In what was another remarkable World Cup thriller on Tuesday, Argentina eventually punched their semi-final ticket after clinching a nail-biting 4-3 penalty shootout victory against Holland.
While Brazil might have stunningly come crashing out of this year’s tournament after their own spot-kick heartbreak against Croatia earlier in the day, Lionel Messi helped drag La Albiceleste over the finish line with another stellar display.
Converting from the spot in the second-half and producing a sublime assist as Nahuel Molina opened the scoring for Lionel Scaloni’s men 10 minutes before the break, it appeared that Argentina were cruising their way to the last four.
However, in what would have been billed as one of the World Cup’s most iconic comebacks, the European giants came within touching distance of pulling off an almighty upset as second-half sub Wout Weghorst clinched a famous last-gasp brace.
In what was a repeat of their nervy penalty shootout from the 2014 World Cup, we have taken a look at the main talking points as Argentina clinched a semi-final showdown against Croatia.
Is it written in the stars for Messi?
While Argentina might have opened their World Cup adventure last month with an infamous 2-1 loss at the hands of Saudi Arabia, the South American icons have come roaring back in some style.
Desperate to get their hands on a third world crown on December 18th, Scaloni’s high-flying squad are also hoping that they can hand their attacking talisman the chance to put the cherry on his legendary career in Qatar.
Putting in a Man of the Match display as Argentina picked up a 2-1 victory against Australia last week, it isn’t a surprise to many that a certain Messi is spearheading their charge in the Middle East.
Converting from the spot with 13 minutes left and already bagging four World Cup strikes this winter – a tally that is only bettered by France’s Kylian Mbappe – Messi made more history on Friday night.
Firing Scaloni’s side to another semi-final showdown, the 35-year-old’s strike here means that he moves level with Gabriel Batistuta as Argentina’s all-time leading goalscorer at a World Cup finals.
Emi Martinez – A penalty saving anomaly
Although it might be Argentina’s favourite son who once again steals most of the headlines on Friday night, there is no doubt that Emi Martinez has further cemented his name in La Albiceleste folk law.
While the former world champions might have failed to find a reliable option between the sticks over the past decade, the Aston Villa shot-stopper has certainly taken his chance and now stands as one of Argentina’s most vital stars.
Playing a crucial role as Argentina claimed last year’s Coppa America in Rio following a famous 1-0 victory against Brazil, the ex-Arsenal goalkeeper put on a real rescue act at the Lusail Stadium.
Denying both Liverpool’s defensive talisman Virgil van Dijk and Ajax’s Steven Berghuis with Holland’s opening two spot kicks, Martinez has rightfully received a string of praise following his heroics on Friday.
Now with a penalty save percentage of 30.3% and gaining a real reputation as a shootout specialist, the 30-year-old has his sights set on getting his hands on a second piece of international silverware.
Heartbreak for Holland in their bid for revenge
Crashing out of the 2014 World Cup at the semi-final stage eight years ago, Holland had made it no secret that they were seeking some revenge on Friday night.
However, while Weghorst might have almost completed what would have been one of the World Cup’s most historic comebacks, the former Burnley striker was part of a squad that will need some time to recover.
Nevertheless, while the European giants might have failed to secure a first semi-final appearance since 2014 here, Louis van Gaal’s side should take plenty of positives away from their return to the world stage.
Missing out on a spot in Russia four years ago and coming under a huge amount of scrutiny back home, the one-time Manchester United boss has seen his side enjoy a real purple patch over the past 18 months.
Despite suffering more penalty shootout heartbreak at the hands of Argentina this weekend, Holland have still not lost a single fixture in 90 minutes from any of their previous 20 appearances across all competitions.
Holland: Noppert, Timber, van Dijk, Ake, Dumfries, de roon, de Jong, Blind, Gakpo, Depay, Bergwijn
Subs: de Jong, Berghuis, Lang, Weghorst, Koopmeiners
Argentina: E. Martinez, Molina, Romero, Otamendi, L. Martinez, Acuna, Mac Allister, Fernandez, De Paul, Messi, Alvarez
Subs: Tagliafico, Montiel, Peredes, Pezzella, Di Maria, L. Martinez
Goals: Holland: Weghorst (83′, 90+11′) – Argentina: Molina (35′), Messi (73′ Pen)
Yellow Cards: Holland: Timber, Dumfries, Depay, Bergwijn, Lang, Merghuis, Weghorst – Argentina: Pezzella, Peredes, Montiel, Romero, Acuna, Martinez, Otamendi, Messi
Red Cards: Dumfries
Referee: Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz
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