Lionel Scaloni's side went 2-0 up heading into the final stages of the match thanks to two pieces of Lionel Messi brilliance. First, he set up Nahuel Molina's opener and then slotted home a second-half penalty.
The Dutch fought back, though, with substitute Wout Weghorst planting a header past Emiliano Martinez in the 83rd minute before finishing off a perfectly planned free-kick routine in the 90-plus 11th minute to score a well-deserved equaliser. Extra time was a tense affair, but it was the Albiceleste who edged out the Netherlands on penalties with Martinez the hero.
1. Argentina emerge from one of Qatar 2022's wildest games yet
In a World Cup of upsets, shock results and penalty shootout heroics, this looked to be one of the more straightforward outliers, until the madness of injury time. The first half was a fairly drab affair until Messi opened it up with a ridiculous reverse pass. He drifted along the edge of the Netherlands box, and with one flick, took four Dutch defenders out of the play and found the onrushing Molina, who had space to side-foot it past Andries Noppert.
When Messi added a second from the penalty spot, it looked like Argentina were home free.
But then came the 15 minutes of Dutch brilliance to close out the 90 minutes. Weghorst's header was planted brilliantly past Martinez with seven minutes of normal time remaining, and then in the 10th minute of injury time, they conjured one of the best set pieces to grace any World Cup for Weghorst's second. Scripts had been ripped up, match reports rewritten and all because of Dutch intensity and pressure.
At this stage, referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz had already lost control of the match, and it was fitting there was a second melee to finish off regular time. The contest had already descended into a pushing match just moments before when Leandro Paredes hammered a ball into the Dutch dugout after committing a foul.
By the end of the night, Lahoz had handed out 17 yellow cards -- how there wasn't a red card in the match was bewildering -- and there seemed to be little to no consistency in his calls. Handballs went missing -- including a blatant one by Messi in the 55h minute -- and he managed to make himself the centre of attention.
Eventually, Argentina emerged from the madness with a victory and a place in the semifinals.
2. Van Gaal delivers a tactical twist -- again
Netherlands manager Louis van Gaal has come in for some monumental criticism this World Cup from those back home. He's aware of the dissenting noises around his game plan for the Dutch in Qatar -- he gets asked about it at virtually every news conference -- but he is unapologetic in his tactics, footballing philosophy and how he wants his side to play. He cares little what others think, such is the self-belief that has guided him through a 36-year career.
So even when the Netherlands were 2-0 down, Van Gaal still believed. At halftime, there was a photo doing the rounds on social media of a document titled "Plan B." The photo was taken in the stadium, and it showed a pad of paper left on Van Gaal's chair during the match. On it was an alternative formation: 3-2-3-2, with Luuk de Jong and Weghorst leading the line. Although the final iteration was shifted slightly -- Van Gaal had already put together a plan for the last throes of the match if they were chasing a goal.
And the pre-planned tactical shift worked to perfection. They even had that match-drawing set piece up their sleeve, which put Weghorst in enough space to get the late, late equaliser.
Although they eventually lost on penalties, Van Gaal once again proved why he is one of modern football's great managers. He may not to be to everybody's tastes, but he has been box office here in Qatar, and you hope this isn't the last we've seen of him.
3. Argentina nearly throw away another win
For so long, this looked to be a perfect day for Argentina. They had managed the game brilliantly, but that's now twice in as many games in which they have allowed their hold on the match to loosen in the last moments.
Against Australia, they nearly conceded an equaliser late, but they only emerged victorious thanks to the brilliance of Lisandro Martinez' last-gasp defending. On this night, they couldn't keep the Dutch out, with Weghorst's double forcing extra time and penalties.
There's absolutely no way they should have let the Netherlands back into this match. Their 3-5-2 formation had done well for them up to that point, but attention and discipline went to the wayside, and their opponents pounced. Any analysis of this match must focus on Scaloni's game management -- or lack thereof -- in those final moments. They had their warning against Australia, but clearly hadn't heeded it. Substitutions were ill-judged and interrupted his team's tempo, instead of aiding it.
Player ratings (1 = worst, 10 = best)
Netherlands: Andries Noppert 7, Virgil van Dijk 7, Jurrien Timber 7, Nathan Ake 7, Denzel Dumfries 5, Daley Blind 6, Frenkie de Jong 6, Marten de Roon 5, Cody Gakpo 6, Memphis Depay 6, Steven Bergwijn 5
Argentina: Emiliano Martinez 6, Lisandro Martinez 6, Nicolas Otamendi 6, Cristian Romero 7, Marcos Acuna 8, Nahuel Molina 7, Enzo Fernandez 7, Alexis Mac Allister 6, Rodrigo De Paul 7, Julian Alvarez 6, Lionel Messi 9
Best and worst performers
BEST: Lionel Messi, Argentina. Again, their star man. Another incredible display from Argentina's captain.
WORST: Steven Bergwijn, Netherlands. The Ajax forward failed to get a grip on the match and was substituted at halftime.
Highlights and notable moments
The pass that broke the internet. From Messi, who else?
Brb watching this pass from Messi for the rest of the day 😍🎯 pic.twitter.com/5EM4CBwktN— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 9, 2022
If there was a part of the internet that still worked after that Messi pass, it didn't after Weghorst's incredible set-piece goal.
WOW!!! WHAT A GOAL BY THE NETHERLANDS IN THE FINAL SECONDS 🤯🇳🇱 pic.twitter.com/9MUm36o1KJ— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 9, 2022
After the match: What the players and managers said
Van Dijk: "We trained for it. Everything went in until tonight. That hurts a lot. Was everything in the game. It hurts a lot, personally too. I shot the penalty hard; the keeper takes it well. We had a lot of faith that we would continue tonight with this special group of guys. I am sad, disappointed. Everything hurts."
Van Gaal: "Am I proud? What is pride when you lose? You go to the World Cup with a goal. You try to win everything. That is not possible, you know that in advance."
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
- Messi's assist was his 50th for Argentina. It was his fifth assist in a World Cup knockout game, passing Pele for the most dating back to 1966. It was his seventh overall in the tournament, tied for second most with Grzegorz Lato of Poland behind Diego Maradona's eight.
- Messi's penalty gives him 17 goal involvements in a World Cup, surpassing Maradona (16) for the most all time among Argentina men. The goal also sees Messi draw level with Gabriel Batistuta for the most goals among Argentina men with 10.
- Weghorst's 90-plus 11th-minute goal is the latest one the Netherlands have scored in a World Cup match. He becomes the first Dutch men's player to score two goals as a substitute in a World Cup match.
- Weghorst's last-gasp goal is the latest equaliser scored in regulation in World Cup history.
Netherlands: After leaving Qatar, the Dutch will be off for a few months before returning to action in Euro 2024 qualifying, taking on France on March 24.
Argentina: The Albiceleste move on to the semifinals, where they'll take on Croatia on Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET.