NEW DELHI: Argentina and Lionel Messi kept their World Cup dream alive on a nervy night as they defeated Netherlands 4-3 on penalties to reach the semi-finals on Saturday. Argentina will now face the last edition’s runners-up Croatia, who knocked Brazil out of the tournament with a shootout win on Friday, in the last four stage on Wednesday.
The two-time champions were well on course for the semis after taking a 2-0 lead late into the second half, before substitute Wout Weghorst took the game into the extra time by scoring two late goals for the Netherlands. The second Netherlands goal came as late as in the 111th minute. The score remained levelled at 2-2 after the 30 minutes of extra time too, paving way for a dramatic penalty shootout at Lusail stadium.
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Argentina keeper Emi Martinez saved the first two Netherlands penalties to give Argentina a 2-0 advantage in the shootout too. But Enzo Fernandes, who was the fourth penalty taker, missed his spot kick for Argentina to give Netherlands a glimmer of hope, before Lautaro Martinez scored the winner for the South American side.
It was Messi magic again for Argentina in the regulation time, setting the first goal for them with a decisive pass to Nahuel Molina in the first half. He then converted a penalty in the 73rd minute to give Argentina a two-goal cushion, before Weghorst came off the bench and turned the game upside down. But in the end it was a happy ending for Messi and co.

Messi celebrated with arms aloft in front of the massed ranks of Argentina fans, his hopes of securing football’s biggest prize at the fifth attempt intact for a few more days.
A third bench-clearing melee of the match took place behind him as some of the Dutch players, distraught after coming so close to one of the greatest comebacks in World Cup history, clashed with their Argentine rivals.
Apparently on their way home at 2-0 down with only seven minutes of normal time remaining, the Dutch scored twice through substitute Weghorst to send the match to two scoreless periods of extra time.
Messi, almost inevitably, had played a major role in giving Argentina their lead.

While it was Molina’s goal that put Argentina ahead in the 35th minute, it was Messi who unlocked a suffocating Dutch defence that had snuffed out any previous chances.
The 35-year-old took the ball 40 metres out and ghosted to his left in front of a wall of markers before sliding a pass back to the right to Molina on the edge of the box.
The wingback took a touch and poked the ball past onrushing goalkeeper Andries Noppert to send the vast majority of the 88,235 crowd at Lusail Stadium into paroxysms of delight.
There was more delirium for the Albiceleste faithful in the 73rd minute when Messi slapped a penalty kick in the right midriff of the net after Denzel Dumfries had fouled Marcos Acuna on the edge of the box.

With tactics more reminiscent of Sunday park football than Total Football, the Dutch got back into the contest by bombarding the Argentine area with high balls aimed at their tall target men.
They were rewarded with a goal in the 83rd minute when Steven Berghuis crossed from the right and his fellow substitute Wout Weghorst headed the ball past Martinez’s dive.
The Argentines held onto their lead until 11 minutes into stoppage time when Teun Koopmeiners cleverly reversed a free kick and found Weghorst free to put the ball past Martinez and level up the match.
The Argentines were shell-shocked by the turnaround in the first period of extra time but recovered their composure to pepper the Dutch goal with shots, Enzo Hernandez coming closest to scoring with a rasping effort that hit the post.
The defeat was the first for the Dutch in 20 matches going back to last year’s European Championship and brought an end to 71-year-old Louis van Gaal’s third spell as coach.
(With inputs from agencies)





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