Lionel Messi inspires Argentina amid 'ridiculous' scenes at World Cup

Lionel Messi starred for Argentina in a dramatic quarter-final victory against the Netherlands at the World Cup. Pic: Getty
Lionel Messi starred for Argentina in a dramatic quarter-final victory against the Netherlands at the World Cup. Pic: Getty

Argentina's quarter-final against the Netherlands promised to be a classic and it delivered in spades as Lionel Messi inspired the South Americans to a 4-3 penalty shootout victory in Qatar. Messi scored one and set up another as the match ended 2-2 after full-time and extra time, with goalkeeper Emilio Martinez the hero for Argentina in the shootout.

Messi converted his penalty from the spot and Martinez saved two attempts, with forward Lautaro Martinez scoring the clinching penalty that sent Argentina through to the semi-finals where they will face Croatia. The Croats also booked their spot in the last four via penalties after knocking out World Cup favourites Brazil in a shock result earlier in the day.

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For Argentina, it's is only the second time they have reached the last four since 1990, with Messi part of the team that lost the 2014 final to Germany in Brazil. However, Messi's dream of adding the one major trophy that has so far eluded his is still alive after the 35-year-old put on a masterful display against a Dutch side that went down fighting.

Messi had produced a mesmerising piece of skill to set up the opening goal for Nahuel Molina in the 35th minute, with an incredible through-ball that dissected the Netherlands defence with surgical precision. He then converted a penalty in the 73rd to make it 2-0 with his fourth goal of this year's World Cup.

Argentina looked home and dry but the Netherlands refused to give up and had substitute Wout Weghorst to thank for two late goals - the second from an audacious free-kick routine 11 minutes into stoppage time. Teun Koopmeiners feigned to curl a free kick into the area, only to play it short to Weghorst and completely deceive the Argentine defence.

The big Dutch forward swept the ball into the net for what turned out to be the latest second-half goal scored in a knockout stage game in World Cup history.

A wild match that contained a FIFA World Cup record of 17 yellow cards threatened to boil over on numerous occasions as tempers on both sides heated up. Players on and off the pitch had to be separated as melees almost broke out on more than one occasion.

Viewers were beside themselves watching the 'ridiculous' scenes unfold, with Argentina eventually sealing victory in the penalty shootout, despite Enzo Fernandez shooting wide from his effort. Martinez's two saves from Virgil van Dijk and Steven Berghuis and Lautaro Martinez's winning kick capped off an astonishing match that sent the football world into meltdown.

Messi's second half penalty took him to 10 goals in the World Cup, tied with Argentinean great Gabriel Batistuta for the most in the nation's history, and 94 goals in total from his 169 international games.

After a cagey start, Messi produced a moment of inspiration, ten minutes before the interval, to create the opener for his team. Offering no clues of his intent, he split open the Dutch defence with a sublime reverse pass between Daley Blind and Virgil van Dijk into the path of Nahuel Molina who timed his run perfectly and slotted home with the outside of his foot.

Dutch coach Luis van Gaal responded at the break by making a double change, bringing Teun Koopmeiners and Steven Berghuis on into midfield in place of Bergwijn and Marten De Roon. But while the Dutch saw plenty of the ball their play remained too predictable and guileless.

Netherlands storm back with two late goals

As the second half wore on, all the momentum was with the Argentines and it was no surprise when they extended their lead in the 73rd minute after Denzel Dumphries tripped Marcos Acuna in the box and Messi made no mistake from the spot, burying the ball in the corner. The Dutch were not about to go out with a whimper and had Weghorst to thank for a brace that sent the match into extra time.

Seen here, Wout Weghorst celebrates his brace for the Nertherlands in the World Cup quarter-final against Argentina.
Wout Weghorst's extraordinary brace for the Nertherlands sent the World Cup quarter-final against Argentina to extra time and eventually penalties. Pic: Getty

From there, it was mainly all Argentina as Lautaro Martinez saw a powerful goal-bound shot deflected off Van Djik and then another deflected effort, from Fernandez, flew just over the bar. Lautaro then forced a diving save from Noppert, Messi screwed a shot wide and Fernandez's long-range drive hit the post.

Fernandez's missed penalty was another blow to the highly regarded midfielder, but fortunately it didn't prove costly as the South Americans advanced.

There was only despair for the continent's other powerhouse Brazil, who were bundled out by 2018 finalists Croatia 4-2 on penalties. The match ended goalless after 90 minutes, with Neymar's extra time goal - which saw him equal Pele's all-time goals record for the national team - cancelled out by a late Bruno Petkovic equaliser.

The Croats then kept their composure from the penalty spot after Brazil's Rodrygo had the first penalty saved by goalkeeping hero Dominik Livakovic, before Marquinhos struck the post with his crucial fourth effort. Nikola Vlasic, Lovro Majer, Luka Modric and Mislav Orsic were all successful from the spot for Croatia.

Bizarrely, it meant that Brazil's best penalty-taker did not even take a spot-kick, with Neymar presumably set to come in at No.5. The Paris Saint-Germain forward was inconsolable on the pitch after the final whistle, as fans were left in disbelief that the favourites to lift the World Cup title had been eliminated.

with agencies

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