A World Cup knockout match for the ages, it was heated, fractious, and eventually descended into complete chaos. As a result of Louis van Gaal’s substitutions, which combined to cause havoc, Argentina went to hell and back, collapsing in the final seconds of the second half to sq.ander a two-goal lead. However, Argentina prevailed in a ridiculous match following a tense overtime period thanks to Lautaro Martnez’s game-winning penalty kick in a shootout. Gabriel Batistuta’s record-tying 10th World Cup goal and Lionel Messi’s miraculous assist both ended as footnotes.
Martnez maintained his composure despite Argentina suffering greatly. When Weghorst, a 6’6″ striker who had joined Besiktas on loan from Burnley in the summer, entered the game with 78 minutes remaining, it was clear that Argentina had lost control of the situation. Two of Argentina’s substitutes, German Pezzella and Leandro Paredes, whose poor challenge on Nathan Aké caused a first brawl near the end of regular time, were persuaded to sandwich Weghorst on the edge of the box as the trio contested an aerial ball with seconds remaining in the second half. The Dutch then developed their ingenuity. From the ensuing free kick, Teun Koopmeiners, another late replacement, lined up to shoot, but instead cannoned the ball into Weghorst’s feet, who rolled his defender and promptly prodded the ball into the far corner.
Weghorst scored as many goals against Argentina in the span of 22 minutes as he has for Burnley, prompting the Netherlands substitutes to disperse from the bench and leg it to embrace him. As the Spanish referee, Antonio Mateu Lahoz, blew his whistle, he was ambushed. For the second time, Edgar Davids, a member of Van Gaal’s coaching staff, had to drag orange shirts away from those with sky blue and white stripes. Yes, Argentina let go of their hold, but in reality, they had been living dangerously for some time. When another substitute, Steven Berghuis, whistled a shot against the side netting, they probably believed they had survived. As the whistle sounded to signal the end of regulation time and the start of overtime, Messi shook his head in shock.
It always seemed as though Lionel Scaloni’s decision to adopt Louis van Gaal’s three-man defense would either pay off handsomely or backfire, and for the longest time it appeared it would be the former as Nahuel Molina, the right wing-back, opened the scoring and Marcos Acuna, the left wing-back, won the penalty that Lionel Messi converted to double Argentina’s lead on 73 minutes.
Prior to kickoff, there was a scene that resembled a group worship when Messi’s name was read aloud. In the lowest of the four tiers, behind Emiliano Martnez’s goal, there was a bank of Argentina fans making noise well before the game even started. Then word of Brazil’s exit started to spread, and it was clear that people were enjoying other people’s suffering. Martnez entered the warm-up area with a stern expression on his face and clenched a fist toward the spectators. That was enough to start the cheering, and it only got louder when Messi strolled forward to create the most opulent of Argentina goals just minutes after Rodrigo De Paul had fired the game’s first shot on goal with a meek side-foot shot from the edge of the box.
After 22 minutes, Messi suddenly came alive, sashaying infield toward the edge of the D before curling a shot over Andries Noppert’s crossbar. The crowd’s gasps were predictable in response, but this was different. Marten de Roon and then Aké, who appeared to be unsure of which path to block off, were both avoided by Messi as he shimmied. By taking advantage of Aké’s hesitation, Messi was able to scurry past the defender and continue on his diagonal run. The scene appeared to be relatively innocent from up in the gods, or perhaps from anywhere in this ground. However, that is the time when Messi, a stealthy killer with a gorgeous feathery touch, is most subtly effective.
The Netherlands could have been excused for thinking that Messi was going nowhere, but what happened next killed them. As he continued to advance across the field while swerving from right to left, Messi spotted Molina in his peripheral vision. After performing the tiniest of checks out of the corner of his eye, he sent a perfectly weighted pass to the Atlético Madrid defender. Moving quicker and with more arrogance than the Dutch defense, Molina gathered the ball in stride, took control with his left foot, and then used his right foot to toe poke past Noppert. The entire outfield rushed to celebrate with Messi because they had just experienced another electrifying moment.
At the half, Van Gaal substituted Steven Bergwijn for Davy Klaassen and removed De Roon, but the Netherlands was unable to counteract Messi’s influence. On the hour, he spun away from Daley Blind and then, after being shoved over on the edge of the box by an unusually agitated Virgil van Dijk, whipped a nearly perfect free kick on to the roof of Noppert’s goal. Denzel Dumfries then made a careless challenge as Acuna sliced inside the 18-yard box, giving Messi the opportunity to extend Argentina’s lead. He could not possibly miss. Messi’s penalty kick was accurate as usual and swished into the corner.
What followed was not anticipated in the plot. Argentina suddenly struggled after Van Gaal introduced Weghorst. It appeared that Weghorst’s goal, which was assisted by Berghuis’ right-side cross, would only be a footnote at the conclusion of another game in which we would all spend time praising Messi. Instead, it proved to be a game-winning goal. Weghorst silenced a stadium full of Argentinians as the Netherlands refused to give up and, after one stupid foul, they were level. The extra time was as good as the earlier time. Enzo Fernandez’s shot looped onto the roof of the Dutch net, but Van Dijk blocked it – not that he knew much about it – and Lautaro Martnez’s attempt was stopped just before penalties were called.