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Penalties lead Argentina to World Cup final

SAO PAULO -- The World Cup's second semifinal was supposed to put the silky skills of Lionel Messi and Arjen Robben in the spotlight. Instead, a goalkeeper and two rock-solid defenses stole the show.

Argentina goalie Sergio Romero saved two penalties Wednesday to send Argentina into the World Cup final with a 4-2 shootout win over the Netherlands after tough defending and a lack of creative spark from either team consigned the match to a 0-0 stalemate.

In a twist of fate, Romero credited Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal with helping launch his career when he arrived as an inexperienced youngster at AZ Alkmaar in the Dutch league.

“I will be forever grateful to the coach for helping me out in a country that is so different from ours,” Romero said.

A day after Germany lit up the World Cup with its clinical 7-1 destruction of host Brazil, the Dutch and Argentines could not manage a goal between them in 120 minutes before the shootout.

Messi, widely regarded as one of the greatest players of all time, will have to do play far better in Sunday's final at Rio de Janeiro's Maracana Stadium if he is to engineer a win over the powerful German team. The Barcelona star was muted throughout the match and extra time, rarely managing to shake off his markers.

At the Itaquerao Stadium, he was overshadowed by his goalkeeper and the man he replaced as Argentina captain, Javier Mascherano, who bossed the midfield for his team the way surprise starter Nigel de Jong did for the Dutch.

When Robben looked like deciding the match in stoppage time, Mascherano's perfectly timed sliding tackle blocked his shot at the near post.

“I would say that he is an outstanding player,” Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella said. “He is an emblem within our national squad, on the field as well as off it.”

Romero — thought to be a weak link for Argentina and not even a starter for his Monaco club most of last season — had almost nothing to do during the match, but blocked penalties by Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder in the shootout. For Argentina, Messi, Ezequiel Garay, Sergio Aguero and Maxi Rodriguez all converted their spot kicks.

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 Argentina soccer fans celebrate cup final berth 
Argentina's Marcos Rojo celebrates after Argentina defeat the Netherlands 4-2 in a penalty shootout after a 0-0 tie after extra time to advance to the finals during the World Cup semifinal between the Netherlands and Argentina at the Itaquerao Stadium in Sao Paulo, Wednesday, July 9. (AP)

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