LUSAIL, Qatar — Lionel Messi and Argentina survived a penalty shootout in one of the worst games of the 2022 World Cup. Amy Martinez darted to her right, then her left for some classy saves. Messi converted to give Argentina the lead in the shootout and from there, unlike in regulation, the Argentinians never looked back.
They took a 2-0 lead into the final 20 minutes of regulation. The Netherlands scored a masterful set piece goal in the 11th minute of the second half to send the game to extra time, eventually resulting in a penalty.
From the spot, Argentina started with perfection. 2-0 and 3-1 leads. It threatened to blow another lead when Enzo Fernandez dragged his effort wide. But Ladaro Martinez converted in the clutch. Heroic goalkeeper Amy Martinez fell to the ground in relief. Messi was lifted into the air by his teammates.
But just over an hour before the penalty shootout, the story of Friday’s game was Messi’s pass. It was his 34th minute ascension to another planet. He looked up and saw six orange jerseys standing in his way. So he switched to a bird’s eye view. He peered down from the heights and picked an extraterrestrial ball through four Dutchmen to make it 1-0.
He then converted a penalty chance in the 73rd minute. He walked towards his adoring fans and spread his arms as his teammates spilled onto the field. He and they advanced to the semi-finals with a 2-0 lead.
But then disaster struck. The Dutch charged at Wekhorst, and began to throw long balls at his legs and chest and at his head. It soon became clear that Argentina could not cope.
Wekhorst scored first with a trademark header. Argentina, suddenly, barely hung on.
Filled with yellow cards and ruckus, the game turned into a complete mess. Much of the madness was of Argentina’s design. Until the last minute of stoppage time, it was helpful.
The Dutch genius’ stroke that nearly ended Messi’s World Cup career began in a stalemate. At the Lucille Stadium, it was the 101st minute after a controversial foul. Argentina were leading 2-1 in the semi-final, but the Netherlands were awarded a dangerous free kick and they had to score. And they did, as Argentina had before, with a pass that not a soul saw coming.
The undoing from Paris began with the overzealous German Bessella at the back of Wekhorst. It was Holland’s second free kick in such a position, just wide of the centre, 25 yards out. The Dutch hit the wall first. All Argentina is ready for a similar effort. And Teun Koopmeiners seemed to step up to the ball to do exactly that.
But instead, he made a brilliant pass to Wekhorst and executed a play that the Dutch cooked up on the training ground.
It was Similar to what Argentina played against England 1998 World Cup to a 2-2 tie (eventual win on penalties).
It’s a precocious response to Messi’s genius, his collective genius as much as his individual talent. Only the Netherlands couldn’t carry the same energy into extra time, and after 30 minutes both teams went goalless, it was time for Amy Martinez to do her thing.
La Albiceleste They face Croatia on Tuesday. This makes their fans very happy. Here at 8:40 p.m., with 80 minutes to go until kickoff, many gathered around phones and media-tribune monitors to watch Brazil take on Croatia from the penalty spot. As Marquinhos attacked the post and Brazil lost, the blue-and-white-clad acolytes erupted. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, had already gathered behind a target and soon broke into song. The path was clear.
Outside the Lusail Stadium, TV reporters went live to Argentina in shock: “Brazil esté fuera de Copa del Mundo.” Brazil is out of the World Cup.
They’ll end the night: Argentina very much alive, two steps away from Messi’s elusive glory.