Argentina will face Croatia in the World Cup semi-finals after beating the Netherlands 4-3 on penalties following a thrilling 2-2 extra-time draw on a night of high World Cup drama. Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez was the hero in the shootout after the South Americans let a two-goal lead slip in the final minutes of normal time after Lionel Messi had put them on the brink of the last four. Wout Weghorst scored two dramatic late goals, the second from a remarkably inventive free-kick in the 11th minute of stoppage time, as the Netherlands fought back with seven minutes of normal time remaining to force extra-time.
Argentine had looked well set to reach the last four after Messi conjured up a brilliant assist for Nahuel Molina and a clinical goal from the penalty spot.
Just hours after Brazil and Neymar crashed out of the tournament on penalties to the Croats, Argentina survived to keep South American interest in the competition.
The Lusail Stadium felt like home for Argentina with at least three quarters of the 88,235 crowd backing the South American team and only a smattering of orange shirts in the crowd.
But all were treated to a thrilling late night drama that finally reached its conclusion just before 1 a.m. local time.
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.
– Free-kick genius –
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, though, were not about to go out with a whimper — pulling a goal back, seven minutes from the end, with an angled glancing header from Weghorst from a Berghuis cross from deep.
Ten minutes of added time raised Dutch hopes and – tempers with a couple of mass confontations – and they moved Van Dijk up front and pumped balls int the box.
Deep into added time, one of those high balls, led to a free-kick just outside the area.
Koopmeiners feigned an expected shot before instead, to everyone’s surprise, playing a short pass into Weghorst, who twisted past Enzo Fernandez and poked home the equaliser.
The wild celebrations over, the game went into extra-time and curiously became becalmed, only sparking back into life late in the second period.
Lautaro Martinez saw a powerful goalbound shot deflected off Van Djik and then another deflected effort, from Fernandez, flew just over the bar.
Lautaro then forced a diving save out of Noppert and Messi screwed a shot wide and only the post kept out a long-range drive from Fernandez.
After all that, it was penalties.
Van Dijk was up first and Martinez dived to his right to save. Messi followed and made no mistake before Martinez saved again from Berghuis.
This time there was no way back for the Dutch as, even despite a miss from Fernandez, Argentina held on to win the shoot-out and head into the semi-finals.
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