Argentina's Di Maria to miss semifinal against Netherlands
ARGENTINA midfielder Angel Di Maria has been ruled out of the World Cup semifinal against the Netherlands with a thigh injury while striker Sergio Aguero has been declared fit to play after recovering from a similar problem.
Di Maria limped off the field in the first half of Argentina's 1-0 quarterfinal win over Belgium on Saturday after straining a muscle in the back of his right thigh.
Team doctor Daniel Martinez yesterday said tests showed it was a "first-degree" strain - the mildest kind but added that Di Maria wouldn't be fit to play in Wednesday's semifinal.
Tomorrow, Brazil plays Germany in the other semifinal.
Martinez said Aguero, who sustained a similar injury 10 days ago, had recovered in an "excellent" way.
Losing Di Maria is a big blow for Argentina as it prepares for its first World Cup semifinal since 1990. Besides Lionel Messi, he's been the team's most influential player in Brazil.
Di Maria scored the extra-time winner against Switzerland in the second round and set up Gonzalo Higuain's winning goal in the first half against Belgium.
"He's a key player in this project," Higuain said of Di Maria.
The last time Argentina reached the semifinal stage in the World Cup was 24 years ago in Italy, when it made it to the final but lost 1-0 to West Germany.
Coach Alejandro Sabella said being among the final four was the "minimum" that Argentina expected out of this World Cup after being eliminated in the quarterfinals in two consecutive tournaments.
Sabella made two key changes to the lineup against Belgium, fielding Manchester City defender Martin Demichelis for the first time in Brazil, and having Lucas Biglia replace Fernando Gago in the midfield.
"You always hope to play," Demichelis said. "I was showing a lot of heart in practice and tried to get to the place where I would get called up."
The moves bolstered Argentina's defense, with Biglia and Javier Mascherano dropping back to help protect the early lead.
With left back Marcos Rojo returning from suspension Argentina's defense should be in even better shape for the semifinal. However, the attack is bound to suffer without Di Maria.
The Netherlands advanced by defeating Costa Rica 4-3 in penalty kicks after playing to a scorless tie in regulation.
Yesterday, Netherlands goalkeeper Tim Krul insisted he did nothing wrong in confronting Costa Rica's penalty takers during the shootout.
Krul's crucial two saves followed a novel tactic that tested FIFA's guidelines on fair play. The substitute goalie faced up to opponents at the penalty spot and repeatedly told them he knew where they'd place their shots.
"I don't think I have done anything wrong," Krul said. "I haven't shouted at [them] in an aggressive manner. I haven't done anything crazy. I just told them I knew where they are going."
Krul said he would do the same again if Wednesday's match goes to a shootout and he again gets substituted in for Jasper Cillessen, who is again expected to start in the Dutch goal.
"I am trying obviously to get into their heads and it worked," said Krul, who instantly entered World Cup lore, both as a rare replacement and for his trash talk. "I use everything in my power to make it happen."
Asked if his late appearance in extra time unsettled the Costa Rica team, Krul said it probably did.
"When I started my warm up the whole bench was kind of confused what is going on," he said, recalling Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto reaction to Dutch coach Louis van Gaal's move.
"If you see their manager's face, he was looking at our manager," Krul said. "His face was priceless, I think."