From Messi's Maracana magic to nullifying Netherlands - Argentina's route to the World Cup final

The Albiceleste were carried through the group stage by their captain, but Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain, Javier Mascherano and Sergio Romero have all since played their part
Reaching a World Cup final is never easy. Argentina's arduous path to this year's tournament decider proves as much. But then again, it helps when you have both Lionel Messi and Lady Luck on your side.

It has nonetheless been a hard slog for the Albiceleste. They made heavy work of what was supposed to have been a straightforward group before being taken to extra-time in two of their three games in the knockout stages. It's fair to say that it hasn't all gone quite according to plan.

Indeed, having been the beneficiaries of what appeared to be a very favourable draw, stretching all the way up until the semi-finals, an Albiceleste attack containing Messi, Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero had been expected to score freely in Brazil.

However, they barely scraped past tournament debutants Bosnia-Herzegovina, with Vedad Ibisevic's late goal having set up a tense finish Rio de Janeiro. Luckily, though, they held to a claim a 2-1 win at the Maracana thanks to an own goal from Sead Kolasinac and some Messi magic.

Argentina's captain also proved the difference in their next two outings, with Messi scoring a sublime injury-time winner to deny Iran a deserved draw in Belo Horizonte before netting a double in a 3-2 win over Nigeria in Porto Alegre that saw Argentina progress with a perfect record.

The Albiceleste's performances were nowhere near as flawless as their results suggested, though, and they continued to flatter to deceive in the last 16, edging out Switzerland with a 119th-minute strike from Angel Di Maria. Argentina had once again benefited from both a moment of divine intervention from Messi - who had set up the goal - and sheer good fortune, with Blerim Dzemaili heading against the base of the post with just seconds to go.

Gonzalo Higuain finally stepped up to the mark in the quarter-finals, scoring the only goal of a dour encounter with a desperately disappointing Belgium, while it was Javier Mascherano and Sergio Romero who proved decisive in the penalty shootout success over Netherlands.

Mascherano was immense in the middle of the park for Argentina, playing a key role in the nullification of Netherlands front two Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie, denying the latter what would have been the winner with a last-gasp block that it is destined to become the stuff of legend.

Romero, meanwhile, saved two Dutch spot-kicks to send Alejandro Sabella's men through to the final, where they will be hoping that Messi and Lady Luck come to the fore once again.