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Argentina, Netherlands set for battle, Brazil wonders what happened

By Julian Linden

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Argentina and the Netherlands were getting ready to play on Wednesday for the right to join Germany in the World Cup final as the inquisition into Brazil's humiliating exit gathered pace.

The hopes of a South America winner now rest on the shoulders of Argentina captain Lionel Messi who will lead his team against the Dutch in the second semi-final in Sao Paulo, kicking off at 2000 GMT.

The host-nation's chances ended on Tuesday when they were thrashed 7-1 by a ruthless Germany in Belo Horizonte, a result that shocked the soccer world and plunged Brazil into a state of national mourning.

Brazilian media savaged the team's limp performance with newspapers describing the match as an "historic disgrace", "national humiliation", "eternal shame" and a "fiasco".

A lot of the blame was directed at Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, whose job is now the source of wide speculation with Tite, Muricy Ramalho and Vanderlei Luxemburgo looming as his possible successor.

Brazil President Dilma Rousseff took to social media to express her disappointment to a country reeling from disappointment after spending more than $11 billion on hosting the tournament.

"I'm immensely sorry for all of us, our fans and players," she tweeted. "But let's not let ourselves give up. Brazil, get up, dust yourself off and bounce back."

Riot police, who had been deployed at fan sites around the country to handle any violent outbreaks, had a quiet night with most fans too traumatized by the manner of defeat to revolt.

An Argentine journalist was killed in Sao Paulo early on Wednesday morning when his taxi was hit by a stolen car fleeing police.

He was the second Argentine reporter to die in a car wreck while covering the World Cup.

The mood in Germany could not have been more different with more than 32 million people watching their country's victory on television, a record rating which accounted for an audience market share of almost 88 per cent.

Hundreds of thousands of Germans watched the match from the avenue leading to the Brandenburg Gate and German Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to attend Sunday's final at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro.

INTRIGUING CLASH

Germany's opponents will be decided when Argentine and the Netherlands meet in an intriguing clash that will set up a classic rematch regardless of who wins.

Germany played Argentina in the 1986 and 1990 World Cup finals, losing the first and winning the second, and beat the Dutch in the 1974 title game.

Messi looms as the key to the match with the four-times world player of the year having scored four goals in the tournament.

Argentina have won each of their five games by a solitary goal while the Netherlands have had to work hard after opening their campaign with a 5-1 drubbing of holders Spain.

Led by striker Arjen Robben, the Dutch needed a penalty shootout to get past Costa Rica in the quarter-finals having only beaten Mexico by a controversial last-minute penalty in the previous round.

Off the field, FIFA suspended the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) because of government interference.

A regional court in Nigeria last week ordered the sacking of the existing NFF executive after the team's performance at the World Cup, where they were eliminated by France in the second round.

The court appointed a new administrator to run the game in the populous west African nation but FIFA warned Nigeria they would be banned from competing internationally unless the old leadership was restored to power.

"The suspension will be lifted once the court actions have been withdrawn and the properly elected NFF Executive Committee, the NFF general assembly and the NFF administration are able to work without any interference in their affairs," FIFA said.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

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