Argentina and Brazil play a similar style of football and their World Cup fortunes in the last few decades have been nearly the same too, considering both haven’t won it for over 20 years despite the presence of a host of stars.
A day of spot kicks
So, when Croatia equalised in extra-time and then beat Brazil on penalties in Friday evening’s quarter-final to end Neymar’s World Cup hopes, as soon as The Netherlands equalised against Argentina in the next match, everyone thought it’s the end of Lionel Messi’s dream run too. For the sake of the majority of the 88,235-strong crowd at the Lusail Stadium however, Messi plays on.
It was a Messi show for the first 90 minutes. The mercurial forward showed that though he may have two eyes just like every normal human, his vision is extraordinary. In the 35th minute, he neatly executed an inside out dribble against Dutch defender Nathan Ake before switching a ball without looking to the right, finding Nahuel Molina to get a touch in for a brilliant opening goal. Then, following a few sharp individual runs down the centre of the Dutch box that did not materialise in goals, Messi finally scored off the penalty spot (73rd minute), leaving Dutch goalkeeper Andries Noppert glued to the centre of his line, not knowing which side to dive, as he beat him to his left. Then came the twist in the tale with master coach Louis van Gaal’s tactical play in full view. The Dutch scored twice in the dying moments to take the match into extra-time. The plan was simple—send long balls into the Argentine box for their tall striker Wout Weghorst (6 ft, 6) to nod home. And he did just that in the 83rd minute with a sharp header. And finally, in the 11th minute of a 10-minute stoppage time phase, the Dutch used Weghorst’s long legs to take the match into the shootout. A free-kick from the edge of the box saw Teun Koopmeiners sweetly slide the ball past the wall and in front of Weghorst, who stretched out his long legs to get it past Argentine custodian Emiliano Martinez as the Dutch celebrated the latest second-half equaliser in World Cup history.
Also Read: FIFA World Cup 2022: Croatia Livakovictorious!
Martinez, however, was not to be beaten so easily in the shootout. He first denied Dutch skipper Virgil van Dijk and then thwarted Steven Berghuis. Messi, meanwhile, made an audacious conversion from the spot, literally rolling the ball past Noppert, this time to his right. Lautaro Martinez scored off the fifth and final spot-kick to ensure the Albiceleste set up a semi-final date with Croatia on Tuesday.
“We are blessed to have Messi on our side,” said a beaming Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni moments after a match that witnessed a few ugly scenes as some Dutch and Argentina players clashed over rash tackles. “Our players have a spirit that guides them to cope with the toughest circumstances. I don’t think we deserved to reach the penalty shootout. Yet, our team kept fighting in a very difficult match. I believe my team has the means, willingness, freshness and pride to face anything. It is our goal to play seven games here,” said Scaloni.
Also Read: Messi, Argentina beat Netherlands on penalties at World Cup
Dutch boss stays positive
Van Gaal, meanwhile, insisted that his team did not lose on the night. “I don’t think we have been beaten today. It was only a penalty shootout. I look back [at this tournament] in a very positive way. Along with England, we were the only team that were unbeaten here,” said Van Gaal, who has made way for Ronaldo Koeman to take over the reins at the Dutch national team.