After a shocking Brazil exit just hours earlier, the Argentina v Netherlands match kicked off in Lusail Stadium on Friday with nerves through the roof.
Man of the hour Lionel Messi got off with a bold start, on the hunt for space and making early crosses, in what could have been the last international match of his career.
Argentina take control early
The 80,000 capacity venue was clearly packed out with an overwhelming number of blue and white shirts who made just as much noise as would be expected for such a quarter-final.
Noise increased in the 8th minute as Noppert made a clumsy pass that nearly risked an early goal.
Hungry for some action in at least one of his last international appearances, Messi ran straight through the box in a failed attempt to find his teammate.
In the early minutes, the Dutch hardly made an appearance, with Argentina dominating the game. At 22 minutes, Messi took his chances from 25 yards out but the ball went north of the crossbar.
Moments later, the ball is in the opposing box and Bergwijn strikes wide after a skilful performance with his teammates.
But Argentina stole the show once more in the 35th minute, after Molina crossed the ball into a dangerous Messi in the box. Messi then made a dazzling move to pass to De Paul, who slides it into the back of the net.
The Argentines were not done and another shot was taken just five minutes later, though this lands comfortably into the hands of the keeper.
As half time edged closer, the referee appeared to become a little generous with his yellows, issuing bookings for Acuna, Romero and Dutchman Weghorst before the whistle.
Despite the goal, the first half was far from an exciting performance.
The players flooded out for the second half with Argentina earning an early corner that did little to find the goal.
In the 51st minute, the Dutch goalkeeper intercepted a through pass to Messi that could’ve proven to be … messy.
Drama unfolds moments later as Messi is caught red handed with a handball. The Netherlands clawed back more possession on the pitch, but had yet to make any real threats to a comfortable Argentina.
However, the GOAT, as he is called, is shoved a little too hard in the 61st minute and earned himself a free kick that went just over the bar.
Ten minutes later, Argentina all but secured its spot at the semi finals with a clean penalty by Messi that went into the back of the net, as expected.
Netherlands bounces back
The remainder of the second half was spent refreshing feet on the ground with several substitutions made on both ends, though one side clearly needed it more than the other.
The refresh clearly worked for the Netherlands, who finally landed a goal after a header from Weghorst in the 83rd minute.
The goal appeared to boost the Dutch with some much needed confidence. As the clock neared 90 minutes, Argentina began to feel the pressure, especially when a volley attempted by Berghuis went just wide of the post.
The pressure became a little too much for Paredes, who fouled Ake and shockingly booted the ball at the Dutch bench. Surprisingly, he only gets one yellow card.
To the dismay of the Argentines, ten minutes of extra time were added to the end of the game – and they turn out to be the most exciting of the entire game.
Several bookings were made, including for Messi; a free kick hits a wall; tensions heat up between Martinez and Otamendi, and shockingly, the Dutch equalise in the last seconds.
The fight continues
As has become common at Qatar 2022, extra time was called and last minute drama was very much a reality for both teams.
Argentina and the Netherlands had just 30 minutes to get into gear before the harsh reality of a penalty shootout.
For a while, this didn’t appear to be the case for the players, and the first half of extra time offered full football.
Excitement made an appearance in the second half, with a stunning Netherlands volley blocked by Fernandez.
Martinez, then Fernandez, then Pezzella also have a go on the other end of the pitch, though none had what it took to get the third.
Noppert was clearly bombarded, though he still managed to save a strike in the 119th minute. Messi took the leap of faith and struck the ball wide as fans across the stadium were left hanging on the edges of their seats.
Fernandez had the final go at goal, though he heartbreakingly hit the post. That would’ve surely been the seal on Argentina’s spot at the semi-finals.
Alas, the penalty shootout began, with many wondering whether Argentina would suffer the same fate as World Cup favourites Spain and Brazil.
But the Argentines pulled it out of the bag, scoring 4 goals to 3 in the penalty box. With that, it’s the Dutch who wil head to the airport.
Argentina will now face Croatia in a semi-final clash on Tuesday.