replacement Christoph Kramer who failed to recover from a blow to the head early on the match, saw the Germans pick up the pace. They began to settle into a rhythm, their passing much more forceful and direct. The opening half concluded with Germany on the front foot. Left back Benedikt Howedes struck the post with a close range headed effort just before the whistle signalled for half time.

By the end of the first half it was clear we had a true final on our hands. Two closely matched teams battling tooth and nail for football’s most prestigious title, something had to give. 45 minutes gone and Messi had yet to make a telling contribution to the game. The man whose spectre loomed over the final as Christ the Reedemer hovers over the city of Rio De Janeiro, was running out of time to grab his slice of footballing immortality. He sensed it and made his move early on in the second half. In a manoeuvre we’ve seen him execute countless times before in a Barcelona shirt; the 27 year burst into the penalty area and attempted to roll a side footed finish into the corner of the net.  Agonizingly, he pulled his golden opportunity wide of the post. As the game wore on goalless and the tension increased, the crisp quality of the first half was replaced by bad-tempered, hard hitting Football. Germany’s Bastian Schweinsteiger was outstanding. The epitome of a box to box midfielder, he threw himself into challenge after challenge with reckless abandon and desire. Germany were up against an Argentine side renowned for their warrior like toughness; but were proving they were just as gritty and battle-hardened as their opponents. Jerome Boateng, a member of the German youth movement of four years earlier in South Africa did a wonderful job stifling the Argentine attack. He swarmed Messi and Aguero, hounding them down whenever they picked up the ball within range of the penalty area; an imposing figure, enjoying an imposing game.

After a tense second half in which neither side were able to dominate for an extended period, the game would move into extra time; the third consecutive final to do so. As the players stretched and hydrated, preparing for the most arduous 30 minute spell of football they would ever have to endure in their careers, one had to wonder, could Argentina do it again? Would the blue steel of the Albiceleste pull out another hard fought victory? The extra time period began at a frenetic pace; neither side seemed keen on the prospect of a penalty shootout. Germany started with intent; Andre Schurrle had a close range effort beaten away by Argentina’s goal keeper Romero. Up the other end Argentina fluffed their third and final glaring opportunity. Through on goal with German goalkeeper Maneul Neuer rushing out, second half substitute Rodrigo Polacio sent a lobbed effort high and wide. After a frantic start to extra time, the game became increasingly flaccid and fatigued, 22 pairs of tired legs looked set for a penalty shootout. That was until Germany’s golden moment finally arrived. Schurrle’s lung-bursting run down the left wing culminated in a cross into the box which was expertly controlled by Mario Gotze.  The 22 year old Bayern Munich man brought on for Miroslav Klose in the second half, then fired an accurate left footed volley beyond a helpless Romero and into the corner of the net. The resolve that had carried the South Americans to the final had finally been broken, they could resist no longer, trailing in a game for the first and only time in the tournament. Gotze’s goal sparked euphoric celebrations from the German bench; they knew they were within touching distance of a historic triumph. Before the final whistle blew; Messi would have one final say. The last meaningful kick of the game would fittingly fall to the world’s greatest player. Argentina had a free-kick 30 yards from goal. Messi’s final effort summed up his World Cup, and indeed his international career- promising, yet ultimately disappointing. He sent a dismal free kick high over the bar and seconds later the celebrations began. Germany, affectionately dubbed “Die Mannschaft” translated in English as “the team”, are not just a team, they are champions with the perfect blend of youth and experience. The golden generation from four years ago have come of age and it’s highly likely the sight of Germany lifting football’s greatest prizes becomes a familiar one.

Shootout Survivors: Argentina scrape into the World Cup Final on penalties

The South American Continent will have a representative in this Sunday’s World Cup Final. Much to the chagrin of the home nation, it is Argentina; not Brazil who will take to the field in the Estadio do Maracana to take on Germany for the most prestigious prize in Football. Argentina defeated The Netherlands 4-2 on penalties in Sao Paulo to book their place in The Final after an uneventful Semi-Final encounter.

Now this was more like your traditional World Cup Semi-Final, tight nervy and tense from start to finish. After yesterday’s frantic clash between Brazil and Germany, a return to footballing normality only seemed right. Whether one approves of their methods or not, their slow, plodding pace and over reliance on Lionel Messi; Argentina have been the perennial survivors of this World Cup. They do whatever it takes to win. The Albiceleste have not trailed any of their opponents for even a single minute in their seven outings at the tournament so far. Truth be told, they did not once look truly susceptible to falling behind yesterday evening either. It took the Dutch 99 minutes to muster a single attempt on target. The same side that decimated the reigning World Champions Spain 5-1 and rattled in 8 goals in their two opening games were completely blunted. Who said those Argentines are average? In a tight game that saw both teams stick to their shape rigidly; keen to stymie one another rather than go on the attack and risk being caught on the counter; Argentina’s back four were superb. Javier Mascherano in particular lunged in for a number of key tackles after bouncing back up from a nasty, concussive looking collision earlier on in the game. Even Martin Demichelis looked solid; as opposed the error prone and comedic centre half we see week in week out in a Manchester City shirt.

 ITV spent the pre-match portion of the game hyping the potential heroics of both sides’ star men: Lionel Messi and Arjen Robben. Ironically and almost inevitably, neither man stamped their mark on the game. Robben’s teasing runs lacked their usual incisiveness, and when finally clean through on goal in stoppage time, the 30 year old fluffed his lines. As for Messi, he was dire. The four time Ballon D’or winner spent the most important period of the game: extra time skulking around the turf in a manner befitting a lost looking Sunday League player, not the greatest Footballer in the World.

After a slightly less dreary period of Extra Time, the game would be decided by the terrible lottery that is a penalty shootout; a fitting conclusion considering the two sides had been impossible to separate in a mind-numbingly dull 120 minutes. Argentina had taken 8 shots to The Netherlands’ 7, each side had forced 4 corners and possession was split narrowly: 53% to 47% in favour of the Dutch. The Dutch might have fancied themselves having come through against plucky little Costa Rica via a shootout in the quarter-finals, but this time they were missing their trump card. Having run out of substitutions to make, Luis Van Gaal could not opt to bring on Tim Krul, the lanky Newcastle keepers’ heroics against Costa Rica have been well documented; Van Gaal lauded as a tactical genius for the switch. Instead the Dutch would have to turn to Jasper Cillessen to play the role of shootout hero, the Ajax shot stopper had never saved a penalty in his career heading into this evening’s semi-final. If you believe in signs there are none more ominous than that.

Netherlands began the shootout in the worst way possible, Aston Villa Centre Back Ron Vlaar who had been outstanding all game stepped forward, his tame effort down the middle was scooped up by Argentina’s much maligned keeper Sergio Romero. Messi then then coolly converted his spot kick to put his side into a lead they would not relinquish. Romero’s  second save in the shootout, denying Wesly Sneijder was simply outstanding; he hauled his frame into the top corner; keeping Sneijder out to all but quash the Dutch hopes of a comeback. It was then down to Maxi Rodriguez to do the honours, the most important kick of his career saw him send Argentina into their 4th World Cup Final; their first trip to the big dance since 1990. Messi and co celebrated jubilantly, but deep down they know they will need to find another dimension, and step it up a notch to defeat Germany in the final. Alejandro Sabella’s men no doubt watched the German’s ruthless 7-1 destruction of Brazil with trepidation. So far in the World Cup they’ve survived, finding a way to subdue all comers. They will do need to do more than survive on Sunday however, if they wish to clinch the World Cup trophy for the first time since 1986.