Argentina clinched a dramatic 4-3 penalty shootout win over the Netherlands to set up a last-four clash with Croatia for a place in the World Cup final.
Argentina looked like cantering into the semis after Nahuel Molina opened the scoring with his first goal for his country, before Lionel Messi added a second from the penalty spot with less than 20 minutes left to play.
But substitute Wout Weghorst latched on to a delicious Steven Berghuis cross to head Netherlands back into the contest with their first effort on target, before poking home from a brilliantly worked free-kick in the 11th-minute of injury-time.
Argentina substitute Lautaro Martinez rattled the post in the last minute of extra-time, but with the score level at 2-2, the quarter-final tie went to the dreaded spot-kicks.
Emiliano Martinez saved the first two Netherlands penalties from Virgil van Dijk and Berghuis, giving the Dutch a mountain to climb, with Lautaro Martinez scoring the decisive spot-kick to ensure Argentina prevailed 4-3 in the shootout.
How Argentina reached the last four
Argentina looked the sharper and the hungrier of the two sides in the opening 45 minutes with Memphis Depay wasting the clearest chance for the Netherlands midway through the half, dragging his low effort wide.
Messi barely looked up as he evaded three Dutch players before threading the ball through to Molina, who stretched to take a touch before sliding the ball past the onrushing Andries Noppert.
Moments of the match…
- 22nd min: Messi has a shot from the edge of the area but it goes over
- 24th min: Depay drags his effort wide
- 35th min: Molina gives Argentina the lead after a delightful Messi through ball
- 64th min: Messi’s free kick beats the goalkeeper but lands on the roof of the right corner of the net
- 73rd min: Messi converts from the spot to put Argentina two goals in front
- 83rd min: Weghorst pulls a goal back with a brilliant header
- 86th min: Berghuis fires into the side-netting with a rifled effort
- 89th min: Both sets of players including the benches clash after a late challenge and the ball smashed towards the Netherlands bench
- 90+11 min: Weghorst pokes home the equaliser after a cleverly worked free-kick
The Netherlands made a double change at half-time, withdrawing a distraught Bergwijn and Martin de Roon and replacing the pair with Teun Koopmeiners and Berghuis. But the Dutch were unable to pick up their intensity levels, with Messi going close from a free-kick on the edge of the area, with his effort landing on the roof of the right-hand corner of the net.
And with less than 20 minutes to go, it looked like they had seen off their opponents after a clumsy Denzel Dumfries challenge on Marcos Acuna saw Argentina awarded a penalty. Messi made no mistake from the spot as he sent Noppert completely the wrong way to casually slot the ball into the corner.
But the Dutch were rewarded with a goal in the 83rd minute when Berghuis crossed from the right and his fellow substitute Weghorst headed the ball past Martinez’s dive.
- Lionel Scaloni made one change from the line-up from the round of 16, with Lisandro Martinez returning in place of Papu Gomez
- Louis van Gaal also made one change, with Steven Bergwijn replacing Davy Klaassen
The Argentinians held onto their lead until 11 minutes into stoppage time when Koopmeiners cleverly reversed a free-kick and found Weghorst free to put the ball past Martinez and draw his side level.
Argentina were shell-shocked by the turnaround in the first period of extra-time but recovered their composure to pepper the Dutch goal with shots, Enzo Hernandez coming closest to scoring with a rasping effort that hit the post.
The late surge gave Argentina the momentum going into the shootout, and Martinez added to it when he stopped spot-kicks from Van Dijk and Berghuis.
Messi on Argentina’s desire to win: “Argentina are among the four best in the world because they show that they know how to play every game with the same desire and the same intensity.
“A lot of joy, a lot of happiness. We didn’t have to go to extra-time or penalties, we had to suffer. But we got through and it’s impressive.”
Louis van Gaal bemoans shootout loss: “We practised on penalties all year and then you screw it up.
“That’s a pity. As a coach, I want to have everything under control. That is why I asked the players to take a penalty at their club, they all did. If you miss two, you won’t win anymore.”
Messi on Dutch tactics and referee’s performance: “Van Gaal says that they play good football, but what he did was put on tall people and hit long balls.
“I don’t want to talk about the referee because you can’t be honest. If you talk they sanction you, FIFA must think about it, they can’t put a referee like that for these instances, they can’t put a referee who isn’t up to the task.”
Argentina edge game for the ages
Sky Sports News senior reporter Geraint Hughes at the Lusail Stadium:
“I can’t believe I actually witnessed that game. It was one of those moments where you say, ‘I was there’. That was just ridiculous and just an incredible game of football which encapsulated the theatre and everything that the beautiful game can give us.
“At times, the football wasn’t great and other times it was phenomenal. The energy was just sensational. The atmosphere was incredible before the game had even kicked off. There was electricity running through the stadium. The official attendance was just over 88,000 but there were only 1,000 Dutch inside the ground.
“It was cat and mouse before a moment of magic from Messi with his ball for Molina. You thought the game was all over after the penalty. How wrong was I? It became tetchy and it became feisty.
“Van Dijk was thrown up front alongside Koopmeiners and Weghorst, who scored a great header to get the Dutch back into it. But who would’ve seen what came next? I was watching people going through absolute purgatory with their nerves after that unthinkable short free-kick levelled matters.
“There were people crying even when Argentina were winning 2-1. But they somehow found the energy and the will in the shootout. There’s clearly no love lost between these two sides, either.
“When the referee did the coin toss to choose which side we had the shootout at, there was even a tetchiness then. I’ve rarely in my entire career been in an atmosphere like that in all my time. It was bonkers, crazy and wonderful. The Argentina fans need to find their voice in the semi-finals as they played a huge part in this victory.”
Martinez is a penalty-shootout monster
Sky Sports’ Adam Bate:
Earlier in the day, Brazil had appeared devastated to find themselves in a penalty shootout. Argentina had longer to process their circumstances but might have been forgiven for feeling the same way after surrendering a two-goal lead. Emiliano Martinez changed that.
The Aston Villa goalkeeper has the demeanour of a man who revels in situations such as this. He has history. Martinez was a hero for Argentina in their Copa America triumph, saving three penalties in an ill-tempered semi-final shootout win over Colombia.
He struck a similar tone here, visibly pumped up, all machismo and testosterone. From the moment that Martinez saved brilliantly to his right to deny Virgil van Dijk with the first kick, Argentina had the advantage. His next stop from Steven Berghuis was just as good.
Messi is a quiet leader whose body language sometimes belies his status. Martinez does not have that pedigree behind him, of course, but he has an important role in this Argentina team. A different kind of leader, he stepped up for his side. It was seriously impressive.
Weghorst heroics make for classic contest
Sky Sports’ Adam Bate:
Wout Weghorst scored two goals in 20 games as Burnley were relegated from the Premier League. He needed a shade over 20 minutes to match that total after coming off the bench for the Netherlands in this dramatic quarter-final.
There was much amusement at the sight of the robust forward being asked to salvage his country’s World Cup dream as Louis van Gaal’s side lumped balls forward. But it worked. This was blunt force but there was beauty here too. Sledgehammer and subtlety.
A powerful header to pull one back. A left-footed finish following a clever free-kick to equalise in the 101st minute of the match. When he converted from the penalty spot with his right, Weghorst completed a perfect hat-trick of sorts – but it all proved to be in vain.
Bereft and broken at the end, defeat and exit will mean there is no consoling the 30-year-old striker. But he turned a World Cup quarter-final for his country, proving the catalyst for a classic. That will resonate rather more than an underwhelming time at Turf Moor.
Lautaro delivers when it really matters
South American football expert Tim Vickery:
“Four years ago, South America’s participation at the World Cup in Russia ended at the quarter-final stage when Brazil lost to Belgium and Uruguay lost to France. Both of those were over 90 minutes but this time, both Brazil and Argentina took us to 120 and penalties.
“It’s now Argentina’s tournament as far as South America is concerned. When Brazil got to the final in 2002 against Germany, an opinion poll in Argentina revealed that more Argentines were supporting Brazil than Germany. There was a South American unity there, but I’m not sure that will apply the other way around.
“They certainly have plenty of support of their own making a fantastic noise in those stadiums. Perhaps it is Lionel Messi’s destiny to win the World Cup, but let’s pay some tribute to Lautaro Martinez.
“He took that last penalty and it’s one of the best I’ve seen in the history of penalties. I don’t think it’s hyperbole. Lautaro came into this tournament as Argentina’s centre-forward. In the first game against Saudi Arabia, he scores two very well-taken goals but they were ruled out for very narrow VAR decisions as Argentina eventually lose.
“The pressure is heaped on and Lautaro ends up losing his place in the side. Argentina then brought him on in the games against Poland and Australia, and Martinez looked hideous. He looked so short of confidence and he made the goal look tiny.
“You need courage to step up and take that fifth penalty. But when it really mattered, he delivered for Argentina. He’d have been the villain of all villains if he missed that one.
“It emphasised the point that it’s not only Messi. What he did for Molina’s goal was magnificent. He’s one of those players who if you give him a brick he’ll build a house with it, but there are other players in the Argentina side.”
Argentina will meet Croatia at the Lusail Stadium in the last four on Tuesday night at 7pm for a place in the World Cup final.
Tuesday December 13
Argentina vs Croatia – kick-off 7pm
Wednesday December 14
England or France vs Morocco or Portugal – kick-off 7pm
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