Lionel Messi has twisted the knife into the Netherlands’ World Cup exit after criticising Louis van Gaal’s side for their direct approach in Argentina’s dramatic and heated quarter-final win on Friday evening in Lusail.
Messi had superbly set up Nahuel Molina for Argentina’s first-half opener, threading a sublime pass through the Dutch defence, before coolly slotting in a penalty in the 73rd minute after Denzel Dumfries fouled Marcos Acuna.
The Netherlands had rarely troubled Argentina during the match before substitute Wout Weghorst’s header sparked them into life and he rolled the ball past goalkeeper Emi Martinez deep into stoppage time to send the game into extra-time.
Messi, who scored in the subsequent shootout, was left unimpressed by how Van Gaal had resorted to route one football to drag the Dutch back into the game.
“Van Gaal says that they play good football, but what he did was put on tall people and hit long balls,” said Messi.
“I don’t want to talk about the referee because you can’t be honest. If you talk they sanction you, FIFA must think about it, they can’t put a referee like that for these instances, they can’t put a referee who isn’t up to the task.”
Having cupped his ear to the Netherlands’ bench after scoring his penalty during the game, Messi gestured to Van Gaal that he ‘speaks too much’ at the end of a game laced with animosity.
Such a barbed reaction was ignited leading up to the contest by Van Gaal himself, who told Dutch publication NOS: “Messi is indeed the most dangerous player who creates the most chances and also makes them himself.
“But on the other hand he does not play much with the opponent when he has possession of the ball. That is also where our chances lie.”
Messi: Maradona’s spirit pushing us on
Messi believes Diego Maradona’s spirit is driving Argentina’s push for World Cup glory.
The legendary Maradona, who passed away at the age of 60 in November 2020, captained Argentina to World Cup glory in 1986.
“Diego is seeing us from heaven. He is pushing us and I really hope this stays the way until the end,” said Messi.
Argentina will next face Croatia, who beat Brazil on penalties earlier, on Tuesday for a place in the final. Messi celebrated with arms aloft in front of the mass ranks of Argentina fans, his hopes of securing football’s biggest prize at the fifth attempt intact for at least a few more days.
“Argentina are among the four best in the world because they show that they know how to play every game with the same desire and the same intensity,” the 35-year-old added.
“A lot of joy, a lot of happiness. We didn’t have to go to extra-time or penalties, we had to suffer. But we got through and it’s impressive.”
Martinez: Referee was useless
Penalty-kick hero Emi Martinez described Antonio Mateu Lahoz as “useless” after the Spanish referee brandished a record number of yellow cards during Argentina’s pulsating victory.
Goalkeeper Martinez saved penalties from Virgil van Dijk and Steven Berghuis before Lautaro Martinez scored the winning spot-kick to secure them a 4-3 shootout win after the quarter-final finished 2-2 after extra-time.
But it was a game that had everything, including 15 cards shown to players that entered the field of play, the most in World Cup history, overtaking Cameroon’s clash with Germany in 2002, in which there were 12 yellows and two reds.
“I thought we controlled the game really well, we went 2-0 up and the ref was giving everything for them,” the Aston Villa goalkeeper said. “They get a good header, and then it turned upside down, the ref gave 10 minutes for no reason.
“He just wanted them to score, that was basically it, so hopefully we don’t have that ref any more, he is useless.
“I heard Van Gaal saying we’ve got an advantage in penalties, and if they go to penalties they win, I think he needs to keep his mouth shut.”
Van Gaal confirms he will not continue as Dutch boss
The defeat was the first for Van Gaal in 20 matches since he was appointed as Netherlands boss in August 2021 and brought an end to the 71-year-old’s third spell as coach.
Before the tournament it was confirmed Ronald Koeman will replace Van Gaal as Netherlands boss after the World Cup.
In April this year, Van Gaal revealed he had an aggressive form of prostate cancer, having kept the diagnosis from his players during their World Cup qualifying campaign.
The former Manchester United manager said: “First and foremost I will not be continuing as a head coach for the Dutch team because I only did it for this period of time.
“This was my very last match. My third term as a head coach. In that time I coached 20 matches but I didn’t lose a single one. I think it is Google you can look that up on. I am looking back on a fantastic period of time with a great group of players.
“I don’t think I’ve been beaten today, only in a penalty shootout.
“I had a wonderful time and yes it is incredibly painful to see how we have been eliminated. Particularly as because I did everything to prevent this from happening.”
Lautaro delivers when it really matters
South American football expert Tim Vickery:
“Four years ago, South America’s participation at the World Cup in Russia ended at the quarter-final stage when Brazil lost to Belgium and Uruguay lost to France. Both of those were over 90 minutes but this time, both Brazil and Argentina took us to 120 and penalties.
“It’s now Argentina’s tournament as far as South America are concerned. When Brazil got to the final in 2002 against Germany, an opinion poll in Argentina revealed that more Argentines were supporting Brazil than Germany. There was a South American unity there, but I’m not sure that will apply the other way around.
“They certainly have plenty of support of their own making a fantastic noise in those stadiums. Perhaps it is Lionel Messi’s destiny to win the World Cup, but let’s pay some tribute to Lautaro.
“He took that last penalty and it’s one of the best I’ve seen in the history of penalties. I don’t think it’s hyperbole. Lautaro came into this tournament as Argentina’s centre forward. In the first game against Saudi Arabia, he scores two very well-taken goals but they were ruled out for very narrow VAR decisions as Argentina eventually lose.
“The pressure is heaped on and Lautaro ends up losing his place in the side. Argentina then brought him on in the games against Poland and Australia, and Martinez looked hideous. He looked so short of confidence and he made the goal look tiny.
“You need courage to step up and take that fifth penalty. But when it really mattered, he delivered for Argentina. He’d have been the villain of all villains if he missed that one.
“It emphasised the point that it’s not only Messi. What he did for Molina’s goal was magnificent. He’s one of those players who if you give him a brick he’ll build a house with it, but there are other players in the Argentina side.”
Analysis: Argentina edge game for the ages
Sky Sports News senior reporter Geraint Hughes at the Lusail Stadium:
“I can’t believe I actually witnessed that game. It was one of those moments where you say, ‘I was there’. That was just ridiculous and just an incredible game of football which encapsulated the theatre and everything that the beautiful game can give us.
“At times, the football wasn’t great and other times it was phenomenal. The energy was just sensational. The atmosphere was incredible before the game had even kicked off. There was electricity running through the stadium. The official attendance was just over 88,000 but there were only 1,000 Dutch inside the ground.
“It was cat and mouse before a moment of magic from Messi with his ball for Molina. You thought the game was all over after the penalty. How wrong was I. It became tetchy and it became feisty.
“Van Dijk was thrown up front alongside Koopmeiners and Weghorst, who scored a great header to get the Dutch back into it. But who would’ve seen what came next? I was watching people going through absolute purgatory with their nerves after that unthinkable short free-kick levelled matters.
“There were people crying even when Argentina were winning 2-1. But they somehow found the energy and the will in the shootout. There’s clearly no loved lost between these two sides, either.
“When the referee did the coin toss to choose which side we had the shootout there was even a tetchiness then. I’ve rarely in my entire career been in an atmosphere like that in all my time. It was bonkers, crazy and wonderful. The Argentina fans need to find their voice in the semi-finals as they played a huge part in this victory.”