LUSAIL, Qatar (AP)Lionel Messi started the match by delivering another soccer clinic. The Argentina superstar ended it sporting a bloodied top lip, shouting abuse to opponents and even blasting the referee.
And of course there were goals, too, for one of the greats of the game whose bid to win the World Cup for the first time is still on track.
Messi is heading to the semifinals with Argentina after a chaotic penalty-shootout victory over Netherlands that had just about everything on Friday.
Argentina took a 2-0 lead, conceded an equalizer in the 11th minute of second-half stoppage time to send the match to extra time at 2-2, and then won the shootout 4-3 amid a deafening noise inside Lusail Stadium.
Messi, who scored a penalty in regulation time, converted his penalty in the shootout while goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez made two saves to help Argentina secure a semifinal match against Croatia, which beat Brazil earlier Friday.
After Lautaro Martinez scored the clinching penalty, Messi – with his arms outstretched – sprinted toward the goalkeeper, who had fallen to the ground to the side of the goal, and lay on top of him.
”We had to suffer,” Messi said, ”but we got through.”
Messi did, especially, in an often violent match that featured 17 yellow cards – a record for a World Cup match – two of which went to Netherlands defender Denzel Dumfries, leading to him getting sent off after the game.
Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni called the game ”ugly” and Messi was critical of the Spanish referee, Antonio Mateu, saying: ”I don’t think he was up to the standard. He was very harmful for us.”
In a side of Messi rarely seen, he also broke off from his post-match interview on the field to shout abuse at the scorer of the Netherlands’ two goals, Wout Weghorst.
”What are you looking at, stupid?” Messi was heard saying.
Messi and his teammates hung around on the field for 20 minutes at the end, taking turns dancing and jumping up and down in front of Argentina’s celebrating, scarf-waving fans.
Messi said the late Diego Maradona was looking over the team.
”Diego is watching us from heaven,” Messi said of the former Argentina captain and coach who died two years ago. ”He is pushing us. I hope it stays like that until the end.”
It is only the second time Argentina has reached the last four since 1990. In 2014, Messi was part of the team that lost to Germany in the final and he looks in the mood to get there again in a tournament that he is turning into his own personal highlight reel.
Messi delivered a mesmerizing piece of skill and vision to set up the opening goal for Nahuel Molina in the 35th minute. He twisted free in central midfield and burst forward, unbalancing Netherlands defender Nathan Ake and then delivering a no-look reverse pass for Molina to finish for his first international goal.
His penalty in the 73rd minute, which came after Marcus Acuna was tripped by Dumfries, was his fourth goal of the tournament and took him to 10 overall in the World Cup – tied with Gabriel Batistuta for the most for Argentina. Messi now has 94 goals in his 169 international games.
His team trailing 2-0, Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal sent on two tall strikers – Weghorst and Luuk De Jong – and even told center back Virgil van Dijk to play up front. The game suddenly changed.
Weghorst glanced in a header from a right-wing cross in the 78th – five minutes after coming on – and then scored the latest second-half goal in a knockout-stage game at a World Cup.
Off a cleverly worked free-kick routine learned by Weghorst at his Turkish club, Besiktas, Teun Koopmeiners feigned to take a shot at goal from the edge of the area but instead played it short and low into the middle of the area. It deceived the Argentine defense as Weghorst took a touch, held off his marker and slotted home a finish on the stretch.
Enzo Fernandez hit the post near the end of extra time and was then the only Argentina player to fail to score in the shootout. Martinez’s saves were from attempts by Van Dijk and Steven Berghuis, after which he pulled his shorts high and danced a jig.
The loss ended the 71-year-old Van Gaal’s third stint in charge of the Netherlands. He was also the team’s coach at the World Cup in 2014 when Argentina beat the Dutch in a penalty shootout in the semifinals.
”Ever since we arrived here,” Van Gaal said, ”we have been focused on penalties. We thought we were going to win the penalty shootout.”
Argentina defenders Marcus Acuna and Gonzalo Montiel will miss the semifinals after collecting second yellow cards of the tournament
Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80
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