It would probably wrong to say that, once the Argentina-Netherlands semifinal went to extra time, it was always heading for penalty kicks. It would be more correct to say that, from the moment the game kicked off, it was heading for penalty kicks.
Argentina seemed cautious, like a football coach that runs the ball on third down and is determined to win the game through excellent punting. The Netherlands, meanwhile, seemed determined mostly to go backwards to the goalkeeper, apparently reasoning that if they kept all of their players in their own half, the Argentines were unlikely to score.
Gonzalo Higuain had a couple of good chances for Argentina, but missed. The Dutch, meanwhile, ended the game with one shot on goal in two hours, and that from Arjen Robben, 25 yards out and straight at the keeper.
The fireworks of Germany beating Brazil 7-1 aside, this is what semifinals and finals are often like - cautious, reserved, with each team determined to avoid the mistake that might send them out of the tournament. I suppose that there are defenders who enjoyed the game from the first minute to the 121st, pointing out excellent defending from Pablo Zabaleta on one side and Ron Vlaar on the other. The rest of us, though, spent much of the game checking our watches and stifling yawns, like parents trapped at a eleventh-grade production of "Waiting for Godot." It had to end on penalties. Vlaar missed his, as did Wesley Sneijder, and all four Argentines scored, ended by Maxi Rodridguez, who seems like he's been around forever but is just 33.
For all of the Netherlands' attacking flair in the group stage, they finished the tournament with four consecutive hours of soccer without scoring; for all of the Lionel Messi-led power of Argentina, they have now managed just two goals in their three knockout-round games.
It is better to look forward to the final, I suppose - Germany and Argentina meeting for the third time in a World Cup championship, after an Argentine victory in 1986 and West Germany returning the favor four years later. At the moment, Germany appear to be the favorites - especially given that Argentina has now played two overtime games in nine days, and has to have very little left in the tank, while Germany basically played a half-hour on Tuesday against Brazil.
Can Messi, or Higuain, or Sergio Aguero, turn things around on Sunday (2pm on ABC)? Or is Germany simply unstoppable? If nothing else, let us hope and pray not to have another game like this one.