Lionel Messi’s World Cup hopes are still alive, but Tuesday’s quarterfinal win over the Netherlands didn’t come easily and it didn’t come quickly — nor did Messi do it alone.
Goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez made two saves in a five-round penalty-kick shootout to lift Argentina past the Netherlands following a game that ended in a 2-2 draw. Messi had a goal and an assist, then got Argentina started in the shootout by converting on his attempt.
Gonzalo Montiel and Leandro Paredes also scored, but midfielder Enzo Fernández missed wide left before Lautaro Martinez sealed the win, making his shot. It was the second time in three World Cups that Argentina has eliminated the Netherlands in the final eight on penalty kicks, the first coming in the 2014 semifinals.
In Tuesday’s semifinal Argentina will face Croatia, which eliminated Brazil on penalty kicks in Tuesday’s other quarterfinal. Four of the first 10 knockout games in this World Cup have been decided by penalties.
Argentina was seconds away from closing out the win when Wout Weghorst scored off a set piece deep in stoppage time, sending the game into extra time. Teun Koopmeiners lined up over a free kick just outside the penalty area, but instead of going to goal he rolled the ball just to the side of the Argentine wall for Weghorst, who took a touch before slotting a shot past a surprised keeper, Martínez, and into the bottom left corner, stunning an overwhelmingly pro-Argentina crowd of 88,235 that was ready to celebrate.
The Dutch had just two shots on goal in regulation time and both were buried by Weghorst, who also scored on a header in the 83rd minute. Those two goals erased a 2-0 Argentina lead built on a goal and assist from Messi, making Weghorst the first Dutch player to come off the bench and score a brace in a World Cup game.
Argentina had several good looks in the final minutes of extra time, but Dutch goalkeeper Andries Nopert made a couple of huge saves and Fernández curled a right-footed shot off the far post on the final kick before penalties.
Argentina had the only goal in the first half, with defender Nahuel Molina scoring in the 35th minute. Messi made it happen, though, dropping a shoulder and darting into the midfield, drawing defenders to him on a long, broken-field run. He then picked out Molina making a run into the box and found him with a perfect pass through the Dutch defense. Molina did the rest, escaping Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk and beating Nopert with a right-footed shot into the left corner for his first goal in 25 international appearances.
It was also Argentina’s first goal in a World Cup game against Holland since 1998, the last two meetings ending in scoreless draws. Messi has had a hand in five of Argentina’s eight goals in Qatar, scoring three of them and assisting on two others.
And he wasn’t done.
He narrowly missed doubling Argentina’s advantage in the 63rd minute, winning a free kick from 25 yards out after going down on a Van Dijk push from behind. He bent his left-footed shot over the wall toward the far post, but missed high by inches. After Denzel Dumfries tripped Argentina defender Marcos Acuña on the left edge of the box in the 71st minute, Messi got another chance, this time on a penalty kick, and he didn’t miss, beating Nopert to give Argentina a 2-0 lead.
The goal was Messi’s 10th in World Cup play, tying Gabriel Bautista for the Argentine record.
Weghorst cut the deficit in half with seven minutes left in regulation, heading in a long Steven Bergwijn cross five minutes after entering the match.
— Kevin Baxter Los Angeles Times