An ill-tempered quarter-final affair saw Argentina maintain their World Cup dreams at the Netherlands’ expense.
La Albiceleste raced into a 2-0 lead by the 73rd minute but Louis van Gaal shunned traditional Dutch flair (which has, in truth, been missing all tournament) in favour of the robust old-school English ‘route one’ football. The move saw his side make a sensational comeback, forcing extra-time. Ultimately it was Lionel Messi and Co. who triumphed on penalties, however, inflicting another shoot-out heartache on Oranje.
Everyone gets a yellow card
Mateu Lahoz gave 15 yellow cards, including two in the shoot-out:
The most in a single game in World Cup history. pic.twitter.com/9lz4yMJzxz
— Squawka (@Squawka) December 9, 2022
All of that was a sideshow to what has since been termed the “Battle of Lusail”, in which controversial Spanish referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz showed an unprecedented 18 yellow cards, plus a red to Denzel Dumfries after the final whistle.
In total, 15 players received a card while on the field (a World Cup record) with Wout Weghorst, who’d come on to register an unlikely brace, cautioned while sitting in the dugout alongside Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni and Walter Samuel who is part of his backroom staff.
“This match shouldn’t have ended as it did,” Messi told TyC Sports. “I don’t want to talk about the referee because they sanction you. But people saw what happened. We were afraid before the match because we knew how he was and I think Fifa has to review this. You can’t put a referee like him for these matches.”
While the former Barça man was booked 10 minutes into extra time for dissent some have noted Messi getting away with a yellow for deliberate handball in the 55th minute, leading to Oranje skipper Virgil van Dijk remonstrating with Mateu Lahoz asking if different rules apply to Argentina’s ‘number 10’.
Messi would ultimately get his wish as Mateu Lahoz, according to COPE, would be sent home following disciplinary proceedings opened by FIFA against both teams.
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Paredes starts a riot
Among those shown yellow was Juventus midfielder Leandro Paredes, who in the 88th minute produced a wild, late challenge on Nathan Ake before recklessly smashing the ball into the Dutch bench. This naturally infuriated Oranje skipper Virgil van Dijk, who took matters into his own hands by shoving Paredes down.
Paredes c'est une merde mais l'action me fume trop de rire, il enchaine 2 tacles criminels et un penalty sur 6 renois pic.twitter.com/zGZjHvmA9h
— 𝗠𝗶𝘀𝘁𝗲𝗿 𝗭𝗲𝘆𝗿𝗼 🛸 (@MrZeyro) December 9, 2022
Van Dijk somehow escaped the referee’s notebook. As for Paredes, he was booked for the first offence but not the second, which led to an on-field melee. It was the first of two large bust-ups, the other coming after Inter Milan forward Lautaro Martinez converted the winning spot-kick.
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Otamendi has the last laugh
In an emotionally-charged evening, temperatures continued to rise once the game was done and dusted with several Argentina players seemingly mocking their crestfallen opponents. Nicolas Otamendi was at the heart of those celebratory taunting but later defended his actions.
🚨 Nicolas Otamendi: “I celebrated in face because there was a one Netherlands player, who at every penalty kick we had, was coming and saying things to one of our players. The picture was taken out of context, and we celebrated in response to it.” pic.twitter.com/TBjj1XbKRI
— All About Argentina 🛎🇦🇷 (@AlbicelesteTalk) December 10, 2022
“I celebrated in the face because there was a one Netherlands player, who at every penalty kick we had, was coming and saying things to one of our players,” he explained. “The picture was taken out of context, and we celebrated in response to it.”
They had people going into each Argentinian player going to the penalty trying to make them nervous. Domfries got a red card for that. Last penalty, Lautaro had 4 Netherlands players on top. Everything has an explanation. pic.twitter.com/Oa0xTdvx8R
— dexsoul (@dexsoul85) December 10, 2022
Martinez sends for Van Gaal
The needle spilled off the field, with penalty hero Emiliano Martinez lambasting referee Lahoz and Van Gaal in a feisty post-match interview.
Martinez said: “The ref was just giving everything for them. He gave 10 minutes [stoppage time] for no reason. He was giving free kicks outside the box for them, like two, or three times.
“He just wanted them to score, that’s basically it. So, hopefully, we don’t have that ref anymore. He’s useless.
“I heard Van Gaal saying, ‘We’ve got an advantage in penalties. If we go to penalties we win’, I think he needs to keep his mouth shut.”
Footage has since been posted of Martinez confronting Van Gaal, with the Aston Villa shot-stopper furiously gesturing and shouting in his direction. “I speak a little Spanish. After the game the goalkeeper of Argentina told me that I spoke too much,” Van Gaal said afterwards.
Messi does a Riquelme
Martinez wasn’t alone in criticising Van Gaal with Messi leaving a parting shot. The record six-time Ballon d’Or recipient was seen cupping his ears — à la Juan Román Riquelme — at Van Gaal and his assistant Edgar Davids while engaging in a war of words with the two coaches at the end of the game.
Lionel Messi speaking with Van Gaal & Davids pic.twitter.com/j0lQjK7UHy
— Roberto Rojas (@RobertoRojas97) December 10, 2022
“Van Gaal says that they play good football, but what he did was put tall people and hit long balls,” Messi later told one reporter. He would also call Dutch goalscorer Weghorst a “fool” in front of the assembled media.
Weghorst also gave his account of the altercation.
“I wanted to give him a hand after the match,” he told Gol. “But he smashed my hand away and didn’t want to speak with me.”
“My spanish is not good, but they were not respectful words. So it was really disappointing.”
And yet another account was given by Sergio Aguero, who was present in the tunnel after the game. The retired Argentine striker appears in footage where he can be seen telling Weghorst not to approach Messi as the latter gave an interview.
💪🏼 ASÍ EL KUN AGÜERO DEFENDIÓ A MESSI
🤬 Cuando Messi se cruzó con Weghorst con el famoso "¿Qué mirás, bobo? Andá pa’ allá", el Kun no dudó en defender a su amigo.
— Diario Crónica (@cronica) December 10, 2022
Aguero said: “It was No.19 [Weghorst]… We were just entering the tunnel. He started to say: ‘Hey, Messi, hey, Messi’. And Leo turned around, looked at him… That’s when he told him that [to go away]. The guy told him ‘come here’.
“I told him to shut up. Just ‘shut up’. And yes… Why are you talking to him [Messi] after all? You know the issue was hot. I told him to shut up. He told me: ‘Don’t tell me to shut up’. I told him: ‘Okay, don’t talk to Messi then’. ‘I don’t talk to Messi’. I say, that’s it. Then we shook our hands and said good luck.”
Lionel Messi's game by numbers vs. the Netherlands:
◉ Most shots (6)
◉ Most final ⅓ passes (20)
◉ Most chances created (3)
◉ Most duels won (10)
◉ Most fouls won (8)
— Squawka (@Squawka) December 9, 2022
The Riquelme-esque gesture made by Messi is noteworthy, given everything that went down between him and Van Gaal during their brief Camp Nou spell together. Van Gaal infamously ostracised the playmaker as he didn’t fit his system. Riquelme, who operated as a classic deep-lying forward behind a central striker, would find himself stationed on the left wing leading to an eventual departure.
In years gone by, the Boca Juniors great has mellowed in his opinion of Van Gaal citing: “I will never say anything bad about him because I think that people who are true to what they think deserve to be respected. He is convinced his way of making a team play is correct and I am OK with that.”
Van Gaal’s coaching days seem to be over. After this latest World Cup elimination he reaffirmed his decision to step down — Ronald Koeman will once again take over — before describing this group of players to be his finest work. “Tonight, there’s nothing I could reproach myself for. In 20 matches in charge, we didn’t lose a single game. I don’t know how many we won – you can find out I think on Google, put in ‘Dutch team, Louis van Gaal’. I don’t think I’ve been beaten today – only in a penalty shootout.”