SAO PAULO - The World Cup's second semi-final was supposed to put the silky skills of Lionel Messi and Arjen Robben in the spotlight. Instead, a goalkeeper and two rock-solid defences stole the show.
Argentina goalie Sergio Romero saved two penalties to send Argentina into the World Cup final with a 4-2 shoot-out win over the Netherlands after a lack of creative spark from either team consigned yesterday's semi-final to a 0-0 stalemate.
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 shoot-out.
Messi, widely regarded as one of the greatest players of all time, will have to do play far better in Monday'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, 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 surprised 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.
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 shoot-out.
For Argentina, Messi, Ezequiel Garay, Sergio Aguero and Maxi Rodriguez all converted their spot kicks.
"It's luck, that's the truth. You can dive (the right way) and not make it, like happened to their goalkeeper," Romero said.
"I had confidence, thank God things turned out well."
Argentine coach Alejandro Sabella praised his side on reaching the final.
"I am very pleased. This was a very hard and even match.
The team is extraordinary."