SAO PAULO, July 8 (Reuters) - Just as Argentina have Lionel Messi, the Netherlands have Arjen Robben, and the South Americans are working hard to solve the riddle of how to stop the flying winger ahead of their World Cup semi-final.
Robben has scored three times in the tournament so far, but it is also his ability to run at defenders, draw fouls in dangerous areas and deliver crosses for team mates that has made him one of the players to watch in Brazil.
Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella said his team would be working hard to deny the 30-year-old forward space.
“He is player who can throw you off balance in a one-on-one, so we have to be especially careful with that, have players close, that is to say as grouped as possible,” Sabella told reporters on Tuesday at Corinthians arena.
“When he picks up speed, it is much more difficult to take the ball away from him,” he told a news conference on the eve of the semi-final.
Sabella said he was not worried about Robben going down easily in the penalty area - an accusation levelled at the player both at club and international level.
He is also sure he has an even greater talent.
“I think he (Robben) is a great player, an important player for the Netherlands, just like Neymar is for Brazil, Messi for Argentina, Messi the best of all. Each one is very important for their teams, but the best one of all is Messi.”
Messi has scored four goals in Brazil so far, and has been instrumental to his team’s progress to the last four.
Messi’s team mate Martin Demichelis told Argentine daily newspaper Clarin that he believed there were ways of dealing with Robben on the pitch.
“We have to be aggressive,” the defender said in an interview. “He has to feel our passion, especially Robben, because he doesn’t like physical contact. We have to get under his skin.”
Sabella said that, as expected, Enzo Perez was likely to come into the starting lineup in place of the injured Angel Di Maria, while Marcos Rojo also looks set to start instead of Jose Basanta.
The coach was asked whether he viewed the match against the Netherlands as a chance for revenge for Argentina’s defeat at the hands of the Dutch at the 1998 World Cup, when Sabella was on the coaching staff.
“Revenge or vengeance are ugly words. That word is not in my dictionary,” he said. (Editing by Patrick Johnston)