Johannesburg — This is a clash between two world football heavyweights and the stakes could not be any higher.
Argentina and Netherlands both have the ability to go all the way at the 2022 Fifa World Cup — and both are hugely motivated — for slightly different reasons.
The standout player in this game, as he is in any game he plays in, is the incomparable Lionel Messi.
His place is assured in the annals of football’s all-time greats, but the one trophy he wants more than anything in what has been a glittering career is to lift the golden World Cup trophy.
Inevitably, there have always been comparisons between Messi and the great Diego Armando Maradona.
Both have boots that have been touched by God and have shared their sensational skills with different generations of football lovers.
He won’t publicly acknowledge it, but the fairytale ending in Messi’s career would be to do what Maradona managed for Argentina at Mexico 1986 — to almost single-handedly win the World Cup for his country.
Messi is just three games away and as always he’s got magic in his locker and the ability to win this game with one swing of his mercurial boot, or with one deft pass.
Maradona had Claudio Caniggia as a skilful foil, and Messi too has plenty of quality around him to help lift Argentina to glory, in players of the ilk of Angel di Maria and Manchester City’s Julian Alvarez, and Alexis Mac Allister, who has popped up with the goods for the Albiceleste in crucial moments in the tournament.
Argentina have a bit of everything, plenty of attacking firepower, rugged defence and a top-class goalkeeper in Emi Martinez.
In the Netherlands, they will come up against a fantastic side who have been extremely impressive in Qatar.
For the Dutch, their motivation is simple and crystal clear — to win a maiden World Cup title that has for many painful decades evaded the kings of Total Football.
This fixture has produced some World Cup classics over the years and Dutch coach Louis van Gaal is still smarting at the painful 2014 World Cup semi-final defeat the Dutch suffered at the hands of Argentina in Sao Paolo and he has brazenly said the Dutch have “a score to settle” in this game.
A colossus of a defender in Virgil van Dijk has ensured the Dutch are typically tight and compact in Qatar, but they’ve also brought plenty of entertaining and youthful vibrancy to Qatar.
Attacking young starlet Cody Gakpo has been a revelation on the world stage, scoring in all of Holland’s three group games en route to this quarter-final, while Barcelona star Memphis Depay has shown just how dangerous he can be.
Van Gaal knows the Netherlands are at their best when confident and with a touch of swag, their grace and guile underpinned by steely, rough edges — and they have the ability to hurt Argentina.
This one is going to be an absorbing, tightly contested affair, which will open up as the strikers breach their opponents’ defences.
I can’t separate these two in a thriller in normal time, and extra time for that matter, but I predict the Dutch will avenge their Sao Paolo heartbreak and prevail on penalties to end Messi and Argentina’s World Cup dreams.
Gloria Brown’s Prediction: Argentina 2 Netherlands 2 (Netherlands to win 4-3 on penalties)
*CATCH THE MATCH LIVE ON SABC SPORT AT 20h30