Hopes of Argentina and Lionel Messi winning the World Cup remain alive and well after a nerve-wracking victory over the Netherlands on penalties in a thrilling match in Qatar 2022.
Leading 2-0 with just eight minutes remaining thanks to goals from Nahuel Molina and Messi, the Netherlands staged a stunning comeback as a brace from Wout Weghorst saw the game go to extra time.
With neither side able to find the winner in that extra 30 minutes, the game was decided on penalties and Argentina’s goalkeeper Emi Martinez made himself the hero for La Albiceleste, saving two Dutch penalty kicks.
Martinez has made a name for himself as an expert in penalties, saving three last year in Argentina’s Copa América semi-final against Colombia, and further solidifying his position as an Argentine hero in Qatar.
After Enzo Fernandez missed the first penalty that would have given Argentina victory, Lautaro Martinez stepped up and hammered in the winning penalty to send delirium to the thousands of Argentine fans at Lusail Stadium.
Argentina’s players remained on the field long after the shootout was over, enjoying the admiration of their adoring fans who will no doubt be celebrating late into the night in Qatar.
It was another remarkable end to a game at this World Cup, which has seen all sorts of shocks and comebacks, though this one may have surpassed them all.
Spanish referee Mateu Lahoz, known for his eccentricity and fun in the spotlight, certainly added to the drama, handing out a host of yellow cards, including one in the shootout, as he struggled to control the match.
There were no less than three massive brawls over the 120 minutes and penalties, the first sparked by Leandro Paredes who hit a ball straight into the Dutch dugout at the side of the field.
This match will undoubtedly go down as an all-time World Cup classic, but Argentina will need to get their feet back on the ground soon ahead of the semi-final against knockout specialist Croatia.
Millions of Argentines have dreamed of the day Messi equals the late Diego Maradona and wins the World Cup. That day is now one step closer.
Messi, 35, did everything he could to ensure Argentina had the best possible chance of winning its first World Cup title since 1986.
There have been fleeting moments of the Messi magic that football fans have become accustomed to over the years, most notably his stunning touch and finish against Mexico in the group stage that gave Argentina a crucial breakthrough after the shock defeat to Saudi Arabia.
Few fans would have counted Argentina among the favorites ahead of the tournament, but with Messi in the ranks of the team anything is possible, at any time.
Under head coach Lionel Scaloni, a former Argentina international, the team is in better shape than it has been for some time, winning the 2021 Copa America, the national team’s first major trophy since 1993 and Messi’s first in the famous blue and white shirt.
However, Argentina had yet to play a convincing 90 minutes in Qatar and defensive weaknesses that have hampered it in recent years undoubtedly remain.
The Orange squad, meanwhile, failed to impress in the group stage, but greatly improved in the 3-1 round of 16 wins over the US men’s national team and Memphis Depay’s opener in that game, a patient, incisive team move, is without a doubt a of the most beautiful goals of the tournament so far.
This was the sixth World Cup meeting between these two teams and this match has created a lot of history over the years. From a Mario Kempes-inspired victory in the 1978 final to Dennis Bergkamp’s stunning goal in the 1998 quarter-finals, this rivalry was ready for another player to write his name in football folklore.
The first 35 minutes were predictably restrained, with neither side willing to take much risk while in possession.
But, unsurprisingly, it was Messi who unlocked a stubborn Dutch defense with a ridiculous, almost impossible, moment of genius.
Running to the left of the box, the Argentina captain played an absurd reverse pass perfectly in the path of Molina, who poked the ball past Andries Noppert with one touch.
Replays showed that not once did Messi look up to see Molina’s run; how he saw the pass, let alone played it, only he will know. Just when you think you’ve seen it all in his 18-year career, Messi still finds a way to speak up.
When Messi got up after 75 minutes and made it 2-0 from the penalty spot, the game seemed over. However, if there’s one thing the World Cup in Qatar has shown, it’s that these matches are never over until the referee blows full-time.
After offering so little for over 80 minutes, the Netherlands opted to hammer long ball after long ball into the Argentine penalty area, aiming for 6-foot substitute Weghorst and Virgil Van Dijk.
It paid off spectacularly, as Weghorst headed in brilliantly after a throw from Steven Berghuis with just under eight minutes to play.
That goal set up a finish in the stands, which included the first of three mass brawls.
In almost the very last action of the game, the Netherlands received a free kick just outside the penalty area.
It looked like either Cody Gakpo or Teun Koopmeiners were going to shoot at goal, but the latter played an ingenious pass to Weghorst, who turned his defender around and pushed the ball past Martinez.
That goal set off wild scenes as the entire Dutch bench emptied to celebrate at the corner flag, silencing the thousands of Argentinian fans who had been so vocal throughout the game.
It was an almost unthinkable turn of events with Weghorst, who has struggled to impress at Burnley and is currently on loan at Besiktas, temporarily halting Messi’s seemingly inevitable march to a World Cup title.
However, Messi and Argentina could not be denied and kept their cool from the spot to cap off an incredible evening of football.
More sour scenes ensued, however, as some of the Argentina team celebrated in the faces of the distraught Dutch players after Martinez scored the winning penalty, reigniting tempers.
Messi is now tantalizingly close to lifting his first World Cup and it will take something special to stop an incredible player who seems determined to lift the trophy he most desires.