Messi’s World Cup dream alive after Argentina down Dutch on penalties

Argentina booked a place in the World Cup semifinals after a pulsating contest with the Netherlands was settled by a penalty shootout at the Lusail Stadium in Qatar.Argentina appeared to have the game wrapped up when they took a 2-0 lead entering the last 15 minutes.But the Dutch staged a stunning late comeback through goals from substitute Wout Weghorst – the second of which came in the 11th minute of stoppage time.After the score remained 2-2 following extra time, an enthralling encounter was decided from the penalty spot.Argentine goalkeeper Emi Martinez saved two Dutch efforts before Lautaro Martinez stepped up to seal the shootout 4-3 for his team. Argentina progress to a semifinal date on Tuesday with Croatia, who prevailed in their own penalty shootout against Brazil earlier on Friday.Even by the standards of a World Cup as crammed with drama as this one, what unfolded at the Lusail Stadium between two traditional heavyweights of the game was remarkable.Argentina seemed home and dry after a first-half strike from Nahuel Molina – assisted brilliantly by Messi – and a goal from the penalty spot by Messi in the 73rd minute.  But the Dutch turned the game on its head after the introduction of Weghorst for Memphis Depay.First, the big froward rose to head in a curled cross from Steven Berghuis to halve the deficit in the 83rd minute.When referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz added 10 minutes of stoppage time, it seemed apparent that the Dutch would have time to fashion more chances as they frantically pressed forward.So that proved as they won a free-kick on the edge of the Argentine box.What followed will perhaps go down as one of the most ice-cold, ingenious moments in World Cup history, as Teun Koopmeiners shaped up as if to shoot before slipping a pass into the feet of Weghorst.The big forward turned then prodded the ball beyond Emi Martinez and into the net – sparking pandemonium among the Dutch players and bench.Tempers erupted at the final whistle with pushing and shoving among the players – just as they had throughout the latter stages of the match.The question heading into extra time was which of the two teams could keep their composure.  After a cagey opening period, it was Argentina who pressed hardest for a winner in the second part of extra time, seeing chances for Martinez and Enzo Fernandez – the latter of whom struck the base of the post with one of the last kicks of the match.The two heavyweights punched themselves out, setting the stage for a shootout to determine who would meet Croatia.Martinez saved brilliantly from Dutch captain Virgil van Dijk and Steven Berghuis, and while Fernandez missed his effort for Argentina, it did not prove fatal as Messi, Leandro Paredes, Gonzalo Montiel and then Martinez all scored.  Much of the narrative at this World Cup has surrounded the 35-year-old Messi and his ‘last dance’ at the tournament, as he seeks to emulate the late, great Diego Maradona by leading the nation to their first title since 1986.Messi now has four goals to his name in Qatar – excluding shootouts – putting him behind only Kylian Mbappe’s five strikes in the Golden Boot race.But rather than personal accolades – of which Messi already has multitudes – the overriding emotion will be one of relief after the Netherlands’ revival did not prove terminal to Argentina’s World Cup chances.Croatia will be no pushover – as they proved against Brazil on Friday and four years ago in Russia – but there will surely be a growing feeling that Messi and Argentina are as well-placed as anyone to lift the trophy in Qatar on December 18.     

Messi’s World Cup dream alive after Argentina down Dutch on penalties

Argentina booked a place in the World Cup semifinals after a pulsating contest with the Netherlands was settled by a penalty shootout at the Lusail Stadium in Qatar.

Argentina appeared to have the game wrapped up when they took a 2-0 lead entering the last 15 minutes.

But the Dutch staged a stunning late comeback through goals from substitute Wout Weghorst – the second of which came in the 11th minute of stoppage time.

After the score remained 2-2 following extra time, an enthralling encounter was decided from the penalty spot.

Argentine goalkeeper Emi Martinez saved two Dutch efforts before Lautaro Martinez stepped up to seal the shootout 4-3 for his team. 

Argentina progress to a semifinal date on Tuesday with Croatia, who prevailed in their own penalty shootout against Brazil earlier on Friday.

Even by the standards of a World Cup as crammed with drama as this one, what unfolded at the Lusail Stadium between two traditional heavyweights of the game was remarkable.

Argentina seemed home and dry after a first-half strike from Nahuel Molina – assisted brilliantly by Messi – and a goal from the penalty spot by Messi in the 73rd minute.  

But the Dutch turned the game on its head after the introduction of Weghorst for Memphis Depay.

First, the big froward rose to head in a curled cross from Steven Berghuis to halve the deficit in the 83rd minute.

When referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz added 10 minutes of stoppage time, it seemed apparent that the Dutch would have time to fashion more chances as they frantically pressed forward.

So that proved as they won a free-kick on the edge of the Argentine box.

What followed will perhaps go down as one of the most ice-cold, ingenious moments in World Cup history, as Teun Koopmeiners shaped up as if to shoot before slipping a pass into the feet of Weghorst.

The big forward turned then prodded the ball beyond Emi Martinez and into the net – sparking pandemonium among the Dutch players and bench.

Tempers erupted at the final whistle with pushing and shoving among the players – just as they had throughout the latter stages of the match.

The question heading into extra time was which of the two teams could keep their composure.  

After a cagey opening period, it was Argentina who pressed hardest for a winner in the second part of extra time, seeing chances for Martinez and Enzo Fernandez – the latter of whom struck the base of the post with one of the last kicks of the match.

The two heavyweights punched themselves out, setting the stage for a shootout to determine who would meet Croatia.

Martinez saved brilliantly from Dutch captain Virgil van Dijk and Steven Berghuis, and while Fernandez missed his effort for Argentina, it did not prove fatal as Messi, Leandro Paredes, Gonzalo Montiel and then Martinez all scored.  

Much of the narrative at this World Cup has surrounded the 35-year-old Messi and his ‘last dance’ at the tournament, as he seeks to emulate the late, great Diego Maradona by leading the nation to their first title since 1986.

Messi now has four goals to his name in Qatar – excluding shootouts – putting him behind only Kylian Mbappe’s five strikes in the Golden Boot race.

But rather than personal accolades – of which Messi already has multitudes – the overriding emotion will be one of relief after the Netherlands’ revival did not prove terminal to Argentina’s World Cup chances.

Croatia will be no pushover – as they proved against Brazil on Friday and four years ago in Russia – but there will surely be a growing feeling that Messi and Argentina are as well-placed as anyone to lift the trophy in Qatar on December 18.