Keir Radnedge – AIPS Football Delegate
DOHA, December 10, 2022 – The intercontinental score stands at 1-1 after the opening two quarter-finals of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Here is a bare scoreline, however, which tells nothing of the drama and tension, temper and tears of Europe v South America confrontations decided by penalties. Victory achieved amid such ecstasy was celebrated by Croatia and Argentina, defeat contrasting such agony suffered by Brazil and Netherlands.
Croatia, runners-up four years ago, extended their incredible World Cup shootouts record to four out of four by defeating the favourites and five-times champions 4-2 on penalties after a 1-1 extra time draw in the Education City Stadium.
Croatia’s penalties were struck unerring past Brazil keeper Alisson by substitutes Nikola Vlasic, Lovro Majer and Mislav Orsic plus ever-outstanding captain Luka Modric. Dominik Livakovic, hero of the second round shootout victory over Japan, saved the first Brazilian kick from Rodrygo yet had gone the wrong way when Marquinhos jabbed the fourth kick, fatally and decisively, against a post.
Brazil were condemned by an old, old failing. Having taken the lead – magnificently – through Neymar midway through extra-time they continued to charge forward and were punished by a counter-attacking equaliser in the 116th minute by Bruno Petkovic. They would be punished again in the shootout.
Neymar, having equalled Pele’s 77-goal Brazilian record, left the pitch in tears and hinted at a possible retirement from the national team while coach Tite, after six years in the job, announced he definitely was quitting.
More such drama, with more penalties, followed three hours later in Lusail.
This tie it was Argentina who secured a semi-final against Croatia after being put through the sporting agonies by Netherlands. Leo Messi and his team took a two-goal lead, were dragged back to extra time by late goals from substitute Wout Weghorst then needed a penalty shootout to earn a semi against Croatia.
Goalkeeper Emi Martinez was one Argentina hero by saving the initial spotkicks from Virgil van Dijk and Steven Berghuis while Lautaro Martinez was the other for shooting the decisive kick for a 4-3 success. History thus repeated itself.
In the 2014 semi-finals Argentina had defeated Netherlands also on penalties. Netherlands coach then, as now, was Louis van Gaal.
Argentina took the lead with the match’s first meaningful attack in the 35th minute. Captain Leo Messi found space in front of the penalty box and cut out five defenders with a superb reverse pass which Nahuel Molina jabbed past Andries Noppert.
At halftime Van Gaal sent on Steven Berghuis in attack and Teun Koopmeiners in midfield in place in Bergwijn and Marten de Roon without seriously disturbing Argentina’s grip on the match.
Netherlands, basically, were not playing very well and should have been finished off by a 73rd-minute penalty. Leo Messi, having missed one against Poland, made no mistake this time after Acuna had been tripped lazily and needlessly by Gakpo. Messi thus equalled Gabriel Batistuta’s record of 10 World Cup goals for Argentina.
A flurry of substitutes and yellow cards saw Weghorst take over from Memphis Depay and glance home a right-wing cross. In the 10th and last minute of stoppage time Weghorst equalised after an ingenious free kick which Teun Koopmeiners rolled past the wall when Argentina were expecting a power-drive.
The first half of extra time came and went without incident before Argentina dominated the second half. Lautaro Martinez had a shot deflected for a corner off Van Dijk and Enzo Fernandez not only saw a drive deflected over the top off Weghorst but struck a post with virtually the last kick of the match.
Dumfries was sent off for a second yellow card just before the shootout.