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No crying for Argentina

It’s a lot of joy, a lot of relief.

DOHA, Qatar (AFP) — Argentina sets up a semifinal showdown with Croatia after beating the Netherlands, 4-3, on penalties following a thrilling 2-2 extra-time draw in a World Cup quarterfinal classic.

Goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez was the hero in the shootout for the South Americans after Argentina squandered a Lionel Messi-engineered two-goal lead in the final minutes of normal time.

Dutch substitute Wout Weghorst scored two late goals — the second from an inventive free-kick in the 11th minute of stoppage time — as the Netherlands fought back with seven minutes of normal time remaining to force extra-time.

Argentina looked poised for the Last Four after Messi conjured up a brilliant assist for Nahuel Molina and a clinical goal from the penalty spot.

“It’s a lot of joy, a lot of relief,” Messi said.

“We didn’t want extra-time or penalties. We suffered too much because of how everything happened, but it is the quarter-finals of a World Cup. We knew how to suffer when it was our turn, but we got through to the semifinals.”

“It’s beautiful, something impressive,” he added.

For the Dutch it was a bitterly disappointing end to their tournament and they have now lost six of their last eight shoot-outs in major championships since 1992.

“We have been practicing penalties all year and despite everything we failed. It’s a shame,” coach Louis van Gaal said.

“As a coach, I want to have everything under control. That’s why I asked the players to take penalties for their clubs, they all did. But if you miss two, you won’t win. You just can’t get over a streak like this.”

The Lusail Stadium was turned into home for Argentina with the vast majority of the 88,235 crowd backing the South American team and only a smattering of orange shirts in the crowd.

But all were treated to a thrilling late-night drama that finally reached its conclusion just before 1 a.m. local time on Saturday.

After a cagey start, Messi produced a moment of inspiration, ten minutes before the interval, to create the opener for his team.

Offering no clues of his intent, he split open the Dutch defense with a sublime reverse pass between Daley Blind and Virgil van Dijk into the path of Molina who timed his run perfectly and slotted home with the outside of his foot.

Van Gaal responded at the break by making a double change, bringing Teun Koopmeiners and Steven Berghuis on into midfield in place of Bergwijn and Marten De Roon.

But while the Dutch saw plenty of the ball their play remained too predictable and guileless.

Deservedly, the Argentines extended its lead in the 73rd minute after Denzel Dumfries tripped Marcos Acuna in the box and Messi made no mistake from the spot, burying the ball in the corner.

The Dutch, though, were not about to go out with a whimper — pulling a goal back, seven minutes from the end, with an angled glancing header from Weghorst from a Berghuis cross from deep.

Ten minutes of added time raised Dutch hopes and — tempers with a couple of mass confontations — and they moved Van Dijk up front and pumped balls in the box.

Deep into added time, one of those high balls, led to a free-kick just outside the area.

Koopmeiners feigned an expected shot before instead, to everyone’s surprise, playing a short pass into Weghorst, who twisted past Enzo Fernandez and poked home the equalizer.

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