By Armstrong Vaz
Doha, Dec 10 (IANS): Goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez saved two penalties to help Argentina beat the Netherlands in the FIFA World Cup quarter-final penalty shootout and set up a semi-final against Croatia.
On Friday at the Lusail Stadium in Qatar, the Dutch came back strongly from two goals down to level the scores at the death and take the game into extra time but fell short in the penalty shootout.
The late fightback meant that Lionel Messi's magic, of setting up a goal and then scoring a goal from the spot kick almost meant nothing as Argentina squandered a two-goal lead at the death.
Messi now tied Gabriel Batistuta on an Argentinian record 10 goals at the World Cup and can gain sole possession of the record in the semi-final and the final or third-place game as he aims to win the biggest prize in football in his fifth appearance at the World Cup.
Messi fed Nahuel Molina with a sensational pass to score in the 35th, and then calmly converted a 73th-minute penalty as Argentina seemed well on course with a 2-0.
But substitute Wout Weghorst headed the Dutch back into the game in the 83rd and then forced extra time 11 minutes into stoppage time in an extraordinary free-kick trick play, scoring with the final kick of the game.
With the 30 minutes of extra time failing to break the 2-2 deadlock, it was left to the penalty shootout to decide the winner in the second quarter-final of the day.
Martinez was the shoot-out hero saving the first two Dutch penalties from captain Virgil van Dijk and Steven Berghuis, while Lautaro Martinez clinched the matter for Argentina.
Messi will claim the overall World Cup match record if he plays in the remaining two games. He played his 24th match on Friday, with record holder Lothar Matthäus of Germany one ahead on 25 matches.
The Copa America champions next meet Croatia on Tuesday after the 2018 runners-up shocked record five-time winners Brazil 4-2 on penalties after a 1-1 deadlock in 120 minutes.
The Dutch failed to reach the last four for the third time in four editions and suffered a shoot-out loss to Argentina just as in the 2014 semi-finals.
Messi leads the celebrations for La Albiceleste as they pulled away to win the thriller.
In the last two quarter-finals on Saturday, Ronaldo's Portugal meet Morocco in the first match, while England meet France in the second match of the day.