Argentine star Lionel Messi confirmed that his country felt the presence of the late Diego Maradona throughout his career in the FIFA World Cup finals in Qatar, including Friday, when Argentina beat the Netherlands 4-3 on penalties to reach the semi-finals.
Messi seemed to inspire Argentina to qualify for the semi-final against Croatia, who defeated Brazil in the quarter-finals, after he set up Nauel Molina’s first goal before the end of the break and added the second goal from a penalty kick.
But Argentina lost its lead with two goals in stoppage time before goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez maintained his composure to save the first two penalty kicks implemented by the Netherlands, then Lautaro Martinez scored the decisive kick to lead his country to qualification.
“Diego is watching us from the sky,” Messi told reporters.
Messi added, “When Lautaro scored and we qualified, there was great joy in the atmosphere. We took a lot of weight off our chests. It was a very difficult match from the start, and we knew it would be like this.”
He said, “We left it all behind us on the field. We were really happy and we enjoyed that moment, which we can see here as well as in Argentina. People are really happy, they are full of enthusiasm,” explaining that “the Dutch team caused us a problem through long balls and the presence of a lot of players in their own penalty area.
He pointed out, “In the end, they tied and we suffered. But we were able to reach the semi-finals, and this is what we wanted,” according to Reuters.
Argentina will meet Croatia in search of a place in the final, after the 2018 runners-up beat Brazil on penalties earlier Friday.
The Argentine star entered Fridayin an argument with the coach of the Dutch national team, Louis van Gaal and his assistants, after scoring the first penalty kick for Argentina and even after the end of the match.
Messi approached the bench of the Dutch national team and celebrated the goal, and after the final whistle Messi approached the Dutch bench again and entered into an altercation with the opposing coach.
The Argentina captain seemed to point out that Van Gaal talks too much earlier in the match.
Before the match, the Dutch coach criticized Messi’s playing style and promised to adopt a tactic that would make Messi ineffective, while also claiming that South America would be a piece of cake for the Dutch.
It was a tense match between the Netherlands and Argentina from the start, and the Netherlands managed to come back wonderfully in the last 10 minutes of the match to equalize and impose extra time and penalty kicks at the end.
The match saw 15 yellow cards from Spanish referee Antonio Mateo Lahoz.
Messi played a decisive role in Argentina’s victory. He set up Nahuel Molina’s opening goal in the first half before scoring a penalty after the break.
Messi, who was named man of the match, criticized Van Gaal and Mathieu Lahoz after the match. “Van Gaal says they play good football, but what he did is put tall people and hit long balls,” Messi told a reporter.
Argentina set a semi-final date with Croatia on Tuesday at the same stadium, after eliminating Brazil on penalties 4-2 after they tied 1-1.