Goalkeeper Sergio Romero saved two shoot-out penalties as Argentina beat the Netherlands to reach the World Cup final for the first time in 24 years on Wednesday.
Romero, who has hardly played for French club Monaco this season, blocked shots from Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder as Argentina won the shoot-out 4-2 after the two sides finished extra time 0-0.
The win took Argentina into Sunday's final at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro where they will face Germany, who they lost to in the 1990 final in Rome.
It is also a repeat of the 1986 final in Mexico City, where a Diego Maradona-inspired Argentina beat the Germans 3-2.
The match had gone to penalities after an attritional battle at the Corinthians Arena which saw neither side manage to break through disciplined defending.
A tense, cagey, contest saw barely a single goalscoring opportunity in normal time, save for a Messi free-kick which was gathered by Jasper Cillessen.
Dutch captain Robin van Persie, whose place had been in doubt after a stomach problem, was substituted late in the game after an anonymous evening.
The best Dutch opening fell to Arjen Robben in the closing stages, but his shot from a tight angle after a one-two with Sneijder was superbly blocked by Javier Mascherano.
The prospect of an Argentina victory on Sunday rubs salt into the wounds of host nation Brazil, who were still struggling to come to terms with their record 7-1 defeat to Germany on Wednesday.
Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari has taken the blame for the defeat and called it “the worst day of my life” but said Wednesday no decision on his future would be taken until after the World Cup.
“We still have work,” Scolari said. “We have a commitment with the CBF (Brazilian Football Confederation) until the end of the World Cup.”
Brazil face the Netherlands in the third place play-off in Brasilia on Saturday.
“It is only after this game we will talk with the direction of the CBF, that's when we will decide,” added Scolari, appointed to a second stint as Brazil coach in December 2012.
Scolari also tried to put a positive spin on Brazil's performance, pointing out the Selecao had reached the semi-finals for the first time since 2002.
“It's the first time we reached a semi-final since 2002 so maybe our work wasn't so bad,” Scolari said.
Scolari has faced calls to go after Tuesday's debacle in Belo Horizonte.
“Go To Hell Felipao,” the daily O Dia newspaper said along with a photo splash of the manager holding up seven fingers during the game.
“He was responsible for the worst humiliation of the national team in its century-old history,” it said, noting that Scolari had once said that those who don't like his style can “go to hell”.
Many said Tuesday's loss at the Mineirao Stadium eclipsed the trauma felt by Brazil when it lost the final to Uruguay at home in 1950.
Globo columnist Fernando Calazans said it was “a much bigger tragedy”.
“Brazilian football has only one solution: to resuscitate. There is no way to go back, recuperate, react. Brazilian football has to be born again. It has to be reborn,” he said. – AFP