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Argentina’s Di Maria misses Dutch showdown, Aguero fit Krul unapologetic about gamesmanship

BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil, July 7, (RTRS): Angel Di Maria has been ruled out of Argentina’s semi-final against the Netherlands but fellow forward Sergio Aguero has recovered from a muscle strain and is fit to play, the team doctor said on Sunday. Aguero looked comfortable in training at the Argentine camp, but Di Maria was missing and undergoing intensive treatment after hobbling out of their 1-0 quarter-final win over Belgium. In their first semi-final since 1990, the South Americans play the Netherlands in Sao Paulo on Wednesday.

“Angel has a Grade 1 injury. Of course he won’t play in Argentina’s next game. After that, we’ll evaluate the situation day-by-day,” team doctor Daniel Martinez told reporters. “Sergio has practiced three times. He’s ready to play.” Aguero missed two games due to a muscle strain but on the evidence of Sunday’s afternoon training session at their camp in Belo Horizonte, the speedy forward should at least make the substitutes bench. The absence of Di Maria, the South Americans’ most creative player after captain Lionel Messi, will be a big blow but the return to form of Gonzalo Higuain lessens the impact. Higuain’s instinctive strike against Belgium gave Argentina passage to the semi-finals. Roared on by tens of thousands of fans who have crossed the border, Argentina are bidding for a third World Cup. To achieve it on the soil of rivals Brazil would be especially sweet. The squad looked relaxed during training, laughing and joking with coach Alejandro Sabella. They are based at local team Atletico Mineiro’s training complex, where motivational banners in blue-and-white colours give them encouragement as fans huddle at the gates outside. “The group as a whole is very happy, except for the situation with Angel, which is a great shame,” midfielder Javier Mascherano told reporters. “We hope he recovers soon.”

Mascherano said Argentina’s improved performance against Belgium was due to a more intelligent approach, which they had to repeat against the skilful Dutch. “Against Belgium, we used the spaces better. We didn’t rush. We waited for the right moment to pass,” he said. “It was a lovely game but it was yesterday. Now we’re focused on Holland. We know they are still smarting from defeat (in the final) in South Africa four years ago. “We’ve come far, Argentines have waited 24 years for this, but we want to go further.” Defender Jose Basanta said he had been dreaming all his career of playing in the World Cup. “I’m so happy. Argentina are making history, but we’ve not won anything yet,” he added. Meanwhile, Netherlands goalkeeper Tim Krul was back defending himself on Sunday, less than 24 hours after making two stunning penalty saves against Costa Rica to book his team’s place in the World Cup semi-finals.

The towering Krul replaced firstchoice keeper Jasper Cillessen specifically for the shootout in Salvador after the teams finished extra time deadlocked at 0-0. The 26-year-old vindicated his coach’s unorthodox substitution when he saved spot-kicks from Bryan Ruiz and Michael Umana to give the Dutch a 4-3 shootout victory and a place in the semi-finals against Argentina. But he also came under heavy criticism on social media for his intimidating tactics against the Costa Rican penalty takers, staring them down and yelling at them before they took their shots. Asked whether he had overstepped the line of good sportsmanship, a defiant Krul said he had nothing to apologise for. “I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong,” he told a news conference at his team’s training ground in Rio on Sunday. “I didn’t shout anything nasty at them. I just told them that I knew where they were going. I’m trying obviously to get in their heads and it worked yesterday.

“It’s a way of trying to psyche them out. Obviously they are under massive pressure, I’m under massive pressure as well so I used everything in my power to make it happen and luckily enough, happy enough it happened.” Krul, who has saved just two of 20 penalties he faced with his club side Newcastle, said the mind games had begun even before he stood on the line to try and save the first spot-kick. Costa Rica had made the quarterfinals for the first time by beating Greece on penalties but Krul said he knew they were rattled as soon as they saw him warming up. “I definitely think it had an impact, when I started my warm-up their whole bench was confused,” he said. “If you see their manager’s face when I came on, he was looking over at our manager, his face was priceless. It was definitely one of those fantastic moves.” Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal, a renowned master tactician, had been hatching the plan for some time. But he kept it such a secret that he did not even tell Cillessen and only let Krul know about it on the bus to the stadium but told him to keep it under wraps.

“The manager and the goalie coach told me before the game that if we had a substitution left there was a possibility that they may use me in the penalty shootout,” Krul said. “So obviously for me the whole game I was watching it with a different view because I knew the possibility was there.

“We have a plan before every game and I have my own style and I think it works. I’m over the moon that I saved two penalties.” Cillessen was initially disappointed at being hauled off before the shootout after keeping a clean sheet but was among the first to congratulate his understudy when the game ended. “I didn’t know anything about it beforehand so for me it was a big surprise,” Cillessen said. “I wanted to play everything. I wanted to play the penalty shootout as well but the coach made a decision that Tim was better than me and I had to accept it.” Krul accepted that Cillessen remained the team’s first-choice and would not give away any more secrets about what the Dutch might have in store to stop Argentina captain Lionel Messi. “They (Argentina) are a fantastic team.

They are in the semi-finals so you have to be fantastic team to be there,” Krul said. “But we are a fantastic team as well and I think that we can be really confident with what we’ve shown and the players we’ve got. “We’re re really fit, I think we’re fitter than most teams at the World Cup and we can be confident it should be a fantastic game. “Hopefully we won’t need to go to penalties against Argentina and we will get the job done in 90 minutes.”

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