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World Cup classic! Winners and losers as Argentina outlast Netherlands to reach semi-finals thanks to Messi and Martinez

10:22 am AEDT 10/12/22
Lionel Messi Argentina Netherlands shootout 2022 World Cup HIC 16:9
Lionel Scaloni's side blew a 2-0 lead in the dying stages of a heated encounter but held their nerve in the shootout to reach the last four.

What. A. Game. As beautiful as it was ugly. Full of goals and gamesmanship. And, at the end of an utterly engrossing 2-2 draw, Argentina prevailed on penalties, defeating Netherlands 4-3 in the shootout to progress to the semi-finals of the World Cup.

The Dutch were disgusted when Lautaro Martinez converted the decisive spot-kick, with Denzel Dumfries particularly incensed. He spent a good two minutes in a serious discussion with the referee, Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz, and received a red card for his troubles. We'll be hearing more about that in the coming days, no doubt.

For now, though, Argentina can bask in the glory of victory in a World Cup contest for the ages. Lionel Scaloni's side deservedly led 2-0 thanks to the genius and composure of Lionel Messi, who created Nahuel Molina's opener with the greatest no-look pass this tournament has seen since Andrea Pirlo in 2006, and then slotted home a penalty to seemingly seal his side's progression to the last four.

The Dutch weren't done, though. Louis van Gaal, the tactical genius in his final tournament as Netherlands boss, decided to go route one in the closing stages, after sending on Luuk de Jong and Wout Weghorst.

Sticking two big men up top paid off, with the latter forcing extra-time with two late goals, the second of which arrived after a fantastic free-kick routine.

The momentum was all with the Netherlands at that point but 99 per cent of the crowd remained fully behind Argentina, and the fans played their part in a shootout success that they were still celebrating long after Lautaro had decided a crazy game in Lusail in their favour.

Below, GOAL runs through all of the winners and losers from one of the greatest World Cup matches of all time...

  • Lionel Messi run Argentina Netherlands 2022 World Cup

    Winner: The World Cup's Assist King

    How? How did he see that pass? The easy answer is: it’s Lionel Messi; of course he spotted that run. It’s what he does.

    We’re talking about a genius that now has more World Cup knockout stage assists (five) than anyone since records began 1966, with his wonderfully-disguised pass for Molina taking him one clear of Pele. Messi has also moved ahead of Diego Maradona in terms of goal involvements (17), while his second-half penalty saw become Argentina's joint-top scorer (10) alongside Gabriel Batistuta.

    These are not normal numbers, and it was interesting to hear Keanu Baccus admit after Australia's meeting with Argentina that facing Messi was a truly awesome experience, in that the diminutive No.10 doesn’t seem real.

    "He looks fake on the field,” he said. “He looks a bit like a wax statue, to be honest. It's surreal how good he actually is and how he watches the game, sees the game and takes it on himself.

    "It’s very special because not many people can do that. Receive the ball from anywhere on the field and back yourself, be confident to go at people and take the game on."

    Against the Netherlands, Messi provided yet another stunning demonstration of that remarkable, super-human ability to know exactly where everyone is on the field at any given time.

    Indeed, what was extraordinary about his assist for Molina's goal was that at no point did he look up to check where his team-mate was, because he already knew where he was.

    This is why, as Jorge Valdano pointed out, Argentina's players go out of their way to get him the ball, even when he's surrounded by opponents. Because Messi sees things that nobody else can.

  • Nahuel Molina Lionel Messi Argentina Netherlands 2022 World Cup

    Winner: Nahuel Molina

    As Nahuel Molina told GOAL last year, Messi was his childhood idol.

    "Because I wasn't a right-back when I was younger," he explained. "I played further forward, out wide, so I loved Messi, and not because I was similar to him or anything, just because he was such a great player, on a whole other level to everyone else!"

    So, when Molina was called up to the Argentina squad for the first time, it was "like a dream come true".

    What, then, must it have felt like for the 24-year-old to have taken a pass from his idol to open the scoring in a World Cup quarter-final against Netherlands?

    It's safe to presume that Nahuel Molina will never, ever forget his first international goal.

  • German Pezzella Argentina Netherlands 2022 World Cup

    Losers: German Pezzella

    German Pezzella was the most relieved man in this stadium when Lautaro's penalty went in. Had Argentina been eliminated here, the Betis defender never would have forgiven himself.

    Argentina had the game won in normal time. They just needed to deal with one final Netherlands attack and the ball had already been half-cleared. Weghorst went for it but he had his back to goal. There was little danger. If anything, the Dutch forward was about to give away for leaning into Leandro Paredes, who was already on his way down.

    However, Pezzella stupidly barged into the back of Weghorst, gifting Netherlands a free-kick on the edge of the area...

  • Wout Weghorst Netherlands Argentina 2022 World Cup

    Winner: Dutch ingenuity

    There was nothing pretty or sophisticated about the way in which the Dutch got themselves back into this game. This wasn't the Netherlands of the 1970s, it was Wimbledon of the 1980s. Van Gaal has never been one for Total Football, of course, but route one?... And yet it worked.

    Van Gaal threw on the big men and instructed his players to get the ball into the box. Wieghorst's first goal came from a cross from the right flank and he also won the free from which Netherlands levelled the game by just making a nuisance of himself under a high ball on the edge of the area.

    Credit where it's due, though: the equaliser was a stroke of genius, reminiscent of Sweden in 1994 and Argentina in 1998. With a move straight off the training ground, Steven Berghuis pretended to shoot before Teun Koopmeiners cleverly rolled the ball low into the area for Weghorst to take care of the rest. It was as ingenious as it was ballsy. Very Van Gaal, essentially.

  • Louis van Gaal Netherlands 2022

    Loser: Van Gaal

    We knew beforehand that this would be Van Gaal's final tournament as Netherlands boss. But it could also prove the last of his career. If that's the case, it would be sad and desperately disappointing way for him to bow out.

    The Dutch didn't deserve to win, of course. They were outplayed and outthought for the majority of the game. The xG was 1.78 to 0.54 in Argentina's favour. They were before the superior side. Still, losing on penalties is always a source of bitter frustration and it will definitely hit Van Gaal hard.

    Remember, his Netherlands side were beaten in the same manner by the same side in the semi-finals of Brazil 2014. It's also worth pointing out that Van Gaal has never actually lost a World Cup game in 90 or 120 minutes.

    He's 71 now, though, so it seems unlikely that he will ever return to the game's grandest stage. Whatever one thinks about his tactics or his character – and Angel Di Maria & Co. made it clear before and after the game that they have little time for him – there's no denying he's been of the game's most fascinating figures for decades now. He will be missed for his press conferences alone.

  • Lionel Scaloni Argentina Netherlands 2022 World Cup

    Winner: Scaloni's coaching credentials

    The big question before the game was how the Argentina coach would set out his side. There would have been a temptation to recall Di Maria to play alongside Messi and Julian Alvarez up front but Scaloni instead opted to ditch his usual 4-3-3 formation and instead go with the 3-5-2 he turned to during the second half of the last-16 win over Australia.

    The change of system paid off. By mirroring Van Gaal's set-up, Argentina were able to completely nullify the threat posed by Dumfries and Daley Blind, who had run the Americans ragged in the last 16. Indeed, it was actually Argentina's wing-backs who proved decisive on the night, with Molina cleverly coming inside to break the deadlock before Marcos Acuna won the penalty from which Messi made it 2-0.

    The Dutch turned the game around, of course, but with the kind of agricultural approach that Scaloni could never have anticipated coming from Van Gaal. Scaloni also deserves enormous credit for somehow calming his players down at a time when they appeared to be losing their heads. Even Messi admitted afterwards that Lahoz's officiating had made him "angry".

    The game, then, appeared there for the talking for the Netherlands but it was Argentina who not only dominated extra-time but kept their composure best in the shootout. Scaloni has had his critics during this tournament but this was the night that he proved his tactical acumen and man-management skills in the most trying of circumstances.

  • Leandro Paredes Argentina Netherlands 2022 World Cup

    Loser: Discipline

    This probably won't go down as the dirtiest match in World Cup history. The Battle of Santiago still takes some beating. But it was not the least bit surprising to learn that there were more cards shown to players that had entered the field of play (15) than in any previous World Cup game.

    Lahoz's handling of the game certainly played a part. Plenty of La Liga fans feared the worst when they saw the eccentric official had been awarded this particular tie, and when things got heated, the Spaniard certainly didn't help put out the fire – on the contrary, he fanned the flames with his theatrics.

    All things considered, then, it's honestly surprising that there weren't more cards, given we saw at least four separate touchline rows, and players being baited and insulted even during the penalty shootout, with Denzel Dumfries the worst culprit...

  • Denzel Dumfries Netherlands Argentina 2022 World Cup

    Loser: Denzel Dumfries

    This was a night to forget for Dumfries but there's little chance of him ever doing that. This game was as memorable as they come, but for all the wrong reasons for the defender. As well as playing without anything like the attacking threat he had against the USA, he also gave away a penalty for a clumsy challenge on Acuna.

    Dumfries was on the edge, mentally, throughout extra-time, and even during the shootout, when he repeatedly went out of his way to goad Argentina players as they walked up toward the box to take their spot-kick.

    It remains to be seen if anything was said to Dumfries to get him into such a state but it's clear that this defeat seriously hurt the Dutch wing-back. Indeed, he only seemed to calm down after talking to his Inter team-mate Lautaro some 10 minutes after the shootout had ended. By that stage, though, already been shown a red card for remonstrating with Lahoz, making this a nightmare evening for Dumfries.

  • Lautaro Martinez Argentina Netherlands 2022 World Cup

    Winner: Lautaro Martinez's mettle

    Well, Messi had said it.

    He was adamant that Lautaro Martinez, for all his offsides in the shock loss to Saudi Arabia, and his dreadful misses against Australia, still had a "very important" role to play in Argentina's World Cup.

    And so it proved, with Lautaro coolly slotting home the decisive spot-kick to set up a semi-final showdown with Croatia.

    The pressure on Lautaro was immense as he stepped up, given Enzo Fernandez had just offered Netherlands a route back into the shootout. But he kept his nerve superbly to score a penalty that might just have turned his tournament around.

  • Emiliano Martinez

    Winner: Emiliano Martinez

    When Lautaro clinched victory, all of Argentina's players set off to celebrate with the striker. All but one. Messi instead made a beeline for Martinez, who was already lying spread-eagled on the pitch.

    It was a lovely show of appreciation for a goalkeeper whose importance to this side often goes overlooked. He's going to get plenty of credit tonight, though, having saved two of Netherlands' four penalties to give his country a crucial and ultimately decisive lead in the shootout.

    Indeed, it was fantastic to see Martinez leading the celebrations afterwards, standing on the advertising hoarding beneath the hardcore Argentina behind one of the goals, singing and dancing away.

  • Argentina fans Netherlands 2022 World Cup

    Winner: Argentina's fans

    What a night to be Argentine!

    The Albiceleste's fans were celebrating wildly in the stands before the game had even kicked off. Why? Because of Brazil's shock quarter-final loss to Croatia. The Argentina supporters already in attendance had gathered around those streaming the game on their phones to watch the shootout at the Education City Stadium, so there was a mini-explosion of joy when Marquinhos missed the decisive spot-kick to send the Selecao out.

    They weren't just deriving joy from their great rivals' misery either. Brazil's elimination means that Argentina's path to the final had just got slightly easier. Croatia command and demand respect, of course. They were runners-up four years ago and remain as resilient as they are talented.

    But Luka Modric & Co. were battered by Brazil for almost 120 minutes. They were desperately fortunate to go through, just as they were against Japan in the last 16.

    Argentina will have their own issues with fatigue, of course. This epic will have taken plenty of Scaloni's side.

    But the positives far outweigh the negatives and they will now be starting to believe that this year. Indeed, having survived the sternest of examinations of their bottle, Messi & Co. will take some stopping.