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Argentina’s shootout win over Netherlands was World Cup perfection

The image of Emiliano Martinez pumping up the crowd after back-to-back penalty-shootout saves felt a century old already by the time Lautaro Martinez stepped up to take his decisive spot-kick. The nerves had transferred entirely from the Dutch side to the Argentinian, and a player who had struggled in the tournament to that point suddenly had all the pressure on him with a World Cup dream on the line.

Well over two hours of action came down to that moment, and he buried the chance with composure to end a game for the ages, sending Argentina to the World Cup semifinals on Friday.

Argentina’s penalty shootout win over the Netherlands capped a sensational World Cup game that had nearly all the shithousery and drama a football fan could ask for. Over 120 minutes (plus the typical ridiculous amount of stoppage time) the match featured an equalizer in the 11th minute of regulation stoppage-time, a bench-clearing, a whopping 14 yellow cards and one sending off.

Somewhat remarkably, the game avoided turning into a brawl. As the Dutch chased the game and charged forward, a harsh foul from Leandro Paredes led to tensions boiling over.

Virgil van Dijk’s aggressive arrival on the scene to defend his compatriot, and the booting of the ball towards the Dutch sideline, led to a clearing of benches and near all out chaos before calm heads only just prevailed. It was a fascinating microcosm of the greater conflict that had developed throughout the match. Thankfully it never got close to hostilities again, but the clear animosity made for another compelling subplot to the hotly contested match.

And upon the conclusion of the penalty shootout, the Argentine squad reveled in their hard-fought victory with all the emotion and gloating the match deserved.

One photo said it all:

A perfect distillation of an inexplicable moment in time, one that illustrates all the pain and glory of the World Cup.

For the Netherlands, it’s The Simpsons clip of the exact moment Ralph Wiggum’s heart rips in half. The sheer pain and heartache of defeat, one which came after forcing extra time from a near inconceivable position.

For Argentina, the joy of victory paired with the combative, in-your-face attitude that has helped propel them to a Copa America title, and now a World Cup semifinal.

It’s not often that a vintage Lionel Messi performance can be overshadowed by anything, but this was a rare occasion. As stunning as his assist was and as clutch as his penalty conversions were, they were bit parts in the bigger spectacle. Somehow his postgame comments directed at Dutch manager Louis Van Gaal were more emblematic of the game.

Football can be brutal, combative, and petty, and that pettiness contributed to the creation of an instant classic match. That match will be talked about as long as the sport is played and remembered, particularly for the two nations who previously had little reason for establishing any sort of on-pitch rivalry. All it took was a push (or indeed several pushes) in the heat of battle for all future ties between them to revive the image above in the minds of players, coaches, and fans.

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