Lionel Messi can only be unsuccessful; he cannot fail. So perhaps it was his fault that the superstar struggled to reach his customary heights in 2010. The Argentina national team’s supporting cast has found a way to let him down in crucial situations in prior competitions. But could the team be building the tenacity necessary to hold things together and assist Messi to the promised land of a World Cup victory after working together to win Messi’s first international tournament in the 2022 Copa America? The only prize missing from Messi’s impressive collection is the World Cup, but Argentina is now just two victories away after defeating the Netherlands in a quarterfinal penalty shootout on Friday.
The team didn’t help matters by giving up a 2-0 lead against the Netherlands in the dying seconds, but Messi gave it his all throughout the contest. One of the nicest passes I’ve ever seen was his one to help Nahuel Molina on the first goal. Mortals would have passed the ball back to take advantage of space on the Dutch defense’s left side, but Messi had no trouble sending a ball that splits four defenders to break the tie.
Messi was active throughout the game, taking six shots, forcing two saves from Andries Noppert, and creating three chances. In the 71st minute, Marcos Acuna was penalized, and Messi was able to score from the spot to increase the lead. Even though his humorous handball helped the defense, it didn’t result in a caution like Cristian Romero’s earlier in the game.
Wout Weghorst, who came off the bench to dominate the game, helped the Netherlands fight back. He scored two goals in the game, forcing stoppage time. However, they discovered a new life in the extra time. It was as though the story was being written for another Argentina letdown. La Albiceleste got closer to scoring and regained momentum when Enzo Fernandez struck the post and Angel Di Maria came close to scoring from a corner.
Having Emiliano Martinez on your side, however, is a huge advantage in penalties. After their shocking loss to Saudi Arabia to open the World Cup, every game has finished with Argentina advancing thanks to him saving the first two kicks from the Netherlands. Martinez was Messi’s Batman on Friday, but Julian Alvarez and Fernandez played against Australia.
Someone other than Messi has performed admirably when Argentina has needed a result throughout the World Cup. Messi will be ready for the challenge, as manager Lionel Scaloni is well aware of, but it’s more crucial to see who will rise to join him. Up until those last few seconds against the Netherlands, even the defense had been outstanding.
The players will need to keep their calm against Croatia, but something doesn’t feel right. Argentina is a side that can match Croatia’s vigor even if the game goes into overtime, where Croatia can dominate. Even Argentina’s petulance, which resulted in nine yellow cards, was a necessary struggle to advance in a knockout competition.
Argentina needs two victories to win the World Cup for the first time since Mexico 1986. Messi needs two victories to win the only trophy he is missing. Argentina simply needs to play their game and keep pressuring opponents to concede. The team’s loss of concentration on Friday against the Netherlands is a prime example, but Scaloni will make sure they take lessons from the experience. It’s time to move on and demonstrate what a strong supporting cast this is.