Argentina edge Netherlands in shootout to win World Cup quarter-final thriller

Dec 10, 2022

It was fiery, it was fractious, it descended into utter bedlam, simply a World Cup knockout tie for the ages. Argentina went to hell and back, collapsing deep into second-half stoppage time to squander a two-goal lead after Louis van Gaal’s substitutions brought a cold dollop of havoc to the table. But after a fraught period of extra time Argentina came out on top of a ludicrous bout that ended with Lautaro Martínez scoring the decisive spot-kick in a penalty shootout victory. By the end Lionel Messi’s mesmeric first-half assist and nonchalant second-half penalty for his 10th World Cup goal, to equal Gabriel Batistuta’s record for Argentina, finished as mere footnotes.

A barmy win means Argentina have now reached five World Cup semi-finals, with Tuesday’s against Croatia their second since 1990. Argentina had appeared in control but the arrival of Wout Weghorst, a 6ft 6in striker who joined Besiktas on loan from Burnley in the summer, with 78 minutes on the clock undeniably changed the game. He headed in five minutes later, converting Steven Berghuis’s cross, and then with seconds of 10 minutes of second-half stoppage time to play, two of Argentina’s substitutes, German Pezzella and Leandro Paredes, sandwiched Weghorst on the edge of the box as the trio contested an aerial ball. Teun Koopmeiners, also a late substitute, shaped to shoot from the subsequent free-kick but instead cannoned the ball into the feet of Weghorst, who rolled his marker and promptly prodded the ball into the far corner, a replica of a goal Weghorst scored for Wolfsburg two years ago.

Argentina’s players did not want to get off the pitch, such was the adulation from the stands. Their fans did not want to leave an arena they had in effect taken over on what turned out to be a truly unforgettable night. For Van Gaal, who has won new admirers aged 71 at this tournament with his inimitable personality – think kissing his players to get his point across or going viral after dancing his way through the hotel lobby – this was the cruellest of endings to what is likely to be his last game in management. He gathered his players into a huddle as practically the entire stadium – it would be an understatement to say Argentina’s fans outnumbered their counterparts – rejoiced. Argentina’s players, meanwhile, also formed a circle, though theirs understandably far more jovial.

A competitive game, which was cagey for the first half an hour, cranked towards ill-tempered and then downright chaotic. The Spanish referee, Antonio Mateu Lahoz, was ambushed as he blew his whistle after 100 minutes and 30-odd seconds as a melee broke out, and not for the first time. Edgar Davids, these days part of Van Gaal’s coaching staff, ended up dragging orange shirts away from those in sky blue and white stripes. There were 16 yellow cards, one of which was awarded to Weghorst while he was an unused substitute, another of which was given to the former centre-back Walter Samuel, an assistant to the manager Lionel Scaloni, another former Argentina defender.

Wout Weghorst scores the first of his two goals for Netherlands.

Both the Argentina goalkeeper, Emiliano Martínez, who expertly saved two penalties, and the substitute Lautaro Martínez could lay claim to hero status. Enzo Fernández also impressed – aside from his miss in the shootout – and struck a post with a powerful shot from distance seconds before penalties were confirmed. And then, of course, there is Messi, whose heavenly artistry supplied Nahuel Molina for a beautiful 35th-minute opener that felt light years ago when Argentina’s players bounced before the hoardings in front of the lower bank of supporters who were still intent on making a racket before they were eventually escorted towards the turnstiles at 1.50am.

As Messi rushed from halfway to mob both Lautaro and Emiliano Martínez, six of his teammates had other priorities, namely yelling towards the floored Netherlands players; Nicolas Otamendi swivelled towards them and cupped his ears. Leandro Paredes and Gonzalo Montiel, both of whom scored in the shootout, as well as Alexis Mac Allister equally seemed more interested in rubbing in the agony of defeat rather than celebrating the elation, and no doubt relief, of victory. Weghorst, who scored his penalty and could not have conceivably done any more to earn victory, fell to the turf and covered his face. Virgil van Dijk, who saw his spot-kick – the first of the shootout – saved, looked to the skies. Denzel Dumfries yanked his orange shorts towards his hips as he consoled Berghuis, whose penalty was repelled by a superb two-handed Martínez save.

Argentina’s goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez (right) celebrates after his penalty shootout heroics took his nation through.

Despite the madness that would unfold, Messi’s sumptuous pass for Molina warrants reliving. The 35-year-old went on one of those shimmying runs, escaping the attention of Marten de Roon and then Nathan Aké. There seemed no immediate danger. But that is when Messi, a quiet assassin with a wonderfully feathery touch, is at his subtle best. He took a few more steps, dashing across the pitch on this diagonal run, veering from right to left when he spied Molina in his peripheral vision. After making the briefest of checks out of the very corner of his eye, he pushed a perfectly-weighted pass through to the Atlético Madrid defender, operating as a right wing-back after Scaloni changed shape. On the move, Molina collected the ball in his stride, controlling with his left foot before toe-poking the ball past Andries Noppert, the Netherlands goalkeeper, with his right. Every outfield player ran to Messi to celebrate, for they had another scintillating moment to cherish.

At that point Argentina had no idea how much they would suffer. Berghuis whistled a shot against the side netting before Weghorst silenced a partisan crowd. Then both teams went through the mill in extra time. Van Dijk instinctively blocked a shot from Lautaro Martínez with the top of his chest and Fernández rattled a post. But judging by the wild celebrations at the end – even those crass ones too – the pain was all worth it.

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